Simple Answers to Complex Questions – Social Integration with SharePoint 2013

It was pretty interesting to read the Microsoft guidance yesterday. I’m happy that Microsoft is giving some direction. For sure, there is a lot of confusion about what is really going to happen at what times. And, while I understand the need for a high-level statement, the reality is that simple advice like “go with Yammer” doesn’t really serve large companies well. The Microsoft blog post does have a nod toward the complexity of on-premises deployments.

Jeremy Thake does a nice job talking about what this actually means in his blog post. It was fun reading this because these are all the things that we had to work through in building Social Sites and in making sure it works great with SharePoint 2013. His list includes all the issues that companies will have because a great deal of social functionality that is built into SharePoint 2013 (like following sites, documents and people, hashtags, communities, etc) will all need to be disabled in order to prevent confusion and fragmentation of data if companies decide to “go with Yammer”. This is also the same set of issue that exists if companies decide to “go with Jive”. The truth is that Microsoft spent three years investing in making social a pervasive part of SharePoint 2013. So if you pick a separate platform, you have all these features that work inconsistently or don't work.

But the problem is even bigger than this. All of those features were put in SharePoint 2013 for a reason – because they add value. So the real problem is not “how do I turn off all this functionality?” The real problem is “how do I use all this functionality in consistent and reliable way?” Users want to follow documents and see if they change. Users want to see if someone has answered their discussion thread. So just taking out these features is not the answer.

So let’s say someone says “just use Yammer for those things.” Well, here’s where you get to the real crux of it – those things are hard to do. It’s a pretty interesting problem to try to figure out every place where those features exist and replace them with new features that work with a different platform (and have hooks into the data that’s needed from SharePoint). If you can’t insure that you can seamlessly authenticate the user from anywhere in SharePoint to Yammer, those features aren’t going to work. And, in every case where the service needs to go get some information that’s not provided by a user (let’s say Yammer wanted to go pull some analytics data from SharePoint for example), you have all the issues of network security to let authenticated calls happen against SharePoint from outside your firewall. And there aren’t API’s available for all those calls for code that’s not running on SharePoint. It’s a hard problem. We spent a long time looking at it as we were building the SharePoint 2013 version of Social Sites.

I realize this is all down “in the weeds” a bit, but the point is that the problem is complex. So we shouldn’t expect quick and simple solutions from Microsoft. You can see this in the drift of the target time frames from the 90-day release schedules talked about at the SharePoint conference as being a 2013 thing to being a 2014 thing (and this is for cloud releases).

The bigger picture vision here is great. Microsoft is focused on enabling social and collaboration across lots of systems. At NewsGator, we see this as giving us more infrastructure to use to solve real social use cases. In working with customers and prospects, it’s clear that making social real for them goes well beyond just delivering an activity stream. We’ve built our company on doing the tricky infrastructure and complex integration that makes these stories possible. At the same time, we’ve spent years learning what makes social successful in companies, and we and our partners help customers along the path to social adoption. We’re early in this journey, but it’s been a blast and I look forward to helping customers for years to come. The bottom line for NewsGator is that we’re not going to give companies simplistic advice that won’t meet their needs. Instead, we’re going to help them get real value from social in their business.

A classmate of mine from MIT used to attach this quote from H. L. Mencken to every one of his emails. “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” For most large companies, the “go with Yammer” advice fits this quote.

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