Microsoft Announces Office Graph - Connecting People And Content

March 3 2014 10:30:00 AM Add/Read Comments [1]
Today at the SharePoint Conference 2014 (#SPC14) Microsoft unveiled Office Graph, a new architecture layer that maps the connections between people and content across the Office 365 family of products. Office Graph is not something people will see directly, instead it is a "behind the scenes layer" that will be used by developers to create user experiences that surface the information in various ways. Think of it more like the electrical wiring running through your house. You don't interact with the wires themselves, but they do provide a way for devices to connect to plugs to get power.

In tandem with the Office Graph announcement, Microsoft previewed Project Oslo, their first user experience powered by Office Graph. Oslo uses Office Graph data generated from Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer and displays relevant content in a modern mosaic style user experience.

Image:Microsoft Announces Office Graph - Connecting People And Content

What does "relevant content" mean? Well, instead of sorting documents by the standard file-manager-esque name, date and time attributes, people can now find and sort content based on that has been shared with them, that they have viewed and/or liked, as well as the content that is trending. (presumably meaning the most commented and liked within their network of connections) This could represent a big step forward in helping people sort through the huge amounts of information in their organization or community. With the right information surfaced (pun intended!), people can more easily and accurately discover the content relevant to their work.

(Updated March 4th 6:00) Office Graph and Project Oslo (which is being developed by the Microsoft Fast Search team) are clearly the evolution a natural extension to the work Yammer was doing around Enterprise Graph, so it's good to see that Yammer (most notably Adam Pisoni) is having a significant impact on Microsoft, versus the other way around. Perhaps some of the people that scoffed at the $1.2B acquisition price tag may want to revisit their initial reactions?

At the moment Oslo is a Windows 8 application (Update March 4th 6:00am) as well as a web application integrated into the navigation bar of Office 365. Future plans will include mobile access as well. but ideally it will become an integrated component of products like Outlook, SharePoint and Office. That said, I can also see the merits of a stand-alone application... imagine Oslo being similar to magazine style newsreaders like FlipBoard or Zite, but for the business content within your organization.

Similar to how Oslo displays information about content, it also shows the connections people have with their colleagues. In addition to the standard "Manager, Peer and Direct Reports" hierarchy, Oslo displays the people you are working with as well as the intersection of people you and another person are working with.

Image:Microsoft Announces Office Graph - Connecting People And Content

It is important to note that Oslo is just a preview of the type of things Office Graph could make available. With a deep understanding of how people and content are connected, it is my hope that Microsoft will make it easy for people to learn more about the reach and impact their contributions are having to their organization. Imagine knowing more about who's reading your blog posts, downloading your presentations, replying to your Yammer posts, etc. I call this area Personal Analytics, or #smalldata. With Personal Analytics people will be able to see which things they should spend more time on, and which things they should focus less on. Jive Software does a good job of this today with their Impact Metrics feature, so it will be interesting to see how quickly Microsoft, or perhaps their business partner community, creates similar functionality.

For Customers and Business Partners

I don't believe today's announcements will have a large impact for Microsoft customers right away. Rather, Office Graph and tools like Oslo represent a step forward in Microsoft updating the underlying architecture needed to for improved product integration. For example, today Microsoft has to do a lot of magic (ok, it's code, not actual supernatural capabilities) to map identities and user profiles back and forth across products like Outlook, Yammer, Skype and Lync. Office Graph should make that easier, both for Microsoft, customers and Business Partners to build their next generation products and services.

Updated March 4th, 6:00am: Outstanding questions include:
- Will this type of functionality be available only in Office 365, or also for on-premises deployments?
- How will Microsoft Office Graph and Yammer Enterprise Graph come together?
- Will people be able to tweak the results displayed, indicating more or less from this person, or this topic. (similar to Zite, Google+, etc)
- Will people be able to save searches, or even set up alerts for things they want to be automatically made aware of?
- Will task management be incorporated into this, showing people not just want is interesting (trending around them) but urgent and in need of action?

Today's Microsoft announcements comes a few months after IBM announced Mail Next, their project to improve the way people combine email and social capabilities. Based on early looks, IBM Mail Next appears more focused on email and task management, where Microsoft Oslo is more focused on Office document type content. Personally, I really like the user experience of Oslo... edge to Microsoft on that one. It will be interesting to see how both companies move these projects forward and how customers react.