My Sites Need a Facelift, But They’re Here to Stay
It is no secret how widespread social networking has become within our culture – both inside and outside of the office. One just needs to look at the options to connect with others and to distribute your content available on almost every website – allowing you to easily push a link or share an article across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Yammer, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, and many others. With social now such a pervasive part of our personal lives, it’s not surprising that there is a growing trend capitalizing on social networking within the enterprise. People use these tools to communicate with friends and family, its what they’re comfortable using, and its what they want in the workplace.
SharePoint has long been slow to provide this capability, but in some respects – its catching up. One of the “areas under construction” in Office 365 and, presumably, in the forthcoming SharePoint 2016 release will be a revamp of the almost-useful My Sites capability. My Sites was supposed to be the personal hub residing within the enterprise, but it didn’t quite live up to the expectations. It has its good side – but unfortunately, was always compared to the latest consumer-based technologies, against which it never stood a chance.
The vision of the My Site is to empower users through personalization – users complete a profile, viewable to colleagues and peers in the organization’s environment, through which the user and peers could share, discuss, follow, and explore content and ideas and conversation. A user can list their various skills and interests, even if it does not pertain directly to their current job, allowing people to tap into the vast hidden resources and underlying value of their corporate network. A fellow colleague can search the people in the organization for a specific skill, for certain, however most of your colleagues are probably unaware of your skills from previous jobs, or abilities obtained from outside of the enterprise altogether, such as military or volunteer experience. Providing a method through which community members can share this kind of personal and professional experience can rapidly expand the value of your corporate network by simply surfacing this knowledge through expanded user profiles.
Another useful feature of My Sites is having deeper insight into the organizational chart. This handy visual will show which people are peers, who the individual reports to, and where people have common links, such as the same manager. I can’t tell you how often this functionality came in handy – sitting in a meeting, having a conversation, then searching for a speaker’s details in the corporate gallery to get a better understanding of who they are, who they report to, and who they work with.
When most people think of My Sites, they tend to think of the old newsfeed capability. The idea was that users could maintain a recent activities feed, similar to status updates on Facebook or Twitter. These can be helpful to identify potential cooperation opportunities where a colleague has previous experience that can help with a user’s current activity (perhaps troubleshooting an issue and a fellow colleague has experience with that issue from a previous job). While Microsoft has heavily promoted the move of the newsfeed to Yammer, the reality is that this change disconnects the SharePoint activities from your newsfeed – meaning, when you follow or Like a document in SharePoint, it does not appear in your Yammer newsfeed. This is less of an issue for those organizations looking to move all of their collaboration assets to the cloud – but remains a serious issue for those who plan to stay on prem for the near-term, or hybrid in the long-term. Thankfully, there are options within the partner ecosystem – such as Beezy – that can solve this problem, allowing your organization to maintain a fully-functional newsfeed inside of SharePoint, or to offer a fully-integrated solution that blends the best of both worlds, connecting SharePoint and Yammer newsfeeds in a seamless way.
I would argue that My Sites (in other words, extended user profiles) are core to any social strategy within the enterprise, and are not optional. Surfacing affiliations and memberships to groups and communities is important to successful collaboration as it establishes the commonality often shared between colleagues. And the more we can relate to co-workers on a common ground in a more relaxed and organic way, the easier it becomes to establish team relationships. By nurturing these positive team connections, team members tend to coalesce quicker into a higher level of cooperation, and team mechanics become more fluent, often streamlining and expediting team dynamics, such as pinch hitting for fellow team members and conflict resolution without requiring formal request or intervention.
From a governance and administration standpoint, there are two primary concerns about deploying MySites: security of content, and unchecked site provisioning. While My Sites are essentially personalized sites, they still exist within a business environment — and like everything else within SharePoint, they are security trimmed, so keep that in mind. Since SharePoint is a permissions-based environment, the user has some control over who sees what content, so there can be some structure around what pieces colleagues can see, as opposed to what supervisors or managers might see. And site provisioning (the ability for users to create sub-sites within their My Sites) is something that can be turned off if uncontrolled site and content creation is a concern.
Overall, My Sites are a collaboration necessity. Productivity benefits can be maximized, and team collaboration enhanced by allowing people to have some level of personalization and connect with those who share the same interests. This is especially true for dispersed or virtual teams with team members we may not be able to meet face to face. Just as new relationships and affiliations are formed via tweets and follows or Facebook updates and likes, the same camaraderie can be established inside the enterprise as employees share their work and expertise, and seek out those with shared experiences. As SharePoint continues to evolve and grow, look for Microsoft to put more emphasis around personalization and productivity. My Sites may need a branding facelift, but the underlying technology will be at the center of vNext.