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SharePoint My Sites: It ain’t just about profiles, people.

Posted by Gia Lyons on December 10, 2007

Many, many, many customers are enamored of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2003 My Site’s extensive profiling feature. This is because a popular business need is, “Help me find experts more easily.”

Not familiar with My Sites? Check this out:

MOSS MySite Entry Form

Yes, anything stored in an LDAP, a directory, or some other personnel data store can be automatically brought forward into My Sites, just like you can in Lotus Connections Profiles. It uses the Business Data Catalog to accomplish this, similar to how Lotus Connections uses Directory Integrator to bring data into the Profiles database and synchronize it with its sources, which is included with the Connections license.

And yes, a person can choose whom they share each individual morsel with – check out the right side of the pic. What, however, would be the point, since I’d be inclined to just lock my stuff down to the people I already trust, who probably already know what I know? But, that’s another blog post. Maybe it’s just a nod to the command-and-control cultures of old-school hierarchical organizations (my god, I work at IBM, and I typed that with a straight face!)

This is an email I just sent in response to a customer’s request.

Here’s the story I always tell to people who put their faith in some huge profiling system alone:

There are Seekers and Contributors in any organization.
Seekers are always searching for an expert in something. They love extensive profiling systems, because it enables them to locate people who they think are experts in a particular topic. Once they locate them, they email, instant message, or call that person for assistance.

Contributors hate filling out profiling systems. Why? Because it means yet another email, IM, or phone call, asking for their expertise. And if they are a true expert, their collaborative plate is already overflowing. They ask, What’s in it for me? What benefit do I get from completing an extensive profile? All I see is just more people wanting my already-spoken-for time and energy.”

The result? The real experts never fill out their profiles, never keep them updated.

What we’ve found at IBM (Note: there is no definitive research supporting the following, only anecdotal evidence):

After almost 10 years of from-the-executives, repetitive, consistent pressure, only 60% of all IBM profiles are kept updated. (Note that Lotus Connections Profiles is the productized version of IBM BluePages, which has been around since 1998.) And that’s even with an automated email sent out every 3 months to remind people to update their profiles, plus a visual progress bar indicating how complete or incomplete a user’s profile is, plus people’s first-line managers constantly reminding them to update their profile.

This top-down-only approach doesn’t cut it. A bottom-up (or, bottoms-up, if you’re drinking), grassroots approach must accompany it in order to achieve success.

Once we gave Contributors the choice about how to share their knowledge and experience, we found that they were more likely to contribute using these social options, since they realized that the result would be fewer emails, IMs and phone calls asking for their basic expertise.

“Read my blog.”… “Check out my bookmarks.”… “Look at my activity templates.”… “Read my community forum.”

…became the new ‘RTFM‘, if you will.

Now, once Seekers find an expert via Profiles, they are able to consume some of their knowledge and expertise without disrupting them. The nature of the remaining email/IM/phone requests from Seekers were about their deeper experience, their knowledge that will always remain tacit.

In effect, Contributors sharing their more ‘basic’ expertise online enabled Seekers to accelerate whatever collaboration they further required from Contributors.

Zoom!

How did we do this?

We accomplished this by giving Contributors the ability to:

  • share their important sources of internal and external information via social bookmarking, which are automatically associated with and are accessible from a user’s profile, as well as via a RESTful API. Also, Seekers can discover experts simply by subscribing to a particular topic from the social bookmarking service – no need to go through a profile first.
  • share their experiences and expertise via an internal Internet-style blog service that enables not only individual blogs, but team blogs, and offers all blogs on a single website for easy browsing, searching, and integration with other applications via a RESTful API, also automatically associated with and accessible from a user’s profile. Seekers can discover experts simply by subscribing to a particular topic from the blog service – no need to go through a profile first (but you can if you want).
  • share their experiences and expertise via Communities that are automatically associated with and accessible from a user’s profile, as well as a RESTful API. Seekers can discover experts simply by subscribing to a particular topic from the community service – no need to go through a profile first (but you can if you want).
  • share their “good practice” about human processes through Activities and Activity templates, which, of course are automatically associated with and are accessible from a user’s profile, as well as a RESTful API (seems to be a theme here). Seekers can discover experts simply by subscribing to a particular topic from the activities service – no need to go through a profile first (but, of course, you can if you want).

