Back in the late 1980’s we connected a couple of dozen people to our Local Area Network and we created four types of network storage: Applications, Data, Public and Private Document stores. Server based applications worked well. Server based data worked so well that we moved most of it to the hardened infrastructure of a database server. Public Document storage, a.k.a. Shared Folders worked so well that we became addicted to them, but Private Document storage never caught on. Why? Why did three of the four standards of networking flourish while one failed? The answer is simple; Private network folders never offered any benefit.
I don’t want to write the obituary of the P: Drive, but the simple truth is: having files on my P: drive was no better than having them on my C: drive. In fact, if I worked off a laptop, it was worse. I couldn’t access the drive unless I was on the network, I couldn’t choose to share those files, and let’s face facts, those files were never really private. Twenty three years later, I have to ask myself if My Sites are any better. My own experience with my My Site tells me the answer is ‘yes’, but selling the concept of My Sites doesn’t seem to be any easier.
My Site works for me because it brings the power of SharePoint to my content. For example, I am Secretary of AIIM’s New England chapter. I have a document library where I store the meeting minutes that I write and I like being able to have versions of those minutes (draft, approved, corrected, etc.). I have several Custom Lists where I track subjects that I would have been pecking into a spreadsheet if I was relegated to my C: drive. I store things I want to be able to use again, like snippets of code, ideas for blog entries, photographs, and slides that worked well in presentations I gave. Although this site is all about me, I really like the fact that I can share these things with others when I want to.
One of the projects on my plate today is to train our newest employee. Of course she is being inundated with SharePoint concepts, content locations, current plans and future goals. She also has a My Site. One of the things she is doing with that is keeping track of the things she needs to learn. As I and others give her the whirlwind tour of everything systems related, she is jotting down questions, impressions, concerns and plans for future study. She is using One Note, and storing the notebooks on her My Site. She has shared these notebooks with me, so I can answer some of her questions off-line. One Note is pretty cool, in that it tags my comments in her notebooks with my initials and SharePoint is providing the common workspace. This is so much better than sharing documents via email and thumb drives.
Initially, I thought that having people work with My Sites would help them learn SharePoint. That was during my early enamored phase when my plan was “SharePoint at any price”. I have long since realized that SharePoint will be used where it provides benefit, relieves pain or helps us reach common goals. In other words, everything isn’t a candidate for SharePoint. This observation holds for My Sites too. I am no longer trying to “sell” My sites to everyone, but I am going to point out where they might provide value. The real benefit of My Sites (in a smaller organization) is the way they support Personal Content Management – that’s my story.