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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!

How to Sneak Social Media into the Enterprise January 10, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks.
Tags: , , ,
Something strange happened today. Earlier in the day, I had posted a comment on Chris Brogan’s blog in response to his excellent piece “Challenges of Social Media Types in the Workplace“. I shared how torn I was as a Systems Administrator because I had to block access to many popular social networking sites that I enjoyed and appreciated on a personal level. I also believe that these technologies can and will become commonplace in the workplace of the near future. We just have to figure out how to get upper management to let down their guard and give these new ideas a chance. But the trick is, how?Well, here’s where it got interesting. I spent most of my day after that point working on what used to be a dull and mind-numbing experience: Composing SOP (Standard Operating Procedures)!

I had to complete five new ones, no less! What I didn’t realize was happening was the fact that I was sneaking Web 2.0 in thru the backdoor and into our company and embedding it into our network!

How you might ask? Well, quite by accident or was it subconsciously? You be the judge.

Making the Connection

As I was creating the first SOP, I came to the section where I had to list referencial materials such as forms that must be filled out for all procedures mentioned in the document.

I knew I had all of the forms stored on my SharePoint 2007 Enterprise system in the IS Forms folder. I also had the SOP documents stored on SharePoint in the SOP folder right near the forms. Hmmm, I thought. Why don’t I just use hyperlinks on the form names that could actually launch the Word or Excel application and open the form required? Simple habit from my blogging experiences.

I added more hyperlinks not just to the forms but to all other resources referenced in the document such as the list of authorized Vendors with contact and account information, computer inventory databases, spreadsheets used to track Blackberry numbers and so much more.

Strengths in Numbers

There were many sections where I needed more information and feedback in order to complete. Instead of the usual emailing back and forth of documents with colleagues trying to complete a document, I thought it might be more efficient if we somehow collaborated on the document in realtime. Since SharePoint didn’t have this feature and we didn’t have our own solution in place yet, I decided to use Zoho Meeting. Within minutes I had a few of my colleagues all looking at the same documents and screens that I was looking at it, right from their own desks. We took turns making changes to the procedures and in no time at all completed what would’ve taken days previously!

Seeing The Light!

OK, so now this usually boring activity is becoming more fun and becoming alive because it could actually turn out to be a useful tool. I was only beginning the process of smuggling Web 2.0 in thru the kitchen.I arrived at a difficult section in the document where I had to describe a process that I could do with my eyes closed but it was hard to explain in words. I wondered, how would I explain this on the web? As I was staring at the screen I saw a lightbulb. No, not the proverbial idea lightbulb but something at the top of my screen that looked like a lightbulb. It was the icon for the Jing Project screencasting program that I had recently installed! I smiled as I put web 2.0 and 2.0 together. I would create a screencast of the difficult and detailed sections of my SOP! Talk about perfect timing!

After creating the screencast and creating a hyperlink to the movie from within the document, I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying the once tideous and excruciating process had become!

The document that used to be a listless static piece of paper was now a supercharged webpage with images, hyperlinks to forms, spreadsheets, databases, contact lists, websites and more.

Tip of the Iceberg

Needless to say, this was a rather simplistic example of how we can incorporate some of the best features of social media and social networking into the enterprise.

There are countless other ways to do this limited only by the imagination. I’ve already begun to think of ways to add live group chat to the process and video conferencing, perhaps with twitter feeds and flickr embedded images. We just need to look at the way we’ve always done things from a different perspective.

Think Web 2.0 which doesn’t just mean FREE, my friends. I think it means thinking outside the box and towards making everything more collaborative, effective and heck, even fun! What’s wrong with breathing some life into the stale, musty business world? Who says we have to let all the kids on Facebook and MySpace have all the joy? We each have the choice to do something differently or do them the same way we’ve always done them. In the end, it’s up to you which path you take.

Me? I’m taking the road to funville!

Excuse me, there goes my snitter. What did Scoble get himself into this time?!