Micro-communities – Distributed Collaboration Across SharePoint Sites

This week Spirit published their Group Blog Service v1.1.  This application service, built with the CorasWorks Toolset, has enabled us to create some very useful micro-communities that cut across our SharePoint environment and allow for distributed collaboration.  In this article, we’ll describe the usefulness of distributed micro-communities and look at one example, Idea Central, in a “day in the life” video.

We hear a lot about Communities.  The CorasWorks Community is a typical example.  It promotes collaboration.  However, they are typically a place that you must go to collaborate.  This is excellent for Extranets and the Internet.  However, for an Intranet on SharePoint, a distributed micro-community approach can be much more effective.

The challenge with SharePoint in an Intranet scenario is that it is by definition a structured and distributed content environment.  Thus, people and information tend to be siloed. Often as shown here organizations lay things out in SharePoint by department or some other organizational unit.  We recommend and support this.  You need structure to start.  Yet, each tends to silo people and information.  Further, we also trap information within sites across an environment, each operating like a silo, which puts barriers on the ability to collaborate on specific topics that cut across the sites. And, whatever solution we add tends to be another site (another silo) that we have to go to in order to collaborate.  Navigation is not convenient.


So, what if you want a micro-community, such as Idea Central shown above.  You want people to contribute and collaborate on ideas.  What we’ve needed is a way to break the silos, leverage the people and information across the landscape of SharePoint towards an objective, and, make collaboration more convenient by reducing the need to have to go somewhere or anywhere to participate.  A micro-community app built using the Spirit Group Blog Service gives us a very effective way to get there.    

With Spirit’s application service, the micro-community information and application configuration is housed in a centrally managed site located anywhere.  There is a separate UI which is distributed out (kind of a form of subscription) to any site within the environment.  This is depicted below.image

Thus, users that are part of the micro-community or want to be, can just drop the UI onto a page in their site and they are integrated.  They can work from within any site they are in, or, they can work virtually, completely outside of any SharePoint context, via the Virtual RSS Mode.  The hub and spoke design of Spirits’ Group Blog Service is ideal for an effective micro-community.  You get central management and control, easy look and feel customization with CSS/XSLT, and, a distributed UI that is convenient and optional.

The best way to grasp how distributed micro-communities can improve collaboration is to see them in action.  In the video below we’ll look at a “day in the life” of an idea using the Idea Central app.  This is a micro-community using the Group Blog Service. As you’ll see users can participate from different areas of the work environment and in different contexts. 

Idea CentralClick here to see the video (runtime 9:45)

It is an interesting exercise to just sit down with a group of people and write up 10 slices or micro-communities across your organization where the collaboration of people around something or the ability to easily share and consume information can improve productivity.  With the Spirit Group Blog Service you now have an effective tool that can be dropped into any SharePoint environment and be immediately put to work.  It is non-invasive, easily customized, and easy for site owners to just drag and drop the micro-community UI into their site if they want it.

We’ll see, but, from my early usage, this distributed micro-community approach is exactly the type of solution we need to really get useful collaboration happening across an enterprise SharePoint environment.


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