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Sharepoint 2013 : Configuring User Profiles and Social Computing - What’s New in Enterprise Social?

11/20/2013 6:49:57 PM
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Enterprise social includes the social networking features and the infrastructure to support that capability. By now, most of us are familiar with social networking features such as microblogging, posting to an activity feed, liking posts, communities, and targeting users. SharePoint 2013 has all these capabilities, as well as several additional features that make it very attractive to enterprises that want to implement some sort of enterprise social capability.

My Sites

My Sites included social capability in SharePoint 2010, but in general the scope and breadth of the functionality was considered insufficient versus other social applications. In SharePoint 2013, My Sites have a new look, some improved capability for the activity feed, new functionality in the form of SkyDrive Pro, and some significant infrastructure changes. Overall, My Sites include three different sets of components:

  • A web application, content databases, and services
  • A My Sites host site collection
  • A personal site collection

Activity Feed

Those of you familiar with SharePoint 2010 know that it included a rudimentary activity feed (“My Newsfeed”) on the My Site host page. This displayed microblog posts and profile changes related to the user’s colleagues, such as when a user gets a new manager. This information was stored in a social database. While this was a good first step, it lacked the interactive nature that a true social feed such as Facebook provides, which is what users have come to expect. With SharePoint 2013, the new activity feed finally supports two-way conversations; therefore, it is a more fully functional microblogging environment. The My Site host site collection and web pages contain the activity feed or newsfeed page, and the About Me page of the user. A user can post activities, ask questions, comment on other posts, and “like” content in their feed. In addition, users see the activities from all their community memberships, and can follow people, documents, websites, and tags. A big change from SharePoint 2010 is that all activity feed content is stored in the user’s personal site, and this content is stored in one or more content databases. This means every user needs to have a personal site in order to use this capability.


NOTE Activity feed information, documents in the new personal document library called SkyDrive Pro, and information about sites and documents being followed are stored in content databases, which differs from SharePoint 2010, which stored social information in the social database. User profile data is still stored in the profile database in SharePoint 2013, just like it was in SharePoint 2010. Information about following people and tags is also stored in the profile database, just as it was in SharePoint 2010.

Hashtags

People who have never used Twitter may be wondering what a hashtag is. A hashtag is simply a keyword or topic that can be added to a microblog entry to enable other users to consume and filter content from their activity feed. For example, if you create a microblog entry that contains content about SharePoint 2013, you could add the hashtag “#sharepoint2013.” This simple action enables some very powerful behavior. In SharePoint 2013, hashtags can be followed as well as searched. Although in SharePoint 2010, the Managed Metadata service enabled you to tag documents and pages within your site, in SharePoint 2013 the tagging capability has been enhanced with this new hashtag capability in the activity feed.

Personal Site

The personal site is also a site collection, just like the My Site host site collection. This site contains two different SharePoint lists that contain the activity feed information, the SkyDrive Pro page and content, a page displaying the documents being followed, and a page displaying the sites being followed.

SkyDrive Pro

Personal file storage services have become very popular over the last few years. Numerous different applications, such as Box.net, Dropbox, and even Microsoft’s own SkyDrive, enable users to save, share, and synchronize personal files from any computer in the world. Typically, an application runs locally on the device, and the content is stored in data centers in the cloud. This may work well for personal information, but many corporations consider cloud storage a security risk and don’t allow employees to store company information in the cloud.

It is a private, personal file storage for the enterprise; therefore, SkyDrive Pro (SDP) differs from the public SkyDrive capability mentioned earlier. SDP provides a central location for storing all of a user’s documents, and sharing them with other employees. In addition to the SharePoint library, there is also a desktop application called SkyDrive Pro that is installed when Office 2013 is installed on the user’s desktop. The library and desktop application work together to deliver the following functionality:

  • An improved user interface and easier process for sharing documents with other people in the organization
  • Synchronization of the SkyDrive Pro library to your computer or mobile device

Distributed Cache

New to SharePoint 2013, the Distributed Cache service provides caching to various features in SharePoint 2013. This service is built on top of Windows Server AppFabric, which is installed as one of the SharePoint 2013 prerequisites. If you plan to use activity feeds, your farm must have the Distributed Cache service enabled. This cache temporarily stores the microblog entries so that they are immediately available to others in the environment.

Communities

SharePoint 2013 introduces a new site template called Community Site. This template builds upon the standard site template by adding a specifically tailored, moderated discussion board that helps to facilitate conversations between members of the community. In addition to creating and participating in discussions, community owners can also assign badges and set up a reputation system in their community. Another new template associated with communities is the Community Portal template. This enterprise site template provides results for any sites that use the Community Site template in the SharePoint farm.

In order to give users more incentive to participate in communities, SharePoint has included another new feature in their social toolbox, Reputation. Reputation enables users to find and engage experts, and encourages enterprise-wide social media adoption. After it is enabled on a community site, site owners can assign point values to various activities such as creating a new post or replying to a post. They can also define achievement levels that users can reach by accruing the defined number of points for that level. A user’s achievement level is displayed near his or her name throughout the site. An important part of the reputation system is badging, whereby a site owner can configure automatically assigning a badge to users when they reach an achievement level, or users can manually assign badges to other users.

User Profile Synchronization

User profile synchronization configuration in SharePoint 2010 was one of the more difficult, if not the most difficult, challenges administrators faced when deploying a new farm. Fortunately, SharePoint 2013 introduces a new option for synchronizing user profiles from Active Directory. Called Active Directory Import, this capability is similar to the SharePoint 2007 import process. There are many benefits to using this new import process, such as faster performance, easier setup, and the ability to use LDAP filters to limit the objects being imported. Unfortunately, there are also some drawbacks, the biggest of which is that the process is import only, which means there’s no capability to write back to Active Directory.

User profile synchronization using Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) is still available in SharePoint 2013. The FIM process is similar in configuration, but the full and incremental synchronization performance has been improved. Also available is support for custom synchronization using the User Profile Service web service and object models.

User Profile Replication Engine

The only real change to the User Profile Replication Engine is that it has been absorbed by the SharePoint team. This means that it is included with the other SharePoint 2013 components and therefore doesn’t require a separate download. Presumably, this also means that it will be given a little more attention in the future if updates or changes are needed.

 
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