For a wonderful (and short) education on this very thing, view: When social networking meets knowledge management

Final Thought:

Don’t just give Contributors a profile to fill out, that only enables them to list their skills, projects, etc., and that requires Seekers to use email/IM/phone – and social capital – to gain Contributors’ deeper knowledge. Give them the ability to actually share what they know through many social software choices, so that more Seekers can acquire that knowledge with fewer emails/IMs/phone calls, which degrade the Contributors’ productivity.

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4 Responses to “SharePoint My Sites: It ain’t just about profiles, people.”

  1. Great stuff, Gia. I’m curious if you’re also getting a demand for integration with the profiles from the social networks as a way to augment both the tacit and explicit profiles? So for instance, I can search for someone who may have worked with a particular software application at a previous job….or knows lots of people at XYZ company.

  2. Gia Lyons said

    Hi Dave! No, not really, but what a great idea! I’m going to post that as a feature request now…

    I do occasionally get requests for digital identity management across multiple social sites. At IBM, for example, because we get to play with IBM Research stuff, I have a profile in Connections, BluePages, Fringe, and Beehive. And then outside the firewall, I’m on Lotus Greenhouse, Lotus Bluehouse (both of those leverage Connections for profiling), Facebook and LinkedIn, and have received invitations to many others.

    Now, ask me how many I keep updated. :)

    Anyway, digital identity management across multiple sites is definitely on our horizon. And get this: IBM is working to collapse a few of our internal sites into a single one, where it makes sense. I even got a sneak preview at plans to melt the barrier between IBMers and “the world”, through future profile plans that span the firewall.

  3. Hi Gia,

    What a nice blog you have here. I am very glad I found it today!

    First let me introduce myself shortly: as you can read on my blog (or LinkedIn), I am busy evangelising my colleagues at ING Group on using web 2.0 tools internally to get more out of all of us and have fun while doing it. So I am constantly looking out for inspiration. Your site looks like a hit on the SharePoint side of things!

    Then about your blog entry.

    Although I fully appreciate the tools you mention for having “contributors” like you call them efficiently “distribute” their expertise, I wonder whether they especially do it like that (and not via an extensive profile) for the reason you mention: not being bothered too much with too many questions. I very much wonder if the top-5000 bloggers at IBM (is it that many?) aren’t also the people with the most complete and up-to-date profiles? To turn it around: do you see incomplete profiles with people who aren’t too much into all of these new tools anyway?

    Thanks and best regards,
    Marcel
    The Netherlands

  4. Gia Lyons said

    Marcel, that’s a very interesting question. The problem at IBM is that folks have four choices of where to maintain a profile, and each one of them has a very different approach.

    BluePages, our 10-year-old, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink profiling application, includes jobs and contact information, experience and qualifications, skills, projects and team, and communities and interests. The only portion that allows user-written text (not rich text) is the Expertise summary section, a place to upload a CV, and a place to list the names and descriptions of projects and teams. Everything else is a field to complete, or a drop-down list to choose from. So, quite comprehensive, very, very boring to fill out and keep updated.

    Then, there’s Fringe. It doesn’t allow for much user-generated content, other than tagging oneself and others, and a little blurb area. Instead, it is focused on aggregating all content created by you from across all of IBM’s social and knowledge database applications, plus the content of people in your network (via friending and inferred relatedness based on social contributions). Fringe is kick-ass cool, and is my IBM homepage – easiest way for me to keep up with content from my “frolleagues.”

    Then, there’s Beehive. It is pretty much like Facebook, and where most socialites spend their time keeping their profile updated. It includes a Wall, pictures, hive5s (lists of anything you want to list), plugins, a feed of your basic BluePages info, etc etc etc. It’s the “fun” place to be.

    Finally, there’s Lotus Connections Profiles, which contains a subset of features from BluePages and Fringe. Nobody uses it, mostly because we are encouraged to use the IBM Research applications (Fringe and Beehive) to help the product developers figure out what is actually useful for business. Also, the majority of IBM still uses BluePages to find people (ok, they really used Sametime instant messaging, to be honest).

    So, it would quite interesting if IBM Research conducted some, ah, research about how often a Beehive profile gets updated, versus a BluePages profile. I’m going to go suggest that to my social networking pal, Kate Ehrlich!

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