I work at a public school district office where we have deployed SharePoint for all of our outward facing web sites (district and school sites) as well as used SharePoint for internal Intranet and collaboration sites. While to our team, it is fairly obvious where different content type levels should go, it is not always obvious to our end users. Therefore, I put together the following guidelines to help our users make decisions on where to place content. Perhaps a variation of these rules will help you or your organization too.
Content on the Internet should only include information that you would want anyone in the world to view. For us that mostly means parents and students, but it could literally be anyone in the world who visits our site. This content is generally available anonymously, meaning the user does not have to log into our servers with a user name and password to view the content. It also means that the content should not use a proprietary file format that might prevent people from opening and viewing the content. Note that I did not say that they needed to edit the content. Because they typically do not. But consider that even a Microsoft Word document or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet might be unreadable to users without Microsoft Office installed on their local computer or perhaps if they are viewing the web site from a mobile device. Even users who have Microsoft Office may have an old (pre 2007) version and cannot open the new 2007/2010 file formats that end with an ‘x’ (.docx, .xlsx, etc.) The best solution is to publish all of your content directly to a SharePoint page in a content area or a content editor web part. The next best solution is to convert your document to a PDF document and display it or make it available for download through a hyperlink. Another solution might be to have Office Web Apps installed on your server, but that will be covered in a later blog. Failure to use one of these methods could result in some users getting messages to login in as SharePoint in its confusion tries to open the library in which the page or document was stored. But the most crucial concern is to not publish content on an Internet site that you don’t want everyone in the world to see. School sites, since they are public facing, also fall into this category.
Intranet sites are generally used within an organization for content meant only for anyone within the organization. This includes information that you do not want the public to see or information that would not be of interest to the general public. Generally there are no viewing restrictions to the Intranet content within the organization meaning that all employees can view the content, but like all SharePoint sites, you may want to restrict who can add, edit, and delete content from these sites. Both Internet and intranet sites usually employ an approval process so that posted data is not viewable to either the general public or even all employees in an organization until someone has viewed and approved it. Of course, some people will blindly approve documents to be published without first reading them and there is nothing you can do to prevent that. But don’t be tempted to turn the approval process off thus turning your site content into the Wild Wild West.
Collaboration sites are generally used for groups of employees who work together to share documents, schedules, tasks, etc. They are very interactive sites in that most viewers are also contributors which is unlike Internet and intranet sites which typically have many more viewers than contributors. Using a wildcard in the URL for these sites, we have divided collaboration sites into two types, team and project sites.
We define project collaboration sites to typically hold content related to discrete projects which have an easily identified start and end date. Project sites also often involve members from different departments. But most importantly, projects generally have an end and at that time, you can archive and remove that project site from your portal.
Team sites on the other hand are used by departments or smaller workgroups within a department. They often don’t have an easily identified start or end date (yes, departments can be created or dissolved), but will rather have members come and go over time. Team sites may be used to store information about a project that must continue to live even after a project ends. For example, suppose you have a project site dedicated to the design, development, and deployment of a new application such a Roach Monitoring application. After the project is complete and the application is deployed to production, you may want to place the application’s documentation on the team site so you can archive and remove the project site. If you don’t first store the documentation to another site that will remain active on the portal, users may have trouble learning how to use the application when the project site is removed.
Some final comments about collaboration sites. They are never visible to the public. They usually do not use approvals for pages or any other libraries or lists. They may not even be visible to all users in your organization. They generally allow the upload and storage of more file types and maybe even larger files than your Internet and intranet sites allow. Finally some web parts work better for collaboration sites than they do for web publishing.
I hope these general guidelines help you to decide where in your SharePoint portal you should publish your latest content.