SharePoint 2013 vs IBM Connections 4.5 Social Capabilities- Comparison from the field

Hi,

In this blog post, I’m going to play a dangerous game which consists in comparing two products. Whenever you perform benchmarks, there is always a risk to underestimate some features and to overestimate others. Moreover, since I’m a SharePoint MVP, one could consider that I might not be totally objective in my comparison.

People who know me would tell you that I’m opened to other technologies and products and that I try to always choose the right product/techno for the right purpose so, no, I’m not going to foster SharePoint over IBM Connections. However, it is true that I know better SharePoint so I might miss/omit some IBM Connections features but please forgive me if I do. I’m involved for the past 3 months in a project where both IBM Connections & SharePoint are used. I’m not yet an IBM Connections guru but the product is rather small so you don’t need years either :).

Why am I posting something like that? Well, you might have heard of IBM Connections already and if not, you’ll probably hear of it soon since IBM is pushing hard to impose this solution as a leading Enterprise Social Software. If you ever have to deal with IBM Connections and you’re not an IBM Business Partner, you’ll probably find this post very useful.

If you’re a SharePointer and want to have an idea about the gap between SharePoint Social Features (not considering Yammer) & IBM Connections or if your customer questions you about that, this post will also interest you.

So, I’ve tried to split this comparison in two matrix :

  • Comparing the out of the box features meaning features you have without any development and that any Power User could configure in either SharePoint, either IBM Connections
  • Comparing the development possibilities / APIs exposed by the product.

I’ll also try to avoid subjectivity so I’m not going to compare look & feel related aspects, intuitivity etc…I’m really going to compare feature by feature, so here it is:

End user features

– Items in Green : I consider the feature is better implemented
– Items in Red : feature doesn’t exist in the product
– Same Color: features are equivalent

HELP
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
Contextual Help Yes Yes (Contextual how to videos are included in the product)
Vendor Help Yes (MSDN, Office & Technet) are from far much better than IBM wiki Yes (IBM Wiki), quite poor, lacking examples and very tedious to use to say the least…
Community Help Yes (extremely rich & many many people talking about the product) Yes (very poor, not many blogs, forums etc..talking about the product)
Community Contributions Yes (Codeplex shows > 2400 add-ons for SharePoint) Yes (IBM Greenhouse shows *only* 113 add-ons)

SharePoint clearly benefits from a greater community, certainly when looking for technical content. Just Google some search queries on IBM Connections and you’ll quickly fetch the results 🙂

MICROBLOGGING
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
Mentioning Yes Yes
Attach a picture Yes Yes
Attach a video No Yes (but not playable inline)
Attach a file No Yes (but no inline preview)
Like a microblog Yes Yes
Include links in micro blog Yes Yes (don’t need to include it using special characters such as < & >)
Reply to microblog Yes Yes
Reply to reply No No
Hashtags Yes Yes
Lock a conversation Yes No
Follow up as a task Yes No
Share Other’s microblogs No No
Share With Yes (Communities, Everyone…) Yes

The microblogging experience is slightly better in IBM Connections because you can attach any kind of files (videos, images, presentations…) on the fly.

FOLLOWING
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
Follow people Yes Yes
Follow Sites Yes (in SharePoint, you can follow any kind of sites while Connections is restricted to a limited amount of Apps) Yes
Follow Tags Yes Yes
Follow Files Yes Yes

Following people & content is quite similar in both products.

TAGGING & CONTENT CATEGORIZATION
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
Shared Folksonomy Yes Yes
Private Tags & Notes Yes No
Managed Metadata Yes

While IBM Connections comes with a basic tagging system, SharePoint also comes with the Managed Metadata that you can use within blogs, forums and whatever kind of sites/lists of your choice. SharePoint proposes both folksonomy & taxonomy.

SEARCH
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
People Search UI Yes (Advanced people search queries can be easily built by end users) Yes
Advanced Search UI Yes (End Users can easily create an Enterprise Search center for more advanced scenarios). Using the Content By Search Webpart, end users can easily build any complex search query on any kind of content Yes (the default searchbox proposes default built-in search categories) but isn’t amendable by end users.
Contextual Search UI Yes (SharePoint ships with This Site, This List, All Sites)
Search Engine Yes (the KQL, phonetic search, query rules, refiners, suggestions, wildcard etc…). The Search Engines are almost not comparable Yes (Very basic). All the search features are summarized in a few lines.
Search Results availability Yes (pretty fast if your infrastructure supports Continuous Crawl) Yes

