Today, at the SharePoint Virtual Summit 2017, Microsoft announced the next wave of upcoming innovation around four key themes, Share with confidence, Transform business process, Inform and engage employees and Harness collective knowledge. In this post, we focusing around the awesome new modern experience for the classic Publishing Sites, called “Communication Sites” in the Inform and engage employees section of the Summit.
The new name for Publishing Sites better describes what this feature is all about, the Intranet. In our time working with this classic experience, we have developed a few intranets using Publishing Sites, to build extensively customised experiences for our customers, mainly focused around communication providing a hub for users to go to find out news, events, policies and guidance on business processes.
The new communications sites coming to Office365 takes advantage of the new modern interface, which includes, touch friendly, mobile responsive formats, which are also supported in the mobile app experiences which means users can build and publish sites and pages quickly, whilst maintaining a familiar experience to your users.
Developing custom pages in SharePoint under the classic model has been cumbersome taking many weeks or months depending on the complexity of the design, but this new model takes much of that pain away and reduces the skills sets required to get something simple built and shipped to your end users.
In our opinion, SharePoint needs this feature to bring the Intranet into an aligned experience to the rest of the suite which previously required a lot of effort to produce.
Creating a communication site
This feature is not yet released at the time of writing this post, but in Office 365 the option to create these sites will be located in the “Create a site” button on the homepage of your SharePoint site:
You will then be presented with a option to choose to create a new site, either a Team Collaboration or Communication site. If you notice in this screenshot, there appears to be quite a bit of white space below Communication which could suggest space for new types of site in the future.
Click Communication and you will be presented with further options to choose a type of site such as Report, Portfolio and Blank designs, as shown below. In the URL, you will notice that the site you are creating has /sites/ in the URL suggesting this will be a proper site collection, not just a subsite off the root site collection.
Once you are up and running with your communication site, if you want to expand your site, you can add new pages. Click on New > Page.
Then you will be presented with a option to choose a page template for your new page, here you will get the option of 3 types of page template: Blank, Multiple Columns ans Single Column.
Finally click Create. This will be similar to the team sites experience when you are presented with the new page.
New Web parts
Along with the new Communication Site a number of new web parts are shipped as part of the feature, these provide a variety of options for designing a site drawing on the multiple sources of data throughout Office365 to allow you to create a site using relevant data for your users.
From observation of the announcements, these web parts are:
- Hero Web Part
- SharePoint News Web Part
- Events Web Part
- Recent Documents
- Quick Links
- Featured Expert
- Image Gallery Web Part
- People Web Part
- Rich Text Editor – btw, this has a nice clean way for you to copy and paste content into the editor and the web part will clean and make the contents show as per the site design, not like in the old days 😉
A new feature that is being added to the experience is section layouts, these appear as options in the add Web Part options:
This is quite cool and will allow you to have limited control over the layout of the pages much like web part zones, you can add web parts within the areas as you require.
What about the developers?
As a developer very little has been released around the development aspect for this new type of site. Although, I believe that the SharePoint Framework (SPFX) will leverage its capabilities of a front-end development model and provide options when customising this new type of site, such as creation of the new layouts, site design and changes to the overall experience.
The Microsoft Mechanics video describes that Microsoft is planning to add this capability; we look very much forward to what is coming over the next few months as the feature matures.
The summit doesn’t go into the specifics of when this feature will be available but a roadmap does indicate this will be soon, our guess would be in the next quarter we shall see this released in preview:
Details of all the upcoming features around communication sites and associated are at this time showing as in development on the Office 365 Roadmap site: https://products.office.com/en-us/business/office-365-roadmap?filters=sharepoint#abc
We recommend watching the Microsoft Mechanics Video around this feature in more detail, although I recommend turning the speed of the playback down as these awesome folk speak really fast:
Useful links for further details from the Summit
- Use this hashtag: #SPSummit to get the latest reaction from the industry on Twitter
- SharePoint Virtual Summit 2017 Playlist on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXtHYVsvn_b-7onG7XS6HN7v9XlVEFvJL