Chapter 8: Sites, Blogs, and Wikis

Addison Wesley Professional

Portals are a great facilitator of collaboration because they provide the forums and tools for individuals, independent of location, to come together virtually to access and alter a single source of content. Collaboration is not simply content creation but also the means of getting there—the process that people use to work together. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 introduces a number of new tools to take organizational collaboration to a new level. The tools themselves are not new in concept, but the notion of introducing them and connecting them within corporate firewalls can have a dramatic impact. Moreover, the fact that the tools are so easy to use, combined with the integration with the way people already work, is downright revolutionary. They offer a new paradigm of unstructured knowledge capture. By making it very easy to capture an expert's thoughts electronically, information that typically goes undocumented or stays in an expert's head will likely get shared more often, benefiting entire teams if not entire organizations.

Team sites, blogs, and wikis all offer different means of allowing individuals or teams to store, share, and alter structured content (for example, documents) and unstructured content (commentary) in a single environment. It also enables organizations to quickly share information across organizations—for example, a regular communication with suppliers, partners, or customers. The return on investment associated with collaboration initiatives is typically measured with two main metrics:

  • The ability to effectively store information that was not being documented

  • The ability to retrieve and reuse that information to accelerate a highly repeatable business process

Collaboration is less a science and more a philosophy. In the business world, it is the belief that providing tools for knowledge sharing offers competitive and measurable benefits.

Getting Started with Collaboration

Why is collaboration difficult? If the results are so compelling, why do so few organizations have good collaboration strategies? The answer is a combination of technology and methodology. Knowledge workers, the individuals within an organization who interact with and execute business processes, need the right tools to allow them to document information that is potentially useful to peers. In that same sense, organizations need to ease rules around content approval in order for this information to flow freely into the knowledge system. It's actually harder than that. Even with the right tools and permissions, these knowledge workers need guidance on what information is truly useful and where it should go. Additionally, beyond the technology and processes that foster good collaboration, incentive structures need to be in place to encourage knowledge workers to take that extra step to contribute and categorize content for later reuse.

Challenges of Knowledge Placement

The challenge of knowledge placement is significant because most employees have multiple roles around corporate content. An individual can be an employee of the organization, a member of a department, an expert in a practice area, or a contributor on multiple project teams. Each role is associated with different corporate data and business processes. How does one know when to share?

One approach is to segment the multiple levels of corporate information into three main categories:

  • Organization. This is highest level and represents the collection of all employees. From a content perspective, information at this level pertains to all or most users. It may contain corporate news and announcements, mission statements, human resources and benefits information, and any broadcast information.

  • Communities. Communities are collections of individuals with similar interests, expertise, or business roles. They can be departments or practice areas. From a content perspective, information at this level is mostly interesting to members. It may contain templates, best practices, white papers, and training materials.

  • Virtual teams. Virtual teams are small groups of employees who come together for some fixed amount of time to complete an objective. The "virtual" part of this is a new concept to many people. Teams are becoming less fixed and are forming instead to accomplish a set of tasks and then dispersing again.

    A team could consist of project members or product teams. From a content perspective, information at this level is very interesting to members and potentially interesting to members of other virtual teams looking to complete a similar objective. It might contain document deliverables, discussion threads, and meeting notes.

Think of your collaborative organization as a hierarchy with users playing a potential role at each level (see Figure 8.1). An individual can have responsibilities at one or more levels. His or her knowledge contribution is based on the role that the user plays within a given virtual team or leadership position. For example, an analyst might be very active in contributing documents and commentary at a project level but has no need to contribute at the organizational level. An executive might not be on any project's team but needs to understand what the team is doing and offer strategic guidance and vision at the organizational level. One of the biggest challenges around any portal and collaboration strategy is how to take the best work products from virtual teams and communities and expose them to the wider organization once those teams and/or communities have disbanded.

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1

A user can play roles at one or more levels of collaborative responsibility within an organization.

Developing a Collaboration Strategy

The first step in developing a collaboration strategy is defining the levels at which you wish employees to contribute. This will help from a security perspective in terms of defining rules around who can or cannot contribute at each level. It will also offer the needed guidance to individuals about knowledge placement within the framework.

The next step is to define the type of content (remember, both structured and unstructured) that maps to each level. As stated earlier, collaboration is just as much about the process of building content as it is the end result. At the virtual team level, as an example, this means providing an environment where members can incrementally write a document, each contributing content and commentary, with all of the steps and results being stored. In addition, collaboration also includes the capability to capture information that indirectly influenced the end result. As an example, this could be research about a set of products that lead to a competitive analysis document. The goal is to tie all this information together into one logical environment.

