As was much anticipated, Microsoft baked more social features into the upcoming release, specifically around communities. Although the SharePoint 2010 feature wheel listed Communities as one component, it left a lot to be desired. In SharePoint 2013, many of the feature gaps have been addressed, which we detail in this post.
Please note: The Office 365 / SharePoint 2013 Preview is a beta product. Items discussed in this post are subject to change when the final product is released.
Microsoft defines a community as "a place where community members discuss topics of common interest. Members can browse and discover relevant content by exploring categories, sorting discussions by popularity, or by viewing only posts that have a best reply. Members gain reputation points by participating in the community, such as starting discussions and replying to them, liking posts and specifying best replies."
So this immediately hinted to me that the discussion boards have been completely rebuilt - a community is basically a community forum. The discussion board acts as the Activity Stream / Newsfeed for aggregating all activity occurring within a specific community.
The out of the box site template for a Community Site is shown below. I will highlight some of the main components around Categories, Members, and Featured Discussions. Also note that you do not need to use the community template to use community features. There is a feature in the site features that can be activated to add all of the same community features to existing sites.
Categories help organize the community discussion board. Each category list item has a name, description, and picture. The list keeps track of the amount of discussions and replies for a quick review of active discussions. Note: each discussion can only have one category associated with it.
The categories page also has a nice visual representation (tile view) of all categories. Hovering over a category will tell you the stats and description for that category. It can be sorted in ascending or descending order. The "What’s hot" sort option shows the most active discussions to help users get to the most popular discussions.
Members and Gamification
If a user joined the community or was invited to it they will show up on the members page. This page can be sorted by Top contributors, New members, A-Z or Z-A. The page displays the amount of discussions started, amount of replies by the users, and if they had any replies marked as the best. If a user is a member of this site they will see their information to the right. Users can also choose to leave the community from this page.
Reputation is a nice new feature in my opinion, and addresses some missing gamification features of 2010. Reputation helps identify experts within an organization, helps an individual assess their potential value to a community, and encourages end user adoption / participation. As shown above, the member has a reputation score as well as a metric indicating points required to move to the next level.
There are a few configuration settings when it comes to community reputation. You can configure whether discussions may be rated, and if so, how you would like them rated.
It is important to note that member achievements can be disabled. The member achievements can have specific values to help improve member reputations. If you think a community will be wildly popular, and you have lots of users I would recommend you go with lower values or increase the points required to reach the different achievement levels.
Badges are another gamification tool, and have become main-stream in social communities. Users may receive system-awarded badges which are gained by achieving specific reputation points, or users may manually grant badges to other users (such as a Kudos badge). The gifted badges are text only in the preview, hopefully this will be updated in the final release to allow for images.
Discussions have a couple of extra actions that can be applied to them which aid in establishing a knowledge base for a particular community. A discussion can be marked as a question when it is created. If someone provides the best answer, the reply can be marked as a best reply. Users can also "like" replies. A discussion can also be marked as a featured discussion. The manage discussions list includes an aggregated "Like" count, and the amount of replies for the discussion.
An out of the box Community Portal site template has been provided. The Community Portal is defined by Microsoft as "a site for discovering communities". This site collection is basically a page with a search web part configured to search for community sites. If you are going to have communities I highly suggest creating this site since it will appear as a tile on the default Sites page when you click on Sites in the global navigation.
Each community comes with an About page, which should be used to give a brief description of the community and to set some rules or guidelines for use.
Also available are three other settings: established date, auto-approval for permission requests, and reporting of offensive content. When offense content is reported, the content is removed from view. Administrators then have the option to permanently delete or reinstate the content.
As you can see, Microsoft has added a decent amount of social features to communities in SharePoint 2013, which should help greatly increase enterprise collaboration. Again, this is still early preview and is subject to change, but the community features represent a step in the right direction.