Taming the SharePoint Beast

SharePoint is a strange beast. It’s not a particularly inspiring piece of software, neither has it been built with usability in mind. Microsoft being Microsoft put much hype into it promising world domination for CEO’s whilst neglecting the web professionals cry for better usability! At dConstruct 2007, Jared Spool in his talk on “The Dawning of the Age of Experience” used SharePoint as a negative example:

SharePoint is this amazing way to kill a business… Being a SharePoint developer is sort of like telling your best friend you’re building a house and having them take you to the nearest lumber yard and say, “OK everything you need is here” and they just leave you.

I found myself in that exact position back in May 2007 when Steve and I took up a project to deliver a website for The Belvedere Academy girls school in Liverpool, England.

Despite our initial dismay and myriads of what, whys and hows we managed to hack our way through it like those treasure hunt games we used to play as kids. Clue after clue we eventually found our way towards the goal! This is living proof of our prize.

I sympathize with those seeking SharePoint answers. I’m afraid I don’t have much to give. The best way to begin understanding SharePoint is by tackling its Templating system. A good article to get started with is Skinning MS SharePoint with standards and a Guide to making SharePoint XHTML Compliant. Yes, you guessed it. SharePoint is not built to web standards and has accessibility issues.

Finally, a word of advice. Avoid SharePoint like the plague and seek to educate your bosses or organisation so they realise there are better options. No doubt SharePoint’s offering is very impressive and in some cases could be a prudent choice, such as a company Intranet that needn’t be customised nor heavily branded. But for public facing websites large or small SharePoint is a no go area unless you enjoy constantly banging your head at the wall.

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