SharePoint My Sites: My First Impressions

Posted by Brett Young | Monday, May 18, 2009 | | 0 comments »

Two weeks ago we started piloting SharePoint My Sites. Although I’ve been using My Sites in a sandbox environment for several months, it was really nothing like using My Sites in the production environment with real security limitations and real people. Here are my first impressions:

People do not understand the differences between the My Home and My Profile tabs

For starters, people don’t understand that no one else can see their My Home tab. The My Home tab of the My Site is a personal workspace. You have the ability to add, remove, and configure web parts. However, any web part on the My Home page is inaccessible to other people. You can think of the My Home page like you would My Yahoo or iGoogle. You decide what the page looks like. It’s for you. We have implemented a 100MB quota on the size of a My Site. List, libraries, and sites must fit within that limit.

The My Profile tab, on the other hand, is what everyone else sees. Think of it as detailed listing within the corporate directory. All of the profile pages take their look and feel from a single site definition. So, our end-users don’t have the ability to change the look and feel of their profile page. However, people do have the ability to control access to some of the information and resources that are exposed through their profile page. Given our current state of a My Site immaturity, maintaining the profile is more important than maintaining other parts of a person’s My Site. The profile is the key to expertise location. In our pilot we have seen broad participation in adding photos and updating the profile fields, such as interests, skills, responsibilities and about me. Far fewer people have been uploading documents, creating lists, and creating sub-sites. I don’t see this as a problem.

The out-of-the-box site definition for My Sites is inadequate for most people

For the pilot, we intentionally left the My Site site definition as it is out of the box. Consequently, people get a My Site with an Outlook calendar web part that doesn’t work in our Lotus Notes environment, and an RSS reader web part that is not pointing to a feed. The initial My Home page is more or less blank. Although this blank My Site has potential for being configured to meet the individual needs of the user, most people do not have the skills, time, or desire necessary to do that. We now believe that a custom site definition for My Sites is critical to adoption. The initial My Home page should contain functioning web parts that deliver immediate value, without configuration by the end-user. Then, if someone wants to further personalize their My Home page, they can always do that. We are looking at providing the following web parts as part of the initial My Home page: email inbox, today’s calendar, company news, stock price, personalized weather, and an external RSS news feed.

It is not helpful to market MySites as internal Facebook

People like Facebook. They understand Facebook. So, it is very tempting to compare My Sites to Facebook. It’s not a good idea to do that. First, it builds an unrealistic expectation. Facebook is a Web 2.0 application designed from the ground up as a social networking platform. My Sites are built on MOSS and WSS. Facebook is relatively intuitive. Probably very few people feel the need for Facebook training. On the other hand, My Sites are about as easy (or hard) to use as any other Microsoft application. Frequently functions are hidden deep within complex menus. Seemingly simple functions, such as deleting a list or library throw people off. They invariably come away thinking a My Site is nothing like Facebook.

The second reason that comparisons to Facebook are problematic is that the feature sets don’t align. Sure there are some slight similarities. However, there is nothing in My Sites equivalent to status updates, the comment wall, or friend activity tracking. (No, the colleague tracker web part doesn’t even come close.) That’s fine. My Sites do a lot of cool business-related stuff that Facebook cannot do, like document management, approval workflows, and lists. So, the point isn’t that one is better than the other; it is that while there may be some loose similarities, they are two completely different tools, designed for different uses. It is better to market My Sites for what it is, a document-based, personal workspace with some basic social networking capabilities.

People do not understand the idea of My Site sub-sites

It’s clear that people are confused by the idea of sub-sites. When they create a blog, they expect it to be part of their My Site, instead of a completely separate sub-site. They don’t expect it to have its own settings that work independently of their My Site settings. It is probably a good idea to not communicate a lot about sub-sites to the masses.

It’s okay if most people never leverage My Sites

For some reason, there are a lot of people worried about what will happen if people don’t create a My Site. “How do we get people to create a My Site?” “How do we show them how to get value from their My Site?” I’m not sure it makes sense to put a lot of effort into forcing My Sites down the throats of our end-users’. My Sites are a cool capability that some people will understand and be able to leverage very quickly. However, most people may not need a My Site any time soon. That’s fine. Most people don’t need all of the capabilities within the Microsoft Office suite either, and that doesn’t keep anyone up at night. Instead of focusing on My Sites, focus adoption efforts on updating and maintaining personal profiles. The usage and value of profiles is more intuitive than that of My Sites. Make the My Sites capability available. However, let it grow organically, at least at first.

Most people are not going to leverage training and support resources

Before we kicked off our pilot we made sure that we had web-based training, and a support site with FAQs and other resources. We found that most pilot participants don’t utilize these training and support resources. Instead, they expect to learn My Sites as they play with them. Truthfully, this is how people in our company learn most applications.

In summary, we should focus on getting people familiar with using the profile page well. We can allow people to create a My Site, if they want. However, we should provide them with a My Home page that is instantly useful and that doesn’t require training. Microsoft tells us that only 8% of their employees use My Sites extensively. Most of their employees utilize Team Sites far more than My Sites. Now that we’ve started our own pilot, the reasons for this are clear.

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