Review: Social Sites for SharePoint 2010

More and more organizations are embracing social media not just to communicate with customers and partners, but between employees as well. Rather than using external sites, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, where sensitive information might accidentally be made public, dedicated solutions are increasingly seen as desirable. These dedicated social media sites for employees can be hosted internally or externally and can either be standalone or integrated into other technologies such as corporate email, instant messaging, and collaboration suites.

Enter Social Sites for SharePoint 2010 from NewsGator Technologies. Social Sites extends an existing Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2010 deployment to add a host of collaborative social media functions, such as blogging, communities, ad hoc question and answer capabilities, news feeds, video streaming, and more.

To get started with Social Sites, you need an existing installation of SharePoint 2010. Your installation must be an enterprise deployment: that is, you must have Active Directory (AD), with SharePoint configured to use AD as the identity store. I also discovered that you must have a configured and working My Site, even if you choose not to deploy to it. Installation isn’t for the faint of heart if you don’t have a vanilla SharePoint installation, or if your AD and networking configuration aren’t standard. The installation guide, although densely written, does walk you through these issues and gives pointers to solutions. After you address these problems (if necessary), installation becomes relatively easy.

Before launching the setup, you must configure a SharePoint administrator account with the necessary permissions to your SharePoint farm and services. I had to run the setup from my SharePoint server’s hard drive in a writeable folder so that the setup could write out the installation log and a configuration file for later use in unattended installations. One disconcerting problem I had was that I could only start setup if I configured the administrator account for the domain as the SharePoint administrator account and ran setup from that. Depending on the options you’re installing, you need to configure an account that email notifications are sent from, as well as various Web Application Pools and their identities—but these are common requirements for many SharePoint applications.

Be sure to schedule installation during a maintenance window; during installation, my SharePoint farm became unavailable at times as various services were stopped and configured. I also experienced a problem in which I didn’t deploy Social Sites to a web application that I wanted to, because of a mistake on my part. I had to completely uninstall Social Sites and reinstall it, rather than adding it to the site I wanted using the Repair option, as documented in the installation guide.

If you perform a standard installation and deploy Social Sites to your My Sites, your users will immediately see that the standard My Sites web parts and page have been replaced with the Social Sites web parts. On the left-hand side of the page is the Activity Stream, where users can post details of what they’re doing, make a general comment or observation, ask a question, or post a private message to another user. Users can flag postings that they like, add comments, share them, or mark them for follow-up. Answers to questions can be marked as the correct answer. Social Sites allows users to add personal subscriptions in the form of RSS feeds and tweets from Twitter. Users can register topics of interest to them and will receive tailored notifications or email messages containing those items or digests of items, depending on how they choose to receive the information. The Activity Stream refreshes itself, so users see updates as they occur. Each user can configure a comprehensive range of profile information and settings, including the ability to register activities he or she wants to follow, such as people receiving badges for activity, people changing job titles or managers, and profile updates.

The right-hand side of the page contains Communities, which need to be configured before they can be used. Communities are created as SharePoint websites, using templates that are added to your SharePoint farm. You can find these templates under the NewsGator tab in the Template Selection section of the New SharePoint Site webpage, which you access from Site Actions. Communities can be public or private; the private setting lets you restrict access. Users can join any public or private community that they have access to. Community members can send posts to all other members of the same community using the community name, and the posts appear in everyone’s Activity Stream and on the community home page. Community sites can have document and picture libraries, microblogs, question lists, discussion boards, and surveys, as well as subsites and workspaces. Communities are easy to search and join.

Social Sites does an excellent job of extending SharePoint with social media functions. It’s easy to get communities up and running, and employees can quickly start communicating and tracking communities, activities, and each other.

Social Sites for SharePoint 2010
PROS: Intuitive; easy to use; immediately useful
CONS: Requires a standard, enterprise SharePoint farm; domain administrator account necessary for installation; must uninstall and reinstall the product to deploy to a new web application, rather than simply extend its features
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: Starts at $2 per user per month
RECOMMENDATION: You should consider Social Sites if your company wants to offer employees an in-house social media solution and you’re an experienced SharePoint administrator who is comfortable managing a highly complex social media toolset.
CONTACT: NewsGator Technologies • 800-608-4597 •

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