SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networking


Social Software Stack

The title for this post is drawn from a recent assessment of SharePoint 2007 offered on Thomas Vander Wal’s bog, Personal InfoCloud. Thomas’ post, as always, offers a unique point of view on what Enterprise 2.0 consists and, specifically, how SharePoint measures up. He isn’t offering his own formal assessment as much as reporting the stories clients and potential clients shared with him over the past couple of years. The social software stack, in particular the difference between collective understanding and collaborative understanding, frames Vander Wal’s perspective.

Given SharePoint’s widespread use, and the growing interest in applying social media applications to collaboration challenges in organizations, Thomas’ discussion deserves wider attention. His overall impression is well summarized in the following point.

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside [the] enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organizations have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.

This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.

In other words, SharePoint works well for situations in which defined groups need to reach a collaborative understanding of project requirements, their role in achieving those objectives, and what success means for the project. It works less well in providing resources allowing people across the enterprise, and across teams or departments, to discover connections with others and develop social relationships for networking together in ways that meet both personal and organizational challenges.


Hammers and Nails: Extending the Social Software Stack

Thomas’ point about hierarchical/horizontal challenges of collaboration is an organizational analog to the old saw about hammers and problems, i.e. someone with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, or something like that–you get the idea. A tool set biased towards connecting people and sharing information via hierarchical relationships between organizational positions does not readily afford solving problems largely based in horizontal relationships between people. A similar dilemma exists in the eLearning space between the top-down, objectives focus of learning content developed for Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the horizontal emphasis of eLearning 2.0 applications focused on collaboration and performance support.

Thomas observes that SharePoint 2007 seems to multiply silos of information in organizations using it rather than diminishing them and, as he notes, “Nearly every organization has deployed SharePoint in some form or another.” He also points to a recent report on SharePoint usage patternsdone by AIIM and Oracle. Its overall findings are as follows:

  • 83% currently use, or are planning to use, SharePoint
  • SharePoint is more widely deployed at the workgroup or department level
  • 75% said implementation of SharePoint took one year or less, which would make sense considering
  • 47% use it primarily for File Sharing (and/or as an internal Portal – again 47%)
  • Few use it for complex business processes, records management or digital asset management
  • It is seen as a component of a larger Enterprise Content Management strategy
  • 47% said they would use it as an Extranet/Internet solution (whereas 22% do already) – this was one a little surprising
  • You can also get a free copy of the full report. A good sense of how SharePoint works to support teams is available in Michael Sampson’s Seamless Teamwork, though you won’t see much discussion in the book about the limitations of SharePoint in enabling discovery of common interests with other people across enterprises, or knowledge across teams.

    The overall organizational response to recognition of SharePoint’s limitations as a platform for the social networking required by Enterprise 2.0 is described by Vander Wal.

    The first step many organizations take with SharePoint after realizing it does not easily, or even with an abundance of effort, do the expected social software components is to start getting solid proven services and start plugging them in. Many tool makers have taken their great products an made it quite easy to plug them into the SharePoint platform. Want a great wiki tool, not the horrible wiki “template”, then Confluence or Socialtext is added. Need a great social tagging/bookmarking tool that ties into search (this starts enabling finding the good information in SharePoint’s micro-silos), then Connectbeam is added.

    It is important to note that as social networking tools continue to develop new ways of connecting, such as the growing recognition of Twitter’s usefulness to collective awareness of a person’s presence and mundane activities, even vendors like SocialText see it necessary to enhance their integration of the social software stack with features such as SocialText Signals and SocialText Desktop. Vander Wal’s key question is whether enterprises using SharePoint will continue to bolt new applications on it to enhance its social capabilities, or move on to totally new platforms entirely.

    If your organization uses SharePoint, how true do the points outlined above seem to you? Has your organization added social networking applications to SharePoint?

    Posted by Larry R. Irons

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    12 Responses to SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networking

    1. Dwight Homer says:


      Excellent post about what is and ain’t a social application. Vande Wal’s social software stack concept and illustration is a real helpful annodyne to the command & control bias of the Microsoft’s monopolistic enterprise obsession, of which Sharepoint has been their advance-guard for some years now.

      Back in 04/05 when I was with Wildfire Internet and we were pitching our online community software, kept hearing companies say, “We don’t need that, we have Sharepoint.”

      Our offering was nothing like sharepoint, focused much more on open and interpersonal communication and idea sharing; subscription based SAS, easy to get started with easy to use and admin, practically everything point and click, with almost no overhead involved. But the accounting and consulting firms we called on were locked in to the dot net insanity, requiring a boatload of admin overhead and additional customizing to get to work the way you wanted and expensive at that.

      Would love to go back in time and pitch those tools knowing what I know now.

      Plus ca change.

      Great post.


    2. Larry Irons says:

      Hey Dwight, thanks for the insight. I think many companies have not understood the difference between the way SharePoint is marketed and the architectural limitations of the platform. It is a little like the way the relational database vendors, Oracle in particular, initially marketed SQL back in the late 1980s. As you well know, it is typically not a good idea to assume the marketing of a product aligns tightly with its capabilities.

    3. Mike says:

      Hi Larry,

      I like the sociological perspective you bring to these tools. I think you make some good points about the potential pit falls of doing social networking with in the Sharepoint framework. I am a proponent of Sharepoint becuase of its web site content managment tools. It’s clear to me that social netowrking is not a core feature but more of an add on. Also, I never have high expectations for Microsoft’s first try at making a new tool. It seems to take them two or three releases to refine and new feature sets. Despite this I hope to make the most of what Sharepoint offers and augment what is lacking.

      I have to disagree with your characterisation of Confluence as a great Wiki tool. We implimented it at my previous company and it was not adopted by anyone besides the team that implimented it. I’m sure it has a comprehensive feature set but it think it fails on the basis of user interface design. I think Jira has the same failing. Any apps that hopes to can wide scale adoption in the corporate arena needs to invest heavily in UI design. It’s not enough to have a spectacular feature if users are put off by the user interface.


    4. Larry Irons says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. I totally agree that you can’t discount Sharepoint’s potential as Microsoft refines and alters the underlying architecture. My point of view is that approaches to social networking necessarily require a social perspective informing choices about the information architecture underlying a platform. I also agree that the UI investment in any tool is a key driver for adoption, while I would add that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the organizational from the technical impediments to adoption.


    5. JB Holston says:

      Howdy — lots of these are reasons we’re having success with our SocialSites product in MOSS environments — we help turn it on its head toward community, collaboration, and the individual as focal points… . We also feel SP 2010 will help address some of base architectural limitations…

      • Larry Irons says:

        Hi JB, I don’t doubt you guys are doing well with your SocialSites product. I sat through a webinar on it and saw many promising capabilities. You are also probably correct in assessing the promise of SP 2010. I look forward to seeing it myself. Thanks for the read and comment.

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    7. I enjoyed reading your insight…social media software is vital in marketing today, we work at creating it every day.

    8. saltcellar says:

      Hey just stumbled upon your website from Google after I entered in,
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      • Larry Irons says:

        Feel free to use the ideas here for your work. Be sure to offer a citation though, especially if you are doing it for a paper.

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