Getting social

Community applications are all the rage, as enterprise software vendors try to emulate the success of Facebook behind the firewall. Microsoft has done a good job improving the community features of SharePoint 2010. User Profiles now let you include colleagues, interests or expertise.

There's social tagging and ratings, making it easier to share content. And activity feeds help you keep up with what colleagues are doing.

Blogs and wikis are improved, too. As an experiment, I built a Wikipedia-style table of contents in my enterprise wiki, a common task that you couldn't easily do in the past.

To sift through all this data, Microsoft offers two search options, SharePoint's refreshed standard search engine and the optional FAST Search for SharePoint. Both offer very good navigation based on taxonomies, spell checking and wild card searches. My testing returned the results I expected on the first page of results. However, many larger organisations will opt for FAST because it adds functionality such as previews of PowerPoint presentations and lets you feature content in results.

Additionally, people search appears to be much improved. I found colleagues based on information in their social network feeds and expertise they entered in their profiles. There's also a very accurate phonetic search for times you don't know the spelling of a person's name.

Connecting the data

Some of the more interesting features involve new Representational State Transfer (REST) support along with improved Excel and Visio Services. Imagine creating an Excel spreadsheet and publishing the data as a chart within a SharePoint site. Then, as you update the spreadsheet, the published chart almost instantly reflects the changes. There's also new technology called SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel and SharePoint, which Microsoft claims will quickly render millions of rows of data in a browser.

I successfully tested Visio services – creating complicated diagrams in Visio, rendering them within a SharePoint site, and having edits appear without additional publishing steps.