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Sharepoint

SharePoint 2010 : Social Sites: Providing a Structure for Collaborative Conversations

8/11/2011 5:43:43 PM
Blogs and wikis have been enhanced significantly in SharePoint 2010. When a user posts an entry to a blog, it appears in the Recent Activity section of the user’s My Site, increasing the opportunity for connections and collaboration. Blogs and wikis help achieve collaboration and knowledge transfer objectives in many ways, but most importantly, they help ensure that the right conversations happen at the right times. Both types of sites help create conversations, but blogs are typically for one-to-many conversations, and wikis are typically for many-to-many conversations.

Blogs

Each user in the organization can have her personal blog linked to her My Site. This makes it easy for people to find the blog and easy for the user to post new entries. Attaching the blog to the My Site helps to ensure that the blog is the user’s authentic voice. “Management” blogs written by people in the Marketing department are generally perceived as propaganda, and we don’t recommend using blogs in this way. A better alternative for Marketing messages is news. That said, SharePoint 2010 makes it very easy for you to set up a “team blog,” which can be a great way of posting progress updates (the SharePoint at Microsoft team has a team blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/sharepoint) and insights for departments, project teams, or, if done authentically, your executive team. Team blogs are typically created as subsites of a team or department site. Our general rule for blogs of any type: Keep them authentic.

The blog template in SharePoint 2010 is new and includes blog-specific navigation. For example, you can sort posts by category and date. There is also a new “About this Blog” area where the blog author(s) can provide an introduction and purpose for the blog. Encourage all blog owners to use this feature to describe their blogs. Remember that context is the key to successful collaboration, and the more context blog authors provide, the more useful their posts will be to others.

As with the rest of SharePoint 2010, one of the first new features you will notice in the blog template is the ribbon interface. One of the most significant blog improvements is the ease of entering rich media (both images and video) to a blog post.

The first time a user creates a blog (by default, creating a blog is a part of the My Content area of the My Site), he sees the screen in Figure 1. The instructions are self-explanatory, and you really shouldn’t need to provide much guidance. Adding a post is also intuitive.

Figure 1. Creating a new blog

Figure 2 shows the user interface for creating a new blog post. By default, content approval is enabled for blog posts, but posts by the blog author are automatically approved. (We’re not quite sure about why this is the case because it doesn’t seem to mean anything.) As with any list, you can turn off content approval in List Settings. When you create a new blog from your My Site, the appropriate security is enabled for you—only you can add posts, and anyone with read access to your My Site can add comments. Both posts and comments are stored in lists where you can edit permissions and add workflow.

Figure 2. Creating a new blog post

As described here, you can also create a blog site from a team site. When you create a blog site from a team site, you will need to set permissions for the blog manually. To do this, navigate to the Comments list and set unique permissions so that site visitors can add comments, and do the same to the Posts list if only a subset of site contributors can post blog entries. In a team blog, you may want to initiate some type of content approval workflow for posts if you are concerned about representing “authoritative” content in the blog.

Wikis

The success of social computing features depends on participation, not technology. Wikis are technology that help users participate without any formal knowledge of Web programming or even Microsoft Word. While blogs are designed for more structured knowledge exchange, wikis enable a more flexible collaborative experience by allowing every participant to have an equal “voice.”

In SharePoint 2010, there are two varieties of wikis:

  • Team sites. In SharePoint 2010, the Team Site template is essentially a wiki.

  • Enterprise wiki sites. The enterprise wiki feature in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 provides a template that adds page rating, Managed Metadata, and customization capabilities. You can use Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 to customize page layouts and implement specific and consistent branding by changing master pages.

Team Sites

The Team Site template in SharePoint 2010 is essentially a wiki. The home page of the team site can be edited using the same functionality used to edit any wiki page. This means that users can see a live preview of changes that they are making as they make them. Figure 3 shows the home page of a team site in Edit mode (note the highlighted editing items in the ribbon). To update the welcome message, all you need to do is type; there is no longer a need to open a content editor Web Part and use the rich text editor to change content because the wiki page itself is essentially a rich text editor. In addition to using the wiki Web Edit functionality to edit the team site, users can add Web Parts using the Insert link in the ribbon (see Figure 4) to create a rich user interface that combines the features of a SharePoint 2007 team site with the superior wiki editing experience in SharePoint 2010. This makes it easy to create visually compelling Web pages with little or no knowledge of HTML and combine the structured content of a Web Part with the flexible editing experience of a wiki.

