Sharepoint – Discussion Features

 Addendum 2.9.07

I really feel that tracking discussions or exploration of some topics is a good part of capturing implicit (unspoken/written) knowledge.  Within a company or organization we should be able to capture or determine tribal knowledge or unspoken knowledge about our processes and products so that others who must work with the processes, adopt or update the processes or products can leverage this information, gain insight which may help future design and perhaps avoid any problems or issues that people will face.  Attempting to capture this information is a focus of good Knowledge Management.

 I’ve come to the conclusion that Sharepoint isn’t the best tool for accomplishing this. Again, I’m mostly putting my intuitive hat here when it comes to making this assessment, but I feel that much of my judgement about the tool is based on the following:

  1. It’s difficult to find or determine how to accomplish simple or regular tasks (it takes some amount of clicking and digging to find out how to do it or where you need to do it
  2. Some of the processes require too much documentation or mitigation from training. They are too difficult to remember or learn intuitively
  3. From my experience in working with other groups there are too many issues around document versioning and control


I know I few days ago I spoke about how my mind and attitude was beginning to warm up to using the “New” Sharepoint. I will admit that they’re making some strides in designing a more usable product, but I’ve decided that using MS Sharepoint may be contributing to the unhealthy rise in my blood pressure.  I simply cannot use some of the features without excessive digging and clicking.  In fact, this seems to be Sharepoint’s (the old and new) biggest problem, it’s designed under the assumption that most users will click on every or most of the features to learn how to use them.  Too many features are buried in sections or places that are not intuitive or easy to find.  In short, you can’t use the tool without training and time to learn its intricacies, and if you don’t use it on a daily basis, you’ll forget how to use the tool.

Speaking of frustrations and learning how to use features on your own hap-hazardly in Sharepoint, the Discussion feature in the new version provides an excellent example of this. It’s about time we had an alternative to  lengthy group e-mail correspondences. Everyone has had this happen to them. No matter how diligent you are in saving what you perceive to be crucial e-mail correspondence, I’m sure you’ve been put in the position where you loose that important long e-mail conversation which references some point or verifies that you had a dicussion about a certain topic. Imagine if you could have all messages, discussion threads and group communications (pertinent to the project) archived where everyone could see and read them. Of course, for those of you who would rather communicate in private you can use e-mail as well, but depending on the topic and how frequent your project communications are with just the ‘select few,’  you may find yourself barrelled in a silo on of these days.

If Sharepoint is successfully able to house discussion and correspondence and allow people to search for discussions easily and seamlessly then I’d say that it’s well on it’s way to being a business collaboration product of the future.

“Even a cave man can use it…”

Though after testing and proding the new Sharepoint, I’ve decided that I’m not sold on its discussion features, simply because they’re not intuitive. I clicked on a Sharepoint “Team Discussion,” and I tried to post a reply….   I encountered a menu option bar that included the following:


Okay, so I assume the first thing I need to click is “Actions” right? Because after all posting a reply is … “an action.” However, here’s what I see as the selections after selecting “Actions.”


I don’t need to do any of these things… why would I want a spreadsheet of this discussion? I might if the discussion is popular or extremely pertinent to my job or project want to subscribe to the discussion using an RSS feed and I might wish to be alerted if people add things to the thread. That would be great, but I STILL CAN’T figure out how to POST A COMMENT!?!! 

 “Signage and directions are key!”

Though after some thought I wondered if the permissions on the site were NOT set to allow me to participate. Even if that’s the case, Sharepoint  should TELL me this. It’s the same as walking through a Hotel conference hall and walking by a room that says PRIVATE.  Using proper error messages or even informing the user of why or they cannot use a feature or if they’re going about it the wrong way, is a good example of Jakob Nielsen’s ninth Usability Heuristic: “Help Users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors.”

There must be a better alternative…

I want seamless and easy to post/respond actions in a discussion feature.  Basecamp is one example of a tool that does this better. (basecamp tour)

Note: I know exactly where to click to post a message or response(see below)

Basecamp Discussion


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