The last couple of weeks my blog entries have focused on the details of the KN client analysis process. Hopefully I’ve satisfied some of your curiosity. This week, I am going to shift my focus to the server side of the solution. What happens when your KN profile gets “published” to the server? How does the KN server integrate into SharePoint? And which functionality does SharePoint provide versus KN? Let’s dive in…
To start with, in case there is any confusion, KN server is built upon “Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007” (which I will refer to as MOSS for brevity). KN specifically integrates with the two people-related components of MOSS:
1. The “My Site” which is a rich view of everything about you (that you choose to publish). This is where your KN profile information is stored.
2. The people search component of the MOSS “Search Center”. This is how the KN profile information gets indexed and made available for others to find.
If you are not familiar with the My Site and people search in MOSS 2007, you can see some screenshots at http://www.microsoft.com/kn.
From this you might have guessed that MOSS already provides some expertise location and people finding capabilities out-of-the-box. That is true. MOSS contains a user profile store which the My Site is built upon. For each employee in the organization, the My Site can host information from many different sources: 1) AD info about your title, department, manager, DL memberships, etc., 2) Interests, Skills, and other properties you might want publish about yourself, 3) your picture, 4) your Colleagues – the people you know in the organization, and much more. The user profile store is then indexed by the MOSS indexing engine and you now have a powerful people finding solution for the organization. People search results can be grouped by social distance to the person searching (we believe in general you are more interested in finding the best person to connect with closest to you) or sorted by straight relevance. You can also refine people search results by title and department properties from the AD.
That is all valuable for people search. So what does KN add? Let me you tell you…
Remember that the key goal for KN is to discover and share the tacit knowledge of the organization in an appropriate manner. While you can certainly add keywords and terms to your My Site manually, most people simply don’t do this, or if they do, they will enter a very small amount of information. In addition, even if they do add some data to their profiles, most times they will neglect to do regular updates as their knowledge changes over time. This is where KN comes in. KN mines your email to suggest an extensive list of keywords that represent the things you know and KN keeps the profile fresh by periodically recommending new items to you. These inferred keywords are added to your My Site when you publish from the KN client.
Your MOSS My Site enables you to list your Colleagues and Office 2007 even provides a tool that suggests colleagues based on mining that information from email, IM, and DL memberships. KN provides a much more extensive Colleague recommendation solution based on the KN client.
MOSS My Site has no notion of people outside the organization. This is where KN can help. Not only does the KN client figure out who you know in the organization but it also captures external contacts that you have relationships with. So KN adds the concept of “External Contacts” to your My Site.
Finally, the My Site provides something called the “In Common” web part. This is a very cool feature. Any time you look at another person’s My Site, you will see things that you have in common such as Colleagues in common and DL memberships in common. Since KN helps you add a deep list of colleagues and keywords to your profile, the in common information you see when viewing other people’s My Sites is much richer.
Any keyword that a KN user designates as public (“Show To” setting is “Everyone”) is added to a property in the MOSS user profile store which is indexed by the MOSS search engine and becomes part of the people search results. So KN is super charging the expertise search functionality of MOSS by adding inferred keywords from email. An interesting side note here is that in analyzing results from our internal pilots of KN at Microsoft, we’ve discovered that the keywords accumulated on the server follow a distribution curve dictated by Zipf’s law. That is, there are a few common terms shared by many KN users, but most terms are very unique. To give you a sense of this, out of 5428 unique keywords published by 218 users in our analysis, there were just 6 keywords that occurred in more than 40 KN profiles, 591 keywords that occurred in just 2 profiles, and 4207 keywords that occurred in just 1 profile. This is an example of the long tail in action and is why we think the KN keywords are an extremely important part of the expertise location solution.
Keywords that a KN user designates as anything other than “Everyone” are stored in a separate database (separate from the MOSS user profile store) and are served up as “anonymous helper” search results. More on that below.
While MOSS provides the facility for each person to list their colleagues in the My Site, there is no way to search on relationships (who knows whom). KN provides the ability to execute “connection searches” on people in your organization. Whenever you see a person in the MOSS Search Center or in the My Site, KN adds a “Find People Who Know This Person” link. Clicking on that link will provide you with all the people that person knows or that know that person organization by social distance from you. An interesting note here is that KN doesn’t make a directionality distinction here. We believe that if the relationship path exists in one direction (i.e., you know me) then it exists in the other direction (i.e., I know you) Try it out! We think it’s pretty cool.
As I mentioned above, MOSS has no notion of external people. KN adds this type of relationship to the My Site and also provides the facilities for searching that data. So if you have an important customer meeting, you can find out who might have connections to the particular customer or customer’s company in general. KN adds a new tab in the MOSS Search Center called “External People”. Click on that tab and enter the name of the person or company you are interested in finding connections to. You will be presented with external contacts that match your search as well as company names that match it all based on the data that KN users have published. Then you’ll be able to find connections either to a particular external contact or all people with contacts at a particular external organization. The latter one is my favorite example to demo to customers.
The KN client provides the ability for very granular privacy control via the “Show To” field. Any Keyword, Colleague, or External Contact can be designated as visible to one of five levels: Only Me, My Manager, My Workgroup, My Colleagues, and Everyone. When someone searches on a term or executes a connection search to a person or organization, KN will return any results that the searcher does not have permission to view as anonymous results. Through a server controlled brokering process KN enables the target of the search request to receive the help request but remain anonymous to the searcher unless they choose to reveal themselves. Let’s look at an example since this can get rather confusing. Let’s say that I know John Hand and I set my relationship with him as “My Workgroup” in the KN client before I publish to the server. Now you come along as another Microsoft employee who is not in My Workgroup (as defined by me) and search for John Hand. You click on the “Find People Who Know This Person” link on John’s entry. My name is not revealed in the list due to our privacy filtering. However you will see an anonymous results web part that indicates there are anonymous connections to John. If you follow that link and send off a “brokered request,” I will get an email from the KN server that indicates you are looking for someone with a connection to John. At that point I can either decline the request or choose to help you. If I choose to help you then my name will be revealed to you in my response.
So there you have it. Five specific ways that KN enriches and extends Office SharePoint Server 2007: 1) enriching and extending the My Site with inferred keywords, richer colleagues, and external contacts, 2) supercharging expertise search with inferred keywords, 3) finding connections to internal people, 4) finding connections to external people and organizations, and 5) enabling members to moderate the usage of their profile information through the anonymous brokering.