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.
Now that I’ve got you all whipped into a lather about MySites, I don’t want you to run right out and enable them. Like anything in SharePoint, they require some planning to do correctly. First, your MySites should be in their own Web Application. This allows you keep your MySites in separate databases from your regular content Web applications. You can choose to put them on slower discs, back them up less frequently, not mirror them, whatever. It also allows you to have different settings for Web application-specific settings, like recycling-bin settings.
Second, while I’m in favor of every man, woman and dog having a MySite if they want one, I also think they should all get at least some training before they get one. This should be some parts technical and some parts policy. You’ll need to show them how to upload documents and so on, but you’ll also need to make sure they understand what kind of content should and should not be put on their MySites.
Finally, to get the most out of MySites, you’ll need to enable and configure the User Profile Synchronization Service. This is not a task to be taken lightly. It’s not required for MySites, but it adds a lot of functionality. Before attempting to tackle the User Profile Synchronization Service, do your homework. As a bonus, when you get the User Profile database populated, you will also be able to use SharePoint 2010’s new Silverlight-based Organization Browser. That’s always a crowd pleaser.
Hopefully, reading this has convinced you to give MySites a shot. With proper planning, they can be an integral part of helping with SharePoint adoption in your organization.
Todd Klindt is a consultant with SharePoint911.