Thomas Vanderwal posted an article on Microsoft SharePoint 2007 that has caught traction on other blogs (Sharepoint as a Gateway Drug to Greater Efficiency...) and on Twitter. I commented extensively on Twitter last evening and thought I'd share the "tweets" below:
- SharePoint clearly has issues but it's a bit over-the-top to say not viable as a blanket statement ...
- I have lots of criticisms of SP re: blogs (poor), wikis (worse), profiles (mediocre)
- but the decision needs to be made in the context of a broader criteria and ways to extend e.g., old post http://bit.ly/utg
- Products are neither Enterprise 2.0 compliant or not - products don't define E2.0 - it's how used, not what is
- If we define E2.0 by products - then forget about it ... it's a lost cause
- I don't disagree that there are "stories" - and I don't disagree that there are short-comings
- but a blanket "not viable under any circumstance" is incorrect
- It devolves E2.0 into a product feature/function discussion - at that point, who cares - wait for the next release
- Locking your data up in some wiki that has no data architecture, no services interface, no meta model and meta data model
- sounds like a problem too - wikis that cannot manage attachments - wikis that rely on proprietary markup ...
- Some of the problems with SP are organizational, some cultural, some in regards to governance, and some with its core technology
- I've had clients come back with huge price tags for Connections - does that make Connections defacto non-E2.0?
- There is no industry standard criteria to determine what products are / are not E2.0 because that's the wrong focus in isolation
- If E2.0 were a product check-list, life would be so easy, unfortunately it's not...
- "emergent use of social software" - gets to how social software is used, not so much what it is
- I can use blogs in a very directed, workflow, formal way - that use case is not E2.0 I would argue (nothing at all emergent about it)
- But if I open that blog up to comments, feeds etc - then I setup the emergent use - the derivative network effect can be E2.0-like
- So if you look at tools and how they are used - directed interaction vs. volunteered interaction - then E2.0 focus is on that volunteered
SharePoint is a product mashup of sorts. If you go back to its early-days, SharePoint Team Services and SharePoint Portal Server are the root products. They were designed by different teams that did not necessarily take a "long view" of their individual projects. There was little serious in my opinion about how the products might someday come together. In 2003, the first iteration of a "platform mashup" occurred with SharePoint 2003 that joined Windows SharePoint Services (the evolution of STS) with portal. The 2007 release was arguably the first concerted effort to deliver an integrated platform, adding additional components along the way. Some of those additional components were blogs and wikis. The MySite capability for user profiles existed in earlier releases but was designed as a personal site for file sharing - it was never designed to be a social networking component. That's a thumbnail summary of SharePoint.
From a deployment perspective - Microsoft adopted an explicit bottoms-up effort to sell SharePoint 2003 within large enterprises. WSS was positioned for workgroup-level collaboration while the rest of SharePoint was positioned as a departmental portal. This lead to very broad rollouts of SharePoint but in a very localized manner. Few organizations back in 2003 adopted a formal enterprise-wide, top-down approach. The localized manner in which organizations rolled out SharePoint is the primary causal factor to the micro-silo and information locker issues identified in the posting below. MOSS 2007 exacerbated the existing problem. Many organizations that already had WSS 2003, or had more broadly committed to SP 2003 had already lost control in most instances. SharePoint rollouts were largely planned, designed, built, deployed, and operated in a disjointed manner. MOSS 2007 forced organizations to regain control and was the "wake-up call" to the governance problem that organizations had created for themselves. Governance is the number one issue for SharePoint shops.
There have been, and are, exceptions to the simple illustration above. Some organizations that had solid technology management frameworks treated SharePoint in a more comprehensive manner. There were few rogue WSS situations and departmental portals were aligned within enterprise portal frameworks. These organizations were much better off when MOSS 2007 came along because they already had an shared service/infrastructure view of SharePoint as a platform to begin with. Governance was likely already in place.
