We consume more and more information every day. We work with documents, interact with colleagues, and review reports. As the quantity of information continues to explode, the ability to quickly search and locate relevant information becomes more and more critical to the user. Despite its popularity and dominance as a corporate intranet and collaboration solution, previous versions of SharePoint left a lot to be desired with respect to Search. Users frequently waded through pages and pages of results, and still struggled to find the most relevant information. Some organizations purchased FAST Search or custom search applications to offset some of these limitations, but this required significant effort and cost. The good news is SharePoint 2013 provides significant enhancements to Search out-of-the-box, which we will highlight 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.
- Improvements to refinements and search navigation
- Visual results with item preview
- Search hints
- Search availability
- Search administration
Improvements to refinements and search navigation
Search refiners have been vastly improved since 2007 and while 2010 was a step in the right direction, you still needed FAST search to get full functionality. Since FAST search has now become 2013 enterprise search we now have a deeper level of refinement out of the box. These refiners are easily configurable to be expanded or limited as needed. Users can now work with graphical representations of these refiners as well as through dates created or modified, or by monetary values for example. You can equate this to searching sites like Best Buy.
The search results page gives you five scopes/sources by default, Everything, People, Conversations, Videos, and Reports; this is known as the Search Navigation. Why is this powerful? Let's say you need to research more on the term, SharePoint. You enter SharePoint in your site's home page search to look through everything and get taken to the results page showing the most popular content. You can quickly move through the search navigation to see what people, conversations, videos, and reports pertain to SharePoint as well. This enables the ability to quickly find information throughout your organization giving you greater insight to your research.
Visual results with item preview
This is one of the biggest areas of improvement for end users - item preview capability. In previous versions of search, this type of capability required FAST search, third party add-ons, or custom development. Visual previews are available, at this time, for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, images, and video.
Users can scroll through their documents by rolling over the results. They can see the number of times the document has been viewed in the top right corner. For word documents, users can quickly jump to sections with headers through the "Take a look inside" section of the preview. For excel, scroll through the named areas such as charts and graphs. For PowerPoint, click through the slides.
Other options available from the office document previews can be:
- Download a copy
- Print to PDF
- Copy embed code (so you can place this on any SharePoint page)
- View in Full Screen
- Follow Document
- Edit Document
- View Library that document resides in
- Send to others
Search results for communities are another example of the preview. These show the amount of members, discussions, and replies occurring in the community. From these results users can see the popular discussions and have the opportunity to visit the community or choose to follow the community directly from the results views.
These item previews are essentially HTML templates. The templates are customizable by administrators for all types of information.
Search is more focused on the user. Users can select their owner search preferences to improve their experience. Some of the settings available have to do with search suggestions. Users have the option to show system generated search suggestions, but can choose to go one step further by choosing to be shown suggestions and favorites based on their personal query history. What this essentially means is that if a user works in HR and types in the word policy, the results given to them will come from the HR department first instead of policies regarding the compliance department. It may also show them documents that they have searched for before even as they are typing in the new search query. Other options in the preferences include choosing when they want to clear their history, managing any alerts they may have set up for search results, and managing the language with which they want to use search. Language is based on configuration for on-premise but is available immediately in SharePoint Online.
There are two aspects that can fall into search availability. The first is what is called "Continuous Availability", this means that as soon as a document or item is added to SharePoint it will immediately appear in any search queries before it has been entirely indexed. This is very important in order to support the second factor which is that a lot of new web parts and functionality rely on search.
There is a new web part called "Content by Search". This web part can be seen as replacing the "Content by Query" web part. Essentially this web part can pull back any type of content across the SharePoint environment or other external environments. The new My Sites landing page is essentially made up of this web part, as is the Community Portal, and other areas throughout.
Search functions also exist for lists and libraries. Instead of using the site search box to search across a site, you can use a search box that is now a part of the list/library web part. This really helps the user find information more efficiently.
Another option that is useful for document libraries is driven by search as well. This feature is called Most Popular Items. It is available from the toolbar and exposes the results types below. This will show users what is used most in the library and can help users clean up content that is no longer relevant.
With search becoming so integral to the SharePoint environment, it is crucial for administrators to thoroughly plan and scale for search functionality. Configuring SharePoint search results pages is much easier; setting refiners to pick and choose with a click of a button and the preview templates are all html based. However there are many advanced capabilities available that once only existed in FAST search and as such require more experience with search based tools. SharePoint can still crawl across many different environments, Exchange, Network Drives, Remote SharePoint sites with ease, and can also access any other search engines that use the OpenSearch 1.0 Protocol.
Other areas of importance to IT administrators for search configuration are:
- Search is used throughout the platform for all sorts of content delivery. This is done through the new web part called Content by Search which offers a lot more capabilities than the Content Query web part.
- High Scalability: Support more content.
- Contiunous Availability. Results appear within a couple of minutes and in some cases almost instantly.
- Site administrators are in control of their result sources (previously content sources).
- Custom Ranking Model
- Query Suggestions
- Query Rules
- Schema management
- Entity Extraction
For more on SharePoint 2013 search see this TechNet article: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc263400(v=office.15)