Microsoft kicked off this week's SharePoint Conference 2014 with a demo of several new features coming to the collaboration platform later this year, bringing the social graph closer into the productivity experience with tighter Yammer integration and a search feature that works across the entire Microsoft Office ecosystem.
Microsoft is working to bring its Yammer acquisition to bear with a SharePoint experience that provides better context around the people and content users work with every day. Microsoft is referring to the underlying "intelligence fabric" on the backend as the Office Graph, which is constantly watching and learning from user activity and trying to make smarter connections between people and content. Think of it like Facebook's own trademark social graph, but for enterprise data.
"We believe the future of work is all about working like a network. It’s about how we build relationships, share information, and respond to ever-changing conditions. And it’s founded on an openness and transparency that will drive a new level of productivity," writes Teper in an official Microsoft blog post.
The new features are made manifest in four parts: The first (and probably most obviously major) is a new application, code-named "Oslo" -- a personalized search function for the Office 365 web experience that lets you search across SharePoint, Lync, Yammer, Exchange, and Office itself, with the Office Graph helping to surface the most relevant content for that user.
Second, Yammer's group functionality is getting more tightly integrated into Office 365's web experience. A group of users will be able to share a calendar, a file storage space, emails, and other content in Office 365, and have a corresponding social conversation space automatically provisioned in Yammer. These groups are open by default but can be made private in the settings.
The third part is based around similar lines, with inline social conversations in Office 365. At first, this feature will only be available for SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, but Microsoft promises it'll get extended across the rest of the ecosystem in due time.
Finally, Microsoft is adding the Office 365 Video Portal, which, as the name implies, is a tool for users to upload, index, and stream video content. Kind of like a YouTube for business, the video portal's backend handles all the complexities of compressing and streaming videos across devices, including to smartphones and tablets.
"We believe next-generation portals should be simple to create and customize in the cloud, have high engagement via social interactions, deliver more relevant information, leverage multi-media, and -- most importantly -- be accessible anywhere and on any device," Teper writes.
All of these features are still in testing, although Microsoft's Julia White was able to demonstrate them live for the 10,000 Microsoft pros in attendance at the SharePoint Conference. It is worth noting, however, that today's Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 Service Pack 1 release makes it possible to connect an on-premises deployment to OneDrive for Business cloud storage, as well as replace the built-in SharePoint social experience with Yammer.
That last bit is really the crux of Microsoft's direction with SharePoint: Social has always been a weakness of Google, and the Office ecosystem has always been Microsoft's strength. It seems odd at first glance that most of these new features are so focused around Office 365's browser-based experience when so much of its business is based around on-premises deployments. But it's not that surprising, considering that Google Apps tends to win over Office 365 when mobility and simplicity are the key selling points.
Building a smarter web experience with an enterprise social element around the Microsoft ecosystem is probably a smart tactic.