The final step is tool selection. What is the best way for the CEO to periodically address employees? How can a practice team effectively work together to write a paper on project methodology and share the results of their efforts? How can several team members contribute to the same document and not inadvertently lose changes? This is where we introduce WSS 3.0. team sites, wikis, and blogs. Each maps well to a specific knowledge- capture scenario. The goal is to leverage these tools to meet the specific objectives in a collaboration strategy. To ensure high user adoption, they must be easy to use and easy to access. This is the value that the connected environment of a MOSS 2007 portal offers. It becomes the single source of corporate information. It is an enabler in that it delivers on the objective of making all users consumers and producers of corporate content.

Working with Team Sites

Team sites are not a new concept to SharePoint users. SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 both had site templates to support virtual teams. WSS 3.0 has extended the use of virtual team sites or workspaces by introducing added features and functionality to enhance the collaboration experience for site members.

If you're unfamiliar with the previous version of SharePoint, team sites are containers that allow you to store documents, lists of data, and other information. Think of it as a file share combined with an Access database, but with lots of additional features. The content that you store may include documents, hyperlinks, custom lists, contacts, and other team data. The value of a team site (remember, this is a small group of peers coming together to complete an objective) is measured at three levels:

  • Individual. An individual can leverage a team site as a single repository for all team-related material. It is the place to go to get up to speed if the individual joins the team in mid-project, and it is the one place to go to add or access the content generated by the team. An individual can be a contributor to all, some, or none of the content. Security associated with the site, from the page down to the content group (or Web part), is managed by the site administrator.

  • Team. Teams can leverage a team site as a means of sharing without using email or other methods. Document libraries have version control to monitor changes as well as check-in\check-out to ensure there is always only one active version of a document. Geographically dispersed teams don't have to struggle with how to share their work.

  • Organization. All members of an organization can leverage the information within a team site by allowing direct access to all exposed team content. Because sites are template-driven, organizations can ensure that all project or product sites are organized in the same manner, thus giving users a consistent look and feel and a quicker path to finding relevant content.

Getting Started

To create a site for a virtual team, you will likely want to create the site from the MOSS site directory page. The site directory is a special SharePoint list that keeps track of URLs to SharePoint sites along with some information about the site. This is one of the sites that is automatically created for you when using the MOSS Intranet Site template. To navigate to the site directory, click the Sites tab on your intranet navigation (or go to http://server/sitedirectory, which is the default location for the site directory). If you are using WSS 3.0 and not MOSS 2007, you can simply create a new site from wherever you are, but it will not have the site directory available for keeping track of the site you created.


Note - To add categories to the site directory, navigate to the site directory. Then click Site Actions ' View All Site content. Then click the Sites list. Then click Settings ' Create Column from the toolbar. If you want the category values to appear as "browseable" filters on the site directory page, make sure you use a Choice data type when you create the column.


Use the Site Actions context menu to select Create Site (see Figure 8.2). Note in WSS 3.0 that you will want to do this from the parent site (or the site that will logically represent the level above your new site).

Figure 8.2

Figure 8.2

Creating a new site from the MOSS site directory.

You'll see a section for template selection that contains multiple tabs. The first tab is associated with collaboration templates. The first item in the list, Team Site, is selected by default. Team sites and workspaces are very similar, with the concept that team sites are long-lived, while workspaces are shorter-lived and geared toward a specific work task. But in the end they are pretty much the same. Figure 8.3 shows the site creation page. Supply a site title and URL to complete the creation process. Notice that the creation page also allows you to deviate from the parent site security model. This would be done in cases where you want to establish specific permission for site users.

Figure 8.5

Figure 8.3

Provide a title, description, and URL, and select which template to use.

Figure 8.3 shows the newly created team site. By default, the site contains no data and has a few default Web parts on the homepage. If the site inherited security from the parent (this is the default), the list of site users matches the parent, and the creator of the site is the site administrator and the only person who can access the site.


Note - SharePoint sites may not include the following characters:

\ / : * ? " < > | # { } % & <TAB>.

The following characters cannot be used in the naming of files to be uploaded to SharePoint:

" # % & * : < > ? \ { | } ~ .

SharePoint file names cannot exceed 128 characters in length.


How Do SharePoint Team Sites Work?

To add users to the team site, use the Site Actions context menu and select Site Settings. The first column is titled Users and Permissions. Click Users and Groups to add more members.

Let's look at how the default presentation of a team site is organized. The left side navigation gives users quick access to specific lists (things like document libraries, custom lists, and calendars). The main body of the page contains Web part zones (or placeholders for Web parts). Additional Web parts can be added by using the context menu associated with Site Actions and selecting Edit Page. Note that you need specific permissions on the site to do so. Figure 8.4 shows a team site in edit mode. There are boxes around Web parts that allow for drag and drop into other Web part zones. There are also hyperlinks in each zone labeled "Add a Web part" that allow you to introduce a new Web part from the Web part gallery.

Figure 8.4

Figure 8.4

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