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Microsoft SharePoint 2010 : Collaboration Station

Everything about Microsoft SharePoint is built and configured to promote collaboration, but you have to make sure your users are using it effectively.

Brien M. Posey

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 lends itself to creating a collaborative environment. Even so, there’s much more to effective collaboration than creating a few team sites and turning users loose.

While it’s true that creating team sites is often the first step in fostering a collaborative environment, SharePoint offers a number of different features designed to help your users be more productive. To a certain extent, it’s up to you to ensure they know how to use these features. Knowledge of the platform and the processes is the key to an effective collaborative experience.

Social Tagging

Social tagging was first introduced in SharePoint 2010. Although it’s easy to think of the “I Like It” button and other social- tagging features as Microsoft’s way of jumping on the social networking bandwagon, these features actually make a lot of sense within the context of document-based collaboration.

The most basic social tagging feature in SharePoint 2010 is the I Like It button. Unlike Facebook’s Like button, which is usually used to approve of a friend’s comment or picture, you can use the SharePoint 2010 I Like It button as a way of creating a favorites list.

The I Like It button makes it easier for your users to find SharePoint content they want to revisit later. As a user navigates a SharePoint site, he can tag content by clicking on the I Like It button. For example, if a user finds a document in a SharePoint document library he wants to keep on hand for future reference, he could select the check box next to the document listing, then click the I Like It button (see Figure 1). Users can “Like” content from their own My Site, but they can also Like content that’s stored on other sites such as a team site or a colleague’s My Site.

Users can flag documents by selecting them and clicking the “I Like It” button

Figure 1 Users can flag documents by selecting them and clicking the “I Like It” button.

After tagging several items, users are able to access all the content that they’ve Liked in one spot. To access this content, a user can go to My Site, click on the profile link, go to the Tags and Notes tab, and click on the I Like It link (see Figure 2). This will display all his Liked content.

Users can click on the “I Like It” link to see a list of all the content they like

Figure 2 Users can click on the “I Like It” link to see a list of all the content they like.

Although building a list of favorite documents by Liking certain documents works relatively well, it does have its shortcomings. One potential problem is that a user might like so many documents that his list becomes excessively long. This is where tags and notes come into play. Tags and notes make it much easier to locate content.

The process for tagging a document is similar to Liking a document. The user simply selects the check box for a particular document, then clicks Tags and Notes. When the resulting dialog box appears, the user creates one or more tags related to the document (see Figure 3).

Users can assign one or more tags to documents

Figure 3 Users can assign one or more tags to documents.

There are several interesting aspects to the tagging process. As a user begins entering a tag, SharePoint automatically displays a list of similar tags already in use for other documents. This list helps the user in two ways. First, he can use it as a shortcut. If the tag is on the already used list, the user can click on a list item rather than having to finish typing the name of the tag.

Another way the list is helpful is that it can help maintain consistency. For example, if left solely to their own devices, users might create several different tags all intended to mean the same thing. For example, suppose a user wants to create a tag called Technical Documentation. He might enter the tag as Technical Documentation, Technical Documents or even some misspelled variant. Having a list of similar tags already in use helps the user tag documents in a consistent way, rather than creating several different but synonymous tags.

This method of tagging content can help users find that content more easily. To access documents with a specific tag, a user must go to his My Site, click on My Profile, and select the Tags and Notes tab. This contains the tag cloud (see Figure 4). Notice the page contains the words Technical Documentation in bold print. Just to the left of the Technical Documentation tag is the word Reports. Reports is also a tag, even though it’s displayed much smaller than Technical Documentation. The more frequently a tag is used, the larger the tag is displayed.

Tags are listed on the Tags and Notes page

Figure 4 Tags are listed on the Tags and Notes page.

SharePoint lets your users refine their tags by sorting the tag cloud either alphabetically or by size. Whichever way they sort the tag list, they can access tagged content simply by clicking on the tag that interests them.