Are there issues with SharePoint? Yes, absolutely. The user experience is not great. The functionality I expect in discussion forum is lacking, or requires customization. The blogging capability is perhaps the poorest of any enterprise product out there. The wiki is really not a wiki. The implementation of RSS rather than Atom was a stunning mistake. There's no tag/bookmark capability and the social networking capability is mediocre. SharePoint requires customization - few organizations succeed at an enterprise-level with SharePoint without significant investments to customize the platform.
But question lingers - does that mean that SharePoint "is not" Enterprise 2.0 ... that it is not a viable platform for E2.0?
That's the wrong question in my mind. If you go back to my tweets - Enterprise 2.0 is not about products per se. It's not a "what is" but "how used". It's about understanding how social software is used in emergent ways. Even if we wanted to get into the feature/function discussion on products, there is no accepted criteria to determine what constitutes an "Enterprise 2.0" tool.
One argument is that SharePoint is used extensively as a file share. Is that a unique problem? No. If you look at all workspace products: Novell Groupwise/Sitescape, EMC/Documentum's eRoom, Lotus QuickPlace/Quickr, and others presenting themselves as virtual team rooms for sharing files (i.e., Huddle) - they all have essentially the same issue. Across the board over the last decade, when I talk to clients they complain about workspace products becoming file dumping grounds over time - it's not just a SharePoint problem. When people use these environments for short-lived activities there may not be a problem. But the space may be left hanging around "forever" or if the project is long-running or involves a lot of different teams, then these products can become much more complicated and frustrate people.
I might suggest that the overall problem is the file-based workspace model itself (rather than a particulat product). Files themselves create difficulties (vs. hypertext and the web) for organizing and sharing information. File-based workspace models regardless of product have an inherent problem as they scale (content, people). They become cluttered and fragmented, especially when teams and communities are involved. The workspace model itself creates transparency issues. Users may have concerns about sharing content with people outside their team so they set access controls that prevent or limit people from knowing about the information. Workspaces can be effective and they are not going away - but until recently, they were the only game in town. Now we have wikis, blogs and other ways to share information and collaborate and become less dependent on file-based models.
The problem with workspaces in many ways becomes a "how used" issue, not a "what is" problem where we lay all blame on a product. There are organizational factors that contribute to the situation. We could create a better hierarchy of related workspaces for multi-team projects. We could leave workspace access controls more open to have greater public access by employees. We could organize the content within a workspace better. It is true that some products make this easier or harder than others - vendors have a role here and share some of the blame.
The other item to consider when critcizing vendors and workspace models is "time". SharePoint has been around for several years (as have other workspace vendor products from IBM, Novell, etc). As people begin to work natively with web-based content (blogs and wikis) they also still want (or need) to add word processing, spread sheets and presentation files into Jive, Socialtext and others - it will be interesting to see how these vendors also deal with the "how used" problem within their environments as they also begin to be used as "file dumping grounds". I'm already getting comments from clients on how these "next generation" products can still be used in ways that re-create old problems.
So my advice - let's get off the "what is" debate about products and features and focus on "how used" when it comes to E2.0.
SharePoint can be used in ways that create an anti-pattern of sorts when thinking about E2.0 - but it can also be used in ways that are well-aligned with E2.0 goals. Yes, often those success stories rely on partners that extend the capabilities of SharePoint as a platform. But the platform is leveraged and some capabilities (e.g., search/social distance, MySite) are credible. I have clients on both sides of the debate with successful and unsuccessful stories to tell.
The inconvenient truth is that the product does not eliminate the overwhelming influence that cultural dynamics has on how well an organization can leverage E2.0 concepts. I have clients piloting SharePoint alternatives. Some of the project champions I've talked to however hold little hope that they will achieve E2.0 goals given some of the overriding management control issues, compliance constraints, and unspoken social etiquette issues they face - even when they are not using SharePoint. Shocking... not.
Enterprise 2.0 is more about "how used", that it is about "what is"...
SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0
What is clear out of all of this is SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs.
It is also very clear Microsoft’s marketing is to be commended for seeding the enterprise world of the value of social software platform in the enterprise and the real value it can bring. Ironically, or maybe true to form, Microsoft’s product does not live up to their marketing, but it has helped to greatly enhance the marketplace for products that actually do live up to the hype and deliver even more value.