Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Authority and SharePoint

I need to recommend Cyberchiefs by Mathieu O'Neil

Though the work concentrates on the Open Source web community and not Microsoft, its study of wikipedia, blogging, and project communities are very useful to anyone thinking about how SharePoint technology will impact their organization.

I find that organizations don't tend to think of the risk of Web 2.0. You get people who ignore Web 2.0 and people who think its great, but O'Neil is for those who thinks "it just is", and looks at collaboration and community on the web as a social reality with its negative and positive impacts.

O'Neil studies authority and autonomy, and these are the key issues on SharePoint systems as well. O'Niel identifies four spaces of kinds of authority on the Internet.

  • Projects
  • Networks
  • Assembly
  • Forum
Each one tends to be dominated by its own kind of leaders, to form its own kind of community and will tend to follow its specific history.

SharePoint offers Web2.0 tool to provide all these spaces. Team Sites are classic project sites where experienced leaders can guide teams to produce text. Blogs provide at hand network tools, and Wiki and document libraries can provide Assembly function. Discussion forums are a standard of SharePoint.

Reading this book you can get some idea of what social impact these structures can have on your organization.

A few points, more my ideas but coming out of a third reading of this amazing book:

  1. Organizing your collaboration by projects will promote a community of experience, with more senior and experienced staff gaining status and cultivating sites as super users guiding new users. Team Sites are really SharePoints killer app as far as collaboration goes.
  2. Providing Blogs will produce a culture of competition and rankings, with key blogs and bloggers becoming more and more interested in outdoing each other, having more viewers, getting more content and being seen as more important to the organisation.
  3. Wiki projects will almost always become involved heavily in rules and regulations, as the leaders emerge trying to give some order to a fairly chaotic content too.
  4. Discussion forums are the hunting grounds of male macho bullies. I would strongly suggest to any IA or System Admin working with SharePoint to not give out discussion groups lightly, and to keep an eye on them in case they get out of hand. Discussion forums almost inevitably become full of flames.
The examples O'Niel usese from Wikipedia, LambdaMoss, Second Life, dailykos and debian all strike home for anyone who has used SharePoint in an office.


SharePoint is a great project tool, and projects are great social structures for companies to get work done. If you are looking at SharePoint as a collaboration tool you might ask "what kind of collaboration is good", and the project structure is the best.

These are not O'Neils rules but mine, but I think they can server as a good starting point:

Bob Hookers Golden Rules of SharePoint Sociology:
  1. Provide collaboration in project sites seen only by project members.
  2. Company wide information should be provided in managed sites with managed feedback.
  3. Discussions should only be allowed on project sites and limited to project time.
  4. Establish a shared understanding of proper SharePoint practice. Net guides can only be of so much value. For example it is very bad form on the net to flame someone for spelling mistakes, in a business it is probably necessary to point them out.
  5. Do not let managers and the works they work with access to the same forums.
  6. Avoid long life sites and projects that are collaborative.
  7. Make sure you bloggers understand a shared set of rules, to not "hot dog"
Sadly many of the most interesting new tool in SharePoint like Wikis, blogs and chats are also those with the most social danger. Flame wars and deletion by "net nazis" are bad enough on the web, but imagine if any of these problems came to work.

Think about how Wikipedia works, would you really want to work like that? To have your work suddenly deleted by a more senior manager because it was not relevant or some other subject assessment? Would you want to talk with you managers in a chat room full of flamers?

My suggestion to someone thinking about the impact of SharePoint, stick mostly to collaboration by groups within groups, give projects with set life times, and keep a keen eye on what is Company wide vs. project local. Don't hand a company wide tool to users by accident.