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How to Build Your Own Social Network in the Enterprise for Free February 1, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks, Web 2.0.
Tags: , , ,

Believer it or not, you can actually build a social network for your enterprise for free. Thanks to Microsoft’s free Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and free SQL Server 2005 Express database, you can design and deploy an entirely new collaborative intranet or social network for your company that features many of the hottest web 2.0 features such as wiki’s, blogs, RSS feeds, calendar sharing, document sharing and more. Not only is it all free, but it can all be setup and ready in just a couple of hours. I know because I’ve done it.
There is confusion when it comes to Microsoft SharePoint. Most people automatically think of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 Server which is extremely expensive and not Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) which is free! Obviously, you get what you pay for when it comes to features and performance, but WSS is perfect for many companies, especially small to medium-sized organizations that cannot afford the expense that a fullscale SharePoint deployment costs. One of the reasons that makes SharePoint so expensive is its reliance on Microsoft SQL server, which isn’t cheap. The good news about the free WSS is that it uses the free Microsoft SQL Express 2005 database, which is robust enough for most environments.Here are the most important differences between WSS and MOSS.

  • Search across site collections – In WSS, each site collection is an island unto itself.  MOSS adds the portal umbrella that pulls together those separate site collections and allows for searching across them.
  • Personalization – MOSS allows users to have individual, personalized sites; WSS doesn’t.
  • User Profiles – MOSS allows you to import, store, and update personal data on your users, it’s not available in WSS
  • Audience Targeting – MOSS allows you to target content to specific user groups; WSS doesn’t.
  • Crawl and Index sources outside of SharePoint for searching- MOSS allows you to return search results for indexed sources such as file shares, web sites, Lotus Notes databases, and much more; WSS can only crawl and index WSS sites.
  • Search administration and customization – MOSS gives its admins much more control over the configuration of its search engine; WSS doesn’t.
  • Extra Site Templates – MOSS provides additional site templates (and workflows) for content management and portals
  • Business Intelligence – allows you to track key performance indicators and build BI dashboards into your team site. The dashboards can assemble and display business info using Excel spreadsheets, SQL, or integrate with line of business applications. Excel Services in MOSS go beyond simply displaying Excel spreadsheets, you can actually stream parts of a spreadsheet, showing or hiding various parts.

Note: The crawling, indexing and searching “weaknesses” of WSS can now be resolved by using Microsoft’s Search Server 2008 Express which is also free! Here is an exhaustive feature comparsion matrix for all SharePoint versions. Also, keep in mind that you can always upgrade from WSS to MOSS if/when the time (and BRINKS truck) comes!

Best Features for the Enterprise Intranet (Social Network)
It is amazing just how many features there are in the free SharePoint version (WSS 3.0 SP1). Most companies make SharePoint their intranet, thus becoming ground central for communication for all employees. Here are the most popular and useful features that you can use with your new SharePoint intranet.

Top Navigational System
There is usually a tab for the main home page and each department. This is merely an example, so the names of the departments and tabs will be different for each company. Here is what the typical navigational system for a SharePoint intranet looks like:

Quick Launch Components
Here are the most popular components used in SharePoint on the leftside of the browser and called the Quick Launch. Keep in mind that these components can all be used within each department’s portal! For example, you will find all of these elements on the intranet’s home page for all employees as well as in each department’s private area. Thus, H.R. can post public news and events on the main site for all employees to see and private information within their locked down area.

  • Announcements: Usually placed on the home page at the very top. Company news and announcements go front and center here.
  • Calendar: All company events and activities go into this public calendar. Holidays are usually added as well.
  • Contacts: All contact information is centralized in this public address book. It can include information on employees, vendors, partners, clients, etc.
  • Tasks: Action items and people assigned to them.
  • Projects: Basic tracking information for project tasks, including Gant charts
  • Wiki: Yes, you can launch wiki’s at will in the enterprise! They can be public wiki’s or private wiki’s for projects.
  • Blog: Yes, blogs are part of this free SharePoint as well. Companies use them for news updates or for project status updates.
  • Message Board: If you need a good old fashioned message forum then here it is.
  • Image Library: Control all authorized images, logo’s, etc.
  • Forms Library: Maintain all official forms and templates in the forms library.
  • Shared Documents: Ah, my favorite feature of them all. Companies can now have their own ECM (Enterprise Content Management) system for free!
    Create centralized depositories for all company documents and files and let SharePoint control versions and updates. Makes searching and finding documents much easier.
  • Surveys: Excellent way to take company polls on any subject matter.
  • Meeting Workspace: Powerful feature that assists with meetings. Documents decisions made, task assignments, agenda notes, and more.
  • RSS Feeds: Just about everything can have its own RSS feeds and email alerts!

