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How To Plug SharePoint's Social Holes

Microsoft SharePoint offers a solid foundation, but many enterprises need to customize it or add third-party tools such as NewsGator Social Sites to get the desired social collaboration capabilities.

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Van Buren said the NewsGator social add-on can be a good solution, and is powerful enough that she hears clients referring to "NewsGator sites rather than SharePoint sites."

Loland said she has found NewsGator to be a good choice because "activity streams actually work the way I expect them to work." She is also investigating Socialcast as a social software option that boasts SharePoint integration.

"NewsGator has got a virtual monopoly right now" on extending SharePoint into a full social environment, said Tony Byrne, president of the Real Story Group and chair of the social apps and platforms track at the conference. Competition is growing from other products that add social features to SharePoint, as well as social software platforms that are deepening their integration with SharePoint, he said.

Christian Finn, director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft Corp. notes that the advisory firm Gartner identifies Microsoft as one of the leaders in social sharing within the enterprise, putting SharePoint shoulder to shoulder with the social platforms from Jive and IBM. However, that same magic quadrant report from October 2010 notes that SharePoint remains more focused on files and documents than personal interaction, putting it "somewhat out of step with overall social software trends."

In an interview, Finn acknowledged there is an opportunity for smaller, more specialized vendors to create social software that adds to SharePoint. "We're happy because a NewsGator customer is also a SharePoint customer," he said.

Independent software vendors also can release updates on a more frequent schedule than is practical for Microsoft, given that SharePoint must be updated on a more deliberate schedule reflecting its status as a platform technology that supports many types of applications. Microsoft's goals for collaboration are "much broader than social," Finn said, and in any case "it's not like social started with Facebook. We always have had social processes. The question is can you build them, can you scale them."

As an example of a powerful social application built on SharePoint, he used the example of ideation--crowd-sourced idea generation--as part of his keynote presentation. Internally, Microsoft uses a SharePoint application called ThinkWeek to brainstorm on product and business ideas. The original "think weeks" were brainstorming sessions Microsoft founder Bill Gates used to host when he was CEO. With Gates retired from that role, Microsoft has graduated to an online system where employees submit papers to be critiqued and commented on, and that process has been paying off, Finn said.

A few years ago, one of those submissions was a paper on how body movements might be used to control computer games, Finn said. That's an idea that led, indirectly, to the creation of the Kinect controller for Xbox--one of Microsoft's current hot products.

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