Figure 3. Editing the home page of a team site uses a wiki interface

Figure 4. Insert ribbon on the team site home page


The new Team Site template provides a flexible way to create content (with the wiki editor) that also allows you to take advantage of the structure and security in a more traditional collaboration site. In a more typical wiki environment, all users have both read and write privileges. However, in a wiki-based team site, the site owner (user with Full Control privileges) can designate which users can edit content and which users can only read content. In addition, site owners can view previous versions of a wiki entry to see when and by whom changes were made as shown in Figure 5. As with document versions, you can reinstantiate prior versions of wiki pages if necessary. Essentially, the new Team Site template supports shared editing but with more control than an enterprise wiki site.

Figure 5. View prior versions of a wiki page

Other site templates, such as the Group Work Site, do not have a wiki page as a home page. However, if you enable the Wiki Page Home Page feature on your site, you can automatically create a wiki home page similar to the team site.

Enterprise Wikis

An enterprise wiki (see Figure 6) combines the basic features of team sites with additional features such as page ratings. To create an enterprise wiki, you need to ensure that Publishing features are enabled for your Site Collection. If you anticipate that the enterprise wiki will have a lot of traffic and content (for example, for an enterprise-wide acronym database), then you should consider configuring it as a single Site Collection and perhaps also a single, dedicated SQL Server database. You can also create an enterprise wiki as a subsite of an existing site if you want to take advantage of the wiki editing features but do not anticipate a large amount of content. Once you have created an enterprise wiki, you cannot convert it or migrate it to the standard wiki format on a team site without using custom code. Therefore, you need to be sure that an enterprise wiki is the right site template for your site.

Figure 6. Enterprise wiki home page

“We should be using wikis” is not a good enough reason to implement an enterprise wiki site. You should select both features and functionality based on the business problem you are trying to solve, not because the feature sounds good or is being hyped as Web 2.0. An enterprise wiki is a good solution when you want multiple users to contribute and update to a shared repository. For example, you might want to use an enterprise wiki to enable employees to contribute content to a shared repository of tips or ideas for new products. The most successful wiki sites are relatively unstructured, so if you decide that you need more structure for knowledge sharing, consider using a custom list or a team site to share content.

As with any SharePoint site, you need to carefully consider who is allowed to contribute content to an enterprise wiki. You can certainly use an enterprise wiki to share updates to content that not everyone can update—for example, an HR manual database that can only be edited by users in HR. Even though this type of site should have limited users with edit privileges, the wiki template may still be appropriate because of the ease with which nontechnical users can create Web pages. For shared wiki sites where many users can edit, you may also want to consider assigning a “wiki moderator” to periodically review the content of the enterprise wiki, especially as the site gets up and running because you will not have the benefit of shared corrections and updates until multiple users have an opportunity to review and update content. Remember: If you start to identify a requirement for more control and selective access as you plan your enterprise wiki, you will want to seriously consider whether an enterprise wiki is, in fact, the right solution to solve your business problem.

You need to plan your governance model carefully for an enterprise wiki site, probably more so than for any other site type, because with shared editing capabilities, you have a greater risk of conflict—where one user edits a page and then another user changes it, potentially resulting in a “flame war.” The publishing infrastructure provides several ways to control content, including assigning permissions or using a workflow to add an approval process for wiki entries. However, adding an approval process to your wiki site may discourage users from contributing content, so you will need to carefully plan before you deploy your wiki site.

Considering that editing and contributing to a wiki will likely be an unfamiliar task for many users, be sure to incorporate a training and communications plan for your enterprise wiki site. Deploying an enterprise wiki only creates meaningful value when multiple people are engaged and contributing. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get some early adopter users to add “starter content” to any enterprise wiki before you launch to the rest of the organization.

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