SharePoint 2013 search rocks and is a very big player compared to IBM Connection’s and I’m only talking about what end users can expect from the engine, I’m not mentioning scalability, manageability etc…

BLOGS
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
WYSIWYG Yes (Direct way to upload videos/images that are rendered inline and uploaded automatically into SharePoint) Yes (but no direct way to upload videos, images…only “flash movies” and even then, it’s prompting for a URL). You can attach videos using the attach button but there is no way to play it inline nor to resize etc…via the WYSIWYG
Tagging Yes (via Enterprise Keywords) Yes (enabled by default)
Comment Submission Yes Yes
Comment Moderation Yes Yes
Like Comments No Yes
Like Posts Yes Yes
Rate Posts Yes No
Sort Posts Yes (can add custom columns too) Yes
Filter Post Yes (can add custom columns too) Yes
Sort by likes Yes Yes
Sort by comments Yes Yes
Sort by visits No Yes
Draft/Preview/Publish posts Yes Yes
Blog post featuring No Yes
Client API Yes Yes
Out of the box extensibility Yes (Easily extensible by activating features, changing site structure etc…, adding views to list, webpart to pages etc..) No (pretty rigid structure)
Security Yes (ACL down to item level, much more granular) Yes (can only add owners & editors)

The blogging experience using a browser is way better with SharePoint if you intend to share rich media such as pictures, videos & audio files thanks to the more advanced WYSIWYG editor. The “Sort by visits” feature of IBM Connections is quite useful to see what people read the most. In SharePoint, it’d be possible to have such a feature but would require some extra efforts that end users cannot do.

FORUMS
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
WYSIWYG Yes (same as above) Yes
Reply to question Yes Yes
Reply to reply Yes Yes
Mark as answered Yes Yes
Inline edit Yes Yes
Inline delete Yes Yes
Featured Discussions Yes Yes
Notifications Yes via Alerts Yes via Follow
Like a question Yes Yes
Like an answer Yes Yes
Content Approval Yes No
Security Yes (same as above) Yes (same as above)
Out of the box extensibility Yes (same as above) Yes (same as above)

Forums are quite similar in both products but SharePoint forums are more extendable because you can modify/create extra views and add some other structural components inside of your forums.

WIKIS
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
WYSIWYG Yes (same as above) Yes
Create hierarchies Yes Yes
Create peers Yes Yes
Manage Authors Yes Yes

Once more, the WYSIWYG makes a big difference here since it is important to have a comfortable editor when dealing with media (more & more frequent nowadays) building pages. Moreover, you can easily add webparts, appparts etc..to your SharePoint pages as well. The pure WIKI features are very similar and I don’t prefer one over the other.

COMMUNITIES
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
Badging & Contribution level Yes. In SharePoint, community owners can define the points calculation & create & assign badges to community members to encourage them to participate within a community No
Ideation Blog No Yes (similar to another blog + some specific features such as “voting for an idea ” and “graduate an idea”)
Out of the box extensibility Yes (same as above) Yes (you can add blogs, forums etc..within a community)

In IBM Connections, a community is a container of blogs, forums, files, bookmarks & newsfeeds. It can also contain sub communities. In SharePoint, a community site doesn’t contain a blog, forum etc…by default but they could easily be added by a community owner as well as sub communities. So the features are similar to what we’ve seen so far, that’s why I only highlitghted a few features that you find specifically within communities. Overall, the community concept is probably better in IBM Connections and the ideation blog is interesting to promote people’s idea and make them becoming true. Of course, you could achieve similar functionality in SharePoint but in Connections, it’s out of the box without any effort.

MISCELLANEOUS
Feature SharePoint 2013 IBM Connections 4.5
Bookmarks No (but it’s not much different from sharing links via a Links list) Yes (provides a way to easily manage private & public links)
Calendars Yes (with OOTB integration with Office & Outlook) Yes
Media Yes (Asset Libraries + Media webparts) Yes (Media Gallery)
Personal Site Yes No (if allowed, users can create blogs etc…but it’s not the concept of a personal site)
User Profiles Yes Yes
Activities/Tasks Yes Yes

Development frameworks / APIs

Here, I’m not going to compare all the APIs because I’m not yet an IBM Connections expert so I’ll remain cautious :). I’ll only comment on what I’ve already experienced. Both SharePoint 2013 and IBM Connections are pushing hard on Client-Based “Apps”, so let’s see what is available in SharePoint as Client APIs:

SharePoint Client APIs
API Description
JSOM The Javascript Object Model of