Over the last decade we’ve seen a mass migration of file shares into SharePoint. Some say the goal of this effort is to improve search, while others cite collaboration. So why does it seem there is an inverse usability equation to SharePoint – or put more simply why does it seem the more files users put into SharePoint, the harder it is to use?
Out of the box SharePoint search and meta-data are designed to do one thing: help the user find the files stored in SharePoint. SharePoint implementations often produce frustrated users. The reason for this frustration is simple. The users are seeking information they know is within SharePoint, but instead of taking the user to it, SharePoint search produces endless lists of files.
Microsoft and the SharePoint vendor community have attempted to address this by focusing on meta-data as a method for improving search. The SharePoint team also reworked search in SharePoint 2013 to provide a “look inside” feature. Both miss the point that the reason users are seeking information today is often disconnected from the original intent of the file.
For example, think about Mark Twain’s great quote “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–not absence of fear.” The reason someone might cite this quote today is highly unlikely to have anything to do with Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar where it originally appeared. Any table of contents to that Calendar is also not likely to be useful. To the user the file and its structure are often completely irrelevant containers that serve only to obscure the information they seek.
We recently conducted a study of over 1,100 organizations using SharePoint and found that approximately two thirds of the information in SharePoint repositories was not being authored, but there simply for reference. Over 68% of the time when a user does a SharePoint search they are seeking something deeper than a file. And it was no surprise that the top three barriers to using SharePoint content were listed as Awareness that the content exists, Search, and general Usability.
Now turn this whole issue over and look at it from the sharing point of view. Our study showed the number one goal of social initiatives was to improve collaboration, and number two was to encourage the use of stored content. Over 80% of these initiatives are expected to improve productivity. How will this occur if all we do is attach or reference a file in a conversation thread? We already know users find dealing with files frustrating, so why focus on giving them more of the same?
The SharePoint product team tells you SharePoint 2013 is a major step forward for enterprise social software, but their efforts don’t seem to connect the content users want with any social collaboration. Is the connection between social and SharePoint about sharing files? When you reference a file in a blog like this, are you really referencing the file or something in it, like a quote or a statistic? How about when referencing a wiki, discussion group, or activity feed?
I’d be surprised if you are even reading this portion of the blog. People don’t consume information in long form. They consume information in small clips and phrases as they go through their day. This is why we’ve focused our energy on extending SharePoint search to find those small clips and phrases, and to provide easy methods to share them in any collaborative environment.
Our goal is to change the inverse correlation equation and get back to an equation where adding information to SharePoint equals increased productivity. This isn’t going to happen until we stop thinking about information in terms of files and recognize that it is the key passages and exhibits within these files that really matter.