Note: These are just some of the many features and components that are available for Windows SharePoint Services! See the links section below for more template examples available for free from the web!

Outlook Integration
WSS allows users to access just about any information thru their Microsoft Outlook 2007 client with seamless integration and synchronization.
Users can link SharePoint calendars, tasks, contacts and document libraries. Watch the videos below to see just how easy it is to do.

SharePoint Links
Here are some useful links that will provide information and tools that will make your new SharePoint intranet more stable and powerful.
Official WSS Homepage
WSS Overview
Download WSS 3.0 with SP1
Download All Free Templates
Template Previews
SharePoint TechCenter

SharePoint Videos
Windows SharePoint Services Overview:
Here’s how to setup a SharePoint Wiki.
Here is a video that demonstrates how easy it is to link a SharePoint calendar with the Outlook calendar.
Here is how to link Outlook 2007 with SharePoint Document Libraries.

Final Thoughts
Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) is powerful set of tools for the enterprise at any cost. The fact that WSS is free and easy to install makes it a no-brainer when it comes to deploying a versatile intranet or social network in the enterprise. If nothing else, WSS can help lead the way to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 solution which has even more enterprise class features with greater levels of load balancing, availability and complexity. In the mean time, deploy your own Enterprise 2.0 today!


1. Don Lafferty - February 2, 2008

Hugely informative post.

I’m in the process of laying out a SharePoint based solution for my company of 140,000 employees spread out all over the world.

I’m inclined to keep it simple in the beginning as I expect adoption and training to present some of our biggest challenges.

What are the drop dead, killer features of the MOSS 2007 product that I should consider before going with WSS?

Thanks, Don

2. Paisano - February 2, 2008

Excellent question. I will add more information in my post that will provide the answer to that critical question. In the mean time, here is a comparision matrix of WSS vs MOSS. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepointserver/HA101978031033.aspx

Keep this mind. You can very easily upgrade from WSS to MOSS!
This means you can create your intranet with database for free, customize it and build acceptance and then upgrade to MOSS when the time presents itself (and the budgets allow!).

Thanks for bringing this up. I meant to include this information but I got so excited about WSS 3 sp1.

3. Steve - February 3, 2008

Great article. I have posted some other sharepoint stuff on my site:

ScanGuru Microsoft Sharepoint Links

4. stefan demetz - February 6, 2008


killer features of MOSS are MySites (a personal website for each employee/user), KPIs (Top Management likes them a LOT), Infopath (E-forms as MS Office files clienside and/or webpages online at the same time), BDC to connect/search backend systems (SAP, SIEBEL, any ODBC RDBMS), Excel Services (run Excel on server), Records Management (archives your digital records)

Adoption will be swift (evn very quick) if you provide them with useful services, for training you should contact a good Learning Services provider.

Deploying Sharepoint to 140k users is hard if you’re geographically speard across the world (think Regional Farms, Replication, WANs, Distaster Recovery) whatever Sharepoint version

You definitely need a good architect/consulting outfit with experience in such large deployments …


5. Toby Ward - February 7, 2008

Great article and great insight (I’ve blogged and linked to you on the Communitelligence.com > Intranet Insider community and will also blog it on my main and more heavily trafficked blog at http://www.IntranetBlog.com).

Just curious, what sort of programming skills do you need to work with and set-up WSS? HTML and ASP I assume…? If you would, could you share with your readers a couple of screenshots to show us what your site looks like using WSS?

Cheers, Toby Ward

6. Mariana - February 14, 2008

Very interesting and useful article. But WSS seems to be free in the sense that it comes with Windows Server 2003. Am I right or have missed something? As far as I can understand only a TRIAL version of WSS can be downloaded from MS’s site.
Best regards

7. Paisano - February 14, 2008

Very good question. Microsoft’s use of the word “Trial” download for WSS is a misnomer. Most of the time, trial means limited time usage for a product that you are required to purchase if you intend to continue its usage. That is not the case with WSS at all. It is free for life. Well, for now anyway. 🙂

Licensing: Windows SharePoint Services is provided as part of the Windows Server 2003 operating system and Windows licensing terms apply to its use. Please review the Windows SharePoint Services supplemental licensing information. There is no additional charge for Windows SharePoint Services.

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Am I missing something here? Where exactly is the “HOW TO?” It’s nice that something like this is supposedly possible, but HOW do I set up and manage all these features in a way that looks professional and usable for a production company social network?

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Do you have an step by step installation/implementation path at least for the basic deployment using WSS and MySQL .. I’ll appreciate your help.



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