I have a great job. I spend my days installing SharePoint for people. If SharePoint’s already installed, I might spend my time fixing it when it’s broken, or maybe showing someone how to use features that they’ve never used before. It’s a good life; I can’t complain.
In the last couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time installing SharePoint 2010 for customers or upgrading their SharePoint 2007 environments to SharePoint 2010. Inevitably, the conversation of MySites always comes up. A recent blog post I wrote hasn’t helped. It seems in most cases I find myself defending MySites and trying to convince my unbelieving customer how great they are. I thought I’d take this opportunity to get up on my soapbox with a larger audience and plead my case.
If you aren’t familiar with MySites, let’s take a moment to discuss them. They are a feature that comes with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 and SharePoint Server 2010. Every user can create their own site collection. This site collection serves two purposes.
First, it’s their own personal place to put their documents. They can save Office documents there, pictures of their pets, whatever. Second, it’s also a place for them to publish information about themselves for other people in the company. This is a way to give them their own “website” without it being much work for them. Here they can also share Office documents, pictures, and they can also control what information other people can see about them.
In SharePoint 2010 you have the added benefit of improved social features. A user’s MySite is now also a window into what their colleagues have been doing in SharePoint. If a colleague has tagged an item, it’ll show up in the Newsfeed. Users also have an Activity Feed where they update their colleagues on what they’re thinking. Think of it like the Facebook status or Twitter. All of this and more comes out of the box with SharePoint.
So why do I think MySites are so important? I doubt many of your jobs are to post hilarious pictures of your cats sitting in trashcans, or telling your fellow employees which type of granola bar you just had as a snack. You should all be out making widgets, or selling widgets, or buying widgets, or whatever your job responsibility is.
The unappreciated benefit of MySites is that they get people who are otherwise uninterested in learning yet another IT system interested in playing with SharePoint. They give end users a place that’s kind of fun to experiment with this new SharePoint thing. It also gives them a place that’s safe for both them and IT to do it.
If Harold in Accounting gets excited about SharePoint and has a great idea (but no MySite) what is going to happen? One of two things: Either Harold will never try his idea, for lack of a safe place to do it. That idea might have been a huge timesaver for the entire accounting department. Or, Harold will try out his great idea on the official Accounting site and screw something up horribly. Neither of those is a great option.
I suggest a third option: Give Harold a MySite so he has a place to experiment without causing any real damage. Since MySites are site collections, they are completely isolated from the rest of the farm. No matter how hard Harold tries, he can’t cause any trouble outside of his MySite.
Like we mentioned above, MySites also serve as a way for curious users to noodle about in SharePoint and get comfortable with it at their own pace.