How do documents fit into SharePoint Social Search?

When most people think about social search they think of searching for people or conversations. Much of what Microsoft has sold us as social search is exactly that. If you do a search in SharePoint 2013 the refinement right under the search box asks you what you seek: Everything, People, Conversations, or Video. Don’t you find it odd that documents aren’t a default? I might not think this as odd if it weren’t SharePoint, but didn’t most people start out using SharePoint to store and share their documents? I think it is funny that finding a document or email isn’t a primary SharePoint search refinement. I guess they are sort of “everything” in many SharePoint implementations.

SharePoint 2013 Search Refinement Another thing I find strange is that we are encouraged in SharePoint 2013 search to find documents by first finding the person who wrote them. I’ve been conditioned to look for documents by topic or name more than by author.

SharePoint 2013 People Search Hover Panel

I tend to find people by first finding interesting content. Many of the people I’ve met in the SharePoint world I met through reading a blog or attending a webinar and then meeting them at a SharePoint event. One of the things I always loved about SharePoint Saturdays was being able to interact with the people delivering all the interesting sessions.

One of the things I always loved about SharePoint Saturdays was being able to interact with the people delivering all the interesting sessions.

So what is social search? If you ask this question in the SharePoint community what you are likely to get is it’s a SharePoint search for people expertise or social conversation threads? This is pretty much what Microsoft has been conditioning us to believe. My experience is that content plays a pretty big role in the social universe and this thought process wouldn’t do it justice. Fortunately, Wikipedia comes to the rescue with this definition:

Social search or a social search engine is a type of web search that takes into account the Social Graph of the person initiating the search query. When applied to web search this Social-Graph approach to relevance is in contrast to established algorithmic or machine-based approaches where relevance is determined by analyzing the text of each document or the link structure of the documents[1]. Search results produced by social search engine give more visibility to content created or touched by users in the Social Graph.”

Now this makes sense to me. A search should take into consideration who I am and what connections I have, and how this impacts relevance related to my search. Whether I’m trying to find a document or a person my existing relationships probably are very relevant.

It feels like we’re trying to swing the SharePoint universe around and make it social first and document management second.

Last year we conducted a study of over 1,200 organizations asking them a variety of questions about how they use SharePoint. We asked them some pointed questions about how they were using search. We found that almost 70% of the time when they searched for content they weren’t looking for documents or files. They were looking for something deeper, a key passage or exhibit. When they found these items close to 60% of the time what they intended to do next was share them with their co-workers. We believe SharePoint search needs to do a better job helping users find these key passages and exhibits. To do this SharePoint search needs to find information at this level and then create relationships between the documents, people, and conversations where it is used.

Our belief is that for enterprise social search to advance it has to find content at the level users are consuming it. Ask yourself, when you deal with a document do you read it or skim it? What stimulated your interest in it in the first place? Did you learn about it because someone shared a key passage or exhibit, or did you set out to find a document to read? Most people only search for documents and go beyond skimming when something has peaked their interest. That something is usually a key passage or exhibit that someone related to me has already found. If this is how we consume information shouldn’t search help us find it this way? When I think about where documents fit in social search this is what I’m thinking.