Collaboration trends are changing the way people work together. Social tools are essential to the daily lives of many people. The proliferation of social software demonstrates that users find value in this new generation of tools. Employees are now demanding this same value be delivered from their organizations. They want to engage socially with the people they work with and build stronger relationships within their companies. Traditional content management and collaboration solutions are incorporating new features to satisfy the social and information sharing demands of the enterprise. Microsoft’s latest release of SharePoint delivers a platform with an integrated approach to social computing.

The adoption of SharePoint in the business community continues to grow. SharePoint provides a wide variety of functionality in a single platform, and the 2010 version integrates the portal, content management, collaboration, search, forms and reporting workloads that organizations have come to expect with the social computing features that users demand. Technologically savvy users expect to interact with others using capabilities such as user ratings and comments, social networking, social tagging, micro-blogging and media sharing. SharePoint Server 2010 provides an enterprise environment that empowers information workers with social tools and experiences very similar to those available on the Internet. SharePoint blends social computing and traditional content management capabilities to enable people to work together effectively within a single platform.

User ratings and comments were among the first implementations of user-generated content. The idea that Web sites are not simply static content published for users, but that users should be able to interact with the content has inspired many of the social tools available today. This feedback mechanism provides visitors with an engaging experience while also validating the contribution of the author. Simple rating solutions provide a single-click feedback option, while a comments section enables users to supply more detail.
Some of the popular collaboration trends include social technologies on the Internet. Social networking was one of the first collaboration trends to surface, with sites such as Friendster and MySpace. Facebook and LinkedIn are currently popular examples of this social technology. Social bookmarking shares links publicly instead of saving bookmarks in a Web browser in sites like Digg and Delicious. Twitter enables micro-blogging. Multimedia sharing has also become a very popular on sites such as YouTube. Another example of media sharing is podcasting.

Social tools and experiences are generating new opportunities for organizations to empower and motivate their workforce. Many positive business results are possible with the proper planning, implementation and management of a collaboration solution. Competitive advantages can be created from converting captured knowledge into new or improved processes, products and services. Employees can become more engaged and productive through the resulting development of strong social relationships. These relationships can foster greater identification with the organization, thereby reducing turnover and decreasing lost productivity and costs related to filling vacant positions. SharePoint has historically focused on document management and structured collaboration. Adding this next generation of social computing capabilities balanced with the more traditional portal, content management, business intelligence and search capabilities shows a new direction for Microsoft. SharePoint 2010 takes the latest social technologies from the Internet and tightly integrates this functionality within its enterprise platform. This is great news for executives and managers who want to enable this type of collaboration in their organizations while maintaining identity and information security.

The My Site functionality was originally introduced in the 2003 version of the product, SharePoint Portal Server 2003. This first iteration of social networking capability provided users with a profile and site they could customize. These sites were simply intended to provide storage of private and public documents. The next version, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, brought new features such as enhanced profile attributes, privacy controls, Exchange/Outlook integration and blogs.

SharePoint Server 2010 takes the concept of social computing to another level with more focus on people and their interactions than ever before. The new My Site status update and note board capabilities mimic two of the most popular social collaboration technologies today. The SharePoint status update feature is very similar to those found on Facebook or Twitter. Users enter a short message to communicate what they are currently working on or other relevant status information. These status updates are broadcast to the note boards of colleagues.

The note board is very much like the Facebook wall feature, which manages notes and recent activities of colleagues. Each note or activity displays the user photo, name and online presence with the post. Users can create notes to ask questions, share comments or make suggestions. The note board can easily be configured by each user to customize the information presented. This feature is available throughout SharePoint to provide a similar user experience when commenting on sites and documents.

A rating feature has also been included in SharePoint 2010. The previous product version required custom code or third-party tools to enable a rating capability. The new version features a user-friendly, five-star rating system that is available for content pages, lists, document libraries and individual content items. User ratings integrate with the enterprise search capability of SharePoint to deliver quality search results with added context from user feedback. The ratings also enhance the user experience with additional sort and filter options when viewing list items or documents.

Social tagging and bookmarking have both found their way to the platform too. A button for each function is displayed in the site header, enabling users to identify their interest in a site or associate tags to specific content. The bookmarking feature offers a quick and easy way to communicate interest in a specific page, list or item. Tags allow users to enter their own terms or use common keywords to provide additional context to SharePoint content. Users are prompted with tag suggestions as they begin to enter text to help reduce duplicate or erroneous input. Tag clouds are available to help visualize the popularity of user-generated tags.

The multimedia support has also been enhanced in the newest release. Users can easily upload and share multimedia content throughout the SharePoint environment. Real-time video streaming allows users to play back videos without having to download files to the desktop. A Silverlight media player is included to play back multimedia content in the browser. The media player can be used to embed audio and video in Web pages, blogs and wikis. Also included is a new feature enabling users to add and upload media directly within blog posts, which improves the user experience dramatically.

Social computing is the new wave of communication and collaboration. Social tools empower information workers to collaborate more effectively. Improved collaboration can foster corporate innovation and increase employee engagement, leading to greater production and reduced turnover. SharePoint Server 2010 blends traditional collaboration capabilities with the latest trends in social computing to provide a platform that enables companies to achieve results.

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