This morning at SHARE, Christian Buckley began his session on The Connection Between Metadata, Social Tools, and Personal Productivity by mentioning that the presentation was the direct result of conversations he's had with members of the SharePoint community. Beginning another conversation, this one with his near-capacity SHARE audience, Christian asked, "How productive are your end users? Anyone feel like they're getting optimal performance?" Somewhat surprisingly, one hand was raised, but that person almost immediately qualified her response by saying, "Well, maybe not optimal…"
Christian suggested that if you can understand what the business is trying to accomplish, you (and, by extension, your end users) will be that much more likely to succeed in achieving optimal performance. Christian referenced a blog post he's written, Breaking the Suck Threshold, which itself references Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users blog. Specifically, the post sees Christian expounding upon a graphic of Kathy's which illustrates "How fast and how far can you take your users?" and which plots ability against time, and features the aforementioned "Suck Threshold." It's good stuff. You should read it.
Seriously, go ahead and read it. Don't worry, it's very short. I'll wait here.
Back? I told you it was good, didn't I? OK, let's continue.
On the topic of the Suck Threshold, Christian observed today that, "People blame SharePoint for [what in actuality is] a failure of the process around planning for SharePoint." Or, in the immortal words of Dux Raymond Sy, "SharePoint doesn't suck, you suck!"
Christian went on to posit that "social tools help people collaborate online more effectively." Taking the Social CRM process as one example, he pointed out that the social features which are integrated into such platforms provide hooks into customers' social profiles, allowing for a powerful, holistic view of those customers.
Christian said that the role of the Information Worker is changing because, "fundamentally … the way they communicate [now] is very much real-time collaborative." He went on to say that cloud adoption is also helping to drive the changing role of the Information Worker, because "it's less and less about the hardware," and that "the movement is towards the outsourcing of that [on-premises hardware] piece." Christian also noted that economics have changed as well, and that SharePoint helps allow companies to do more with fewer people.
"Metadata is at the base of any knowledge management platform," Christian stated. He went on to show a graphic depicting how, from a metadata standpoint, you have taxonomy and folksonomy with a social media layer on top of them, "adding context to the content in the [knowledge management] system." On top of that social media layer, you have search, and Christian shared the insight that "Social and search are at the center of the next wave of SharePoint."
Addressing the notion of structured (taxonomy) versus unstructured (folksonomy) metadata, Christian said that "SharePoint lends itself well to an ad hoc, unstructured approach," but cautioned that this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Structured metadata is easier to manage, but the downside is that "lots of planning" is required. With unstructured, or decentralized metadata on the other hand, not much planning is required, but it's much more difficult to align the data in a meaningful fashion for users down the line. Some common migraines involving metadata include: people not applying metadata, legacy content is migrated slowly (if at all), taxonomy is inconsistent, users can't find content, and search quality isn't "high fidelity."
Christian reiterated that "metadata is the fundamental building block," and that social uses both taxonomy and folksonomy. Taxonomy allows for effective management of content, and folksonomy helps refine it. Metadata exists around user profiles as well as around the artifacts themselves, Christian pointed out, summing up by saying, "Metadata is the key to making social work."
As for why SharePoint needs social, Christian called out: the existence if islands of information; users often can't find anything; you can't tell who owns what; it can be difficult to determine what's new/old/changed; and ultimately, everything is disconnected. Social improves search by "helping surface data in a very complex environment," and in a manner that's relevant to individual users at that.
Christian observed that one challenge with social, however, is that "it's easy to measure quantitative productivity gains, but really difficult to measure qualitative gains." Christian wrapped up with four ways to improve productivity through metadata: with taxonomy; with workflows, automating as much as possible; with forms; and with social. Regarding social, Christian warned that "it should not be taken lightly … if you don't have a strategy, don't turn it all on," but when you do have a strategy and social in place, you'll find that overall findability will be much improved.