The Social Aspects of Tagging

Tags can also help other users. Suppose another user enters the phrase Technical Documentation in the Interests portion of her Newsfeed settings. As she enters the phrase, she’ll see Technical Documentation listed as a keyword (see Figure 5). This indicates someone has already classified at least one piece of content with a Technical Documentation tag. Now if a colleague tags a document with Technical Documentation, the document will be listed in the user’s news feed.

Use keywords when specifying interests in the Newsfeed settings

Figure 5 Use keywords when specifying interests in the Newsfeed settings.

You may have noticed in Figure 2 that when a user tags a document, the dialog box has a check box labeled Private. By using this check box, users can tag documents for their own purposes without the private tags being visible to colleagues.

This is useful in situations where an organization may have a strict policy regarding tag usage. A user may want to augment the official tags with some helpful tags of his own, without those tags being visible to others. If a user does choose to use private tags, he can see his private tags by going to his My Site, clicking on My Profile, selecting the Tags and Notes tab, and then clicking on the Private link.

Using Notes

One last form of social tagging you should make sure your users are aware of is notes. They can use notes to make comments about files or other types of content. They can also send general notes to colleagues.

The example in Figure 6 shows a colleague’s My Site. Notice that the Overview tab contains a Note Board. To send a note to this person, the user enters a message into the Note Board, then clicks the Post button. The message should appear as a part of the recipient’s Newsfeed.

A user can enter a message on a colleague’s Note Board

Figure 6 A user can enter a message on a colleague’s Note Board.

Users can also attach notes to files within a document library. To do so, the user selects the check box corresponding to the file and clicks on the Tags and Notes icon. When the dialog box appears, the user must click on the Note Board tab, then enter his note and click Post.

Feed the Newsfeed

You could best compare SharePoint 2010 Newsfeeds to the Facebook wall. Newsfeeds display colleagues’ activities, as well as any other information users have chosen to be notified about.

One thing about Newsfeeds that tends to confuse people is that they remain empty by default, regardless of the amount of activity. Unlike the Facebook wall, Newsfeed activity isn’t normally posted in real time. It can take an hour or more to display Newsfeed activity. However, users can adjust the frequency of their Newsfeed updates so they appear in a more timely fashion.

Newsfeeds are categorized as timer jobs. Therefore, to adjust Newsfeed frequency for your users, open the SharePoint Central Administration console and navigate to Monitoring | (Timer Jobs) Review Job Definitions | User Profile Service Application - Activity Feed Job. Click on the link for this timer job and set up a schedule (see Figure 7). If you want the job to run immediately, click Run Now. When you’ve finished, be sure to click OK to complete the process.

You can schedule the frequency with which Newsfeeds are processed

Figure 7 You can schedule the frequency with which Newsfeeds are processed.

Team Discussions

One last collaborative feature you’ll want to explain to your users is Team Discussion. Team Discussion is a discussion forum that’s part of a team site. Your users can access Team Discussion by clicking on the Team Discussion link on the team site’s Welcome screen.

Like the Newsfeeds, Team Discussions are empty by default. To get started, a user must go into the Team Discussion page and click on the Add New Discussion link. He’ll be prompted to enter a subject line for the discussion and enter a message. The ribbon above the subject line also lets him attach a file to the discussion item and check his spelling (see Figure 8).

Your users can create new Team Discussions

Figure 8 Your users can create new Team Discussions.

Other users who visit the Team Discussion page can create additional discussions or read and reply to conversations already in progress (see Figure 9).

Users can read and reply to ongoing discussions

Figure 9 Users can read and reply to ongoing discussions.

There are numerous collaborative features in SharePoint 2010. One of the keys to giving users a good collaborative experience is to ensure the entire user community is familiar with all the features. Once they know how to use them in an appropriate manner, the level of collaboration will naturally become more effective, comprehensive and sophisticated.

 

Brien M. Posey
Brien M. Posey, MVP, is a freelance technical author with thousands of articles and dozens of books to his credit. You can visit Posey’s Web site at brienposey.com.

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