SharePoint 2013: WCM and Search Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

Few things in this world go together better than peanut butter and jelly. It’s a proven fact by the 3 people I’ve personally surveyed.  When Microsoft announced SharePoint Server 2013 the piece that I was the most excited about was the new Web Content Management (WCM) functionality.  Why am I so excited?  Read on and I’ll explain.

Search Driven Content Management

In the past the way we’d always thought about planning a WCM project hinged on where we put our content in SharePoint then we tagged it with metadata and surfaced it with things like the Content Query Web Part (CQWP). Moving forward with SP2013 the FAST search engine has now been fully integrated into SharePoint and it will be the primary engine driving WCM.  This is a game changer for a number of reasons:

  • Search has always been a great way to get content from across the farm.  Since the CQWP isn’t able to reach across site collections, we’ve now got a way to get content from anywhere in your farm out of the box.  The primary tool for doing this will be the Content By Search (CBS) web part. I hope to dive deeper into this one in future posts.
  • The CQWP could be tuned, but it was common for it to be the source of performance issues in larger implementations.  Search will be a far more effient way to surface content in almost all circumstances.
  • The way we’ll plan and think about WCM in SharePoint will fundamentally change.  For example in the past, content needed to be in SharePoint for us to roll it up.  With the new model, as long as content is in the search index we can surface it where ever we need.  So the biggest limiting factor we’d have would be whether we’d be able to get SharePoint to crawl a datasource.  This has massively huge implications!

Thinking Beyond Keyword Searching

A couple years ago I had the pleasure of working very closely with several former FAST folks.  They taught me a very important lesson that I’m hoping the rest of the SharePoint world will come to embrace over time — if you look at how most folks search, they typically just type in a search term and get results.  This is referred to as keyword searching.  The way the FAST folks thought about search went well beyond simple keyword searching — because of the high performance and scale that’s possible through using FAST they were able to use the product to drive content management on several very prominent Internet sites — most notably BestBuy.com.  Although BestBuy.com wasn’t a SharePoint site it showed what was possible from a content management perspective with a powerful search engine driving content to the page without anyone actually going in and typing a query.

This opens up an extremely complex set of discussions but the main point is this — as SharePoint implementers and users, search provides an immense amount of power once we start thinking about search driving content on pages to users.

What Does This Mean For The Future?

In the past, most WCM scenarios in SharePoint were fairly simplistic.  There’s plenty of examples of projects where very complex things were done but they usually required a high level of development and customization.  But now it will be possible to create many of these highly complex scenarios with much less effort.  One of the more common phrases you’ll hear applied to SharePoint is “with great power comes great responsibility” and the new WCM capabilities in SP2013 are no different. To deliver a project with this new WCM functionality will likely require that we approach projects in a slightly different way.  In future posts I hope to explain this in more detail but I’ll try to give a high level view of what I’m referring to.

  1. Planning is key!  The first step in any SharePoint should involve planning.  But this is more important than ever! I’ve been doing a presentation for the last few years called Getting the Most Out of SharePoint Search (http://johnrossjr.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/getting-the-most-out-of-sharepoint-search-sptechcon-boston-2012/) and the goal has been to help people understand how search works — specifically how to make content stand out and be more relevant.  As we move ahead into SP2013 we’ll be able to rollup content from all across our organization in new ways.  No longer will we just say “we’ll rollup content from this library and make it show up over here” — we can rollup content in much more complex ways.  But if we don’t put enough thought and planning into our metadata for the organization taking advantage of these complex scenarios will be more difficult.
  2. Search and WCM skillsets now go hand in hand. This might sound pretty obvious at this point in this post, but it is worth reiterating.  When you think about your new SharePoint site in SP2013 and you know you need to get content onto the page there’s going to be more moving parts.  For example, if we have custom fields we need to make sure they are available as metadata in the index.  Because if the fields aren’t available in the index, we won’t be able to roll the field up the way it needs to be.
  3. Branding the content returned via CBS will be a new skillset.  The CBS is going to be one of the most important tools in the SP2013 WCM toolbox.  Getting the data into the index is the first part of the equation, but being able to get the content out to the page rendered in the way it needs to be in the next piece.  The CBS will render content via what is called “Display Templates” which use a combination of HTML and Javascript.  Since this web part is going to be so pervasive, it will be something that UI/UX/Designers will become more familiar with — similar to how they got used to working with the CQWP and using XSLT to style the output.  This specifically is going to be one of the areas that I expect as the community works with the Display Templates we’ll see tons of great examples of how different folks are using them fairly soon.  I’m excited to see how this evolves!
  4. How users manage content will change. Today the basic way content is being managed is that users go into a Pages library and create/update content in a WYSIWYG editor.  Moving forward, while content can still be managed in the “classic” way like it always has been in SP2010 but it’ll now be possible to potentially abstract content from display.  In other WCM products, users can manage content by basically updating data in fields in a database or list.  From there the data is then transformed and displayed based on whatever was designed and created by the UX/UI/Designers.  And this concept is now a very real option in SP2013. It adds a new layer of goverance because there’s the potential to more tightly control the presentation in organizations where that are more highly controlled.  But the “classic” way of doing things is still going to be there — how we control the mix is still going to be a work in process.  Stay tuned on this front.
  5. But wait there’s more!  The things I’ve mentioned above really just scratch the surface of what’s going to be possible with WCM in SP2013.

I just want to be clear about one thing — if you’ve been doing WCM in SP2010 and been happy with it don’t worry, all of those options will still be available to you.  The purpose of this post isn’t to scare anyone, just to highlight the new additional options that will be available.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Hopefully this post has helped to give you an idea about what WCM in SharePoint 2013 will be all about.  On a personal note, my two areas of focus have always seemed strange: WCM/Branding and Search.  I used to get strange looks when I told people what I did – I tended to think it was an odd pairing.  With the new features and new possibilities they promise I really do think that WCM and Search go together perfectly!  I’m excited about the possibilities on the horizon! Be sure to stop by from time to time or follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/johnrossjr) as I’ve got a lot of new content in the works that will dive deeper into many of the topics I’ve mentioned throughout this post.  If you’ve got any requests be sure to mention them in the comments!

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3 Responses to SharePoint 2013: WCM and Search Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

  1. Pingback: SharePoint 2013 WCM: Creating Your First Catalog « john ross.

  2. Pingback: The Official Rackspace Blog - SharePoint 2013: What’s New? What’s Gone? What’s Next?

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