SharePoint 2013 for intranets and the digital workplace

The new SharePoint logo!
Last week I was lucky enough to secure a place on a webinar hosted by Step Two Designs and Dynamic Owl Consulting. The webinar was called "SharePoint 2013 for intranets and the digital workplace", so you wont be surprised to learn it looked in detail at some of the new functionality within SharePoint 2013 and the potential impact on intranets and the digital workplace.

This was a free webinar so the slides and the video recording from the webinar are available for anybody who missed it or would like to catchup with what was discussed. For anyone who doesn't want to do that I've summarised the main discussion points below.

SharePoint Content authoring

This has always been difficult in the various different version of SharePoint, especially if you're just a casual user who wants to quickly edit some content or create some new content. Fortunately in SharePoint 2013, content authoring has become somewhat easier. Especially with the introduction of multiple browser support and a number of usability enhancements including support for digital assests (images, files and videos)

Copying from word, which is something most intranet editors will want to do, has also become a lot easier. In previous versions of SharePoint when you copied content it would often display with crazy HTML and styling. This should no longer happen, which is great for content editors and anyone thinking about going near a SharePoint page.

Microsoft have also improved how images are handled in SharePoint 2013 with SharePoint creating multiple renditions of the same image. This is great because content editors will now be able to pre-define image sizes, say for staff photos and re-use the across SharePoint.

Another area Microsoft has improved is video support. Now content can be embedded from external sources like Youtube and will play across multiple devices. SharePoint 2013 also incorporates a HTML 5 Player and will automatically capture thumbnails of videos. The new embedding functionality is a great way to make use of external content and should certainly make a difference for many content authors.

Mobile capabilities

The next area discussed was the mobile capabilities of SharePoint 2013. According to the presenters SharePoint 2010 wasn't very mobile friendly. The good news is the SharePoint 2013 has a host of new features which should make it look better on mobile devices. These include multiple views for different content, device channels, push notifications and a better custom API. These improvements mean that a SharePoint intranet should now look good in a mobile environment.

Perhaps more significantly SharePoint 2013 has been optimised for web browsers so it will appear in full screen for tablets. There are also SharePoint 2013 applications for iOS and Windows phone but sadly not yet for Androids (this seems a bit odd given the number of Android phones in use). According to the presenters the SharePoint apps provide a very good social experience and could be used to encourage social adoption. However developing these apps for your environment is something that requires development experience.

The social experience

This is an area that I'm sure a lot of people will be interested in. In terms of a social experience SharePoint 2010 promised much but ultimately left people disappointed with their social experience. It looks like SharePoint 2013 will offer much more in terms of a social experience with practically everything being new. According to the presenters the social experience is not integral to SharePoint, although the Yammer acquisitions does raise some questions about the future.

A significant development has been with the newsfeed, which is now available to all users. The newsfeed now utilizes tags, mentions, replies and embedding of content to provide a much more engaging experience. Microsoft have also improved the following functionality so that individuals that are following you appear in your newsfeed. You can also choose to follow documents and see when they've been updated.

Microsoft have also improved the tasks and site listing functionality. So tasks now be synchronised across multiple lists and there is a new timeline feature to organise tasks. It's also easier to manage tasks centrally. Users can now view a list of sites that they following centrally and administrators can promote these sites to encourage adoption.

However whilst both the presenters felt there were significant improvements in SharePoint 2013, some social requirements (dependant on your organisations) will require 3rd party tools. The presenters also said that the Yammer integration is currently unclear, but will no doubt have an impact on the social experience within SharePoint 2013.

Enterprise search

The next area the presenters looked at was Enterprise search. This has seen the biggest improvements apart from social, with the most significant change being that FAST search no longer exists. Not only have Microsoft improved the interface, within previews for all content now available, they've also significantly improved the analytics. In particular clicks and suggestions are now tracked and recommendations and user behaviours are now captured.

However Enterprise search within SharePoint 2013, still requires significant setup and many of the skills required to administer enterprise search with SharePoint 2013 don't exist within the corporate environment. The presenters also reaffirmed a point I always make which is that if your content is poor search isn't going to make it any better. "You put rubbish in, you'll get rubbish out"

Finally the presenters looked at the differences between SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. With the suggestion that if you're considering a move from 2007 to 2010 you should reconsider and think about going from 2007 to 2013 as this is now a pretty stable environment.

Overall this was a really interesting webinar, which is well worth watching if you have a spare hour.