Control needed as Office Delve introduces even more potential for confusion

Control needed as Office Delve introduces even more potential for confusion

The big news on the Office 365 front last week was the introduction of “Boards” for Office Delve on January 7, labelled by Microsoft as “a new way to organize and share work.” As you probably know, Delve uses the Office Graph database to figure out connections between people and work in which they share a common interest. So far the information consumed by Delve is largely derived from SharePoint and the organizational information held in Azure Active Directory with a smattering of signals from Exchange. Delve doesn’t yet use the data held in Exchange mailboxes or public folders.

Once it figures out what might be of interest to a user, Delve presents the items in the form of cards. The new board feature allows users to mark or tag items with a term, the idea being that the tags then become a way that other users might be able to find information. The example cited by Microsoft is of tagging documents of relevance to a project team to make those documents more visible to the team members.

There isn’t much to report from a user perspective because the implementation is straightforward. Select an item, click the large “[+ Add to Board]” button and you can input a free-form term to tag the item. Tagging adds (or pins) the item to the board of the same name. A set of available boards appears in the left-hand navigation pane to allow for fast access to items pinned to those boards. Appearance isn't instantaneous as Delve needs to go through an analysis cycle before it displays the boards. But even so, you can go right ahead and add an item to multiple boards. To remove an item from a board, click the board name and then “Remove from boards.” It’s all very simple.

Yet it is the simplicity of the implementation that causes concern for administrators. No control exists over how users tag items and the free-form nature of the names given to boards might cause confusion and misfiling. For example, one user might pin a document to the “Project X” board while another uses “ProjectX.” Both terms look similar but they are two different boards. There also doesn't seem to be much control over what boards appear in the left-hand pane. You can unfollow a board (or conversely, follow a board created by someone else), but the user interface isn't tremendously obvious as to how boards function or be used.

The problem that we face is that users are generally not very good at constructing or maintaining document metadata. At least, I have never found that this is the case with any document or knowledge management system that I deployed. Sure, there will be a few individuals who exercise care in how they classify and organize information (mostly those who are librarians or potential librarians), but the vast bulk of the population has no interest in such mundane activity and don’t take much care with how they organize information. This, after all, is the reason why so many people are email “pilers” and need the assistance of features like Clutter and People View to make sense of their Inbox.

Microsoft hasn’t provided any management control over Delve boards. Anyone can create a board, something that might encourage people to create a mess of confusing boards. No ability exists to implement a taxonomy for boards where suggested names are shown to users as they tag items. No administrative UI is available to report how boards are being used or to allow administrators to fix spelling mistakes or other errors that might hide documents from those who could use them.

Those of you who like to know what's happening behind the scenes might enjoy reading this very illuminating blog post by Vardhaman Deshpande, who figured out what occurs when an item is added (or tagged) to a board. More insight can be found how to query Delve boards in this post by SharePoint MVP Cory Roth.

Boards are not the only Office 365 feature that has appeared recently without an administrative interface. Clutter and Groups are other examples that have been made available in the last six months. All provide great new functionality, albeit with some rough edges, and all have been released to users with little control. “Ship features to users” might be the new mantra but experience indicates that some tears might be on the horizon when the time comes to do some housekeeping.

An example of how things can become disorganized and a little chaotic if people are left to their own devices is provided in Microsoft's Office 365 Yammer Network. Administrators have been posting notices this week to let the folks who created some groups know that their groups are going to be closed down because they're not being used. This is exactly the problem that you can expect to happen with distribution groups, Office 365 Groups, Yammer Groups, or anything else that people can create without control. To repeat, normal people (not IT people) are not very good at organizing information. It's just the way of the world and is the reason why software developers need to incorporate good administration tools when they build new features.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the fact that Microsoft is pushing the boundaries through a constant flow of new features in Office 365. It’s just that it would be even nicer if some control over the playground was provided too. And perhaps some movement on bringing these features to the on-premises world. All in all, perhaps we need more "belt and braces" to complete administrative features across Office 365 and less of the "bells and whistles" that we get today. Just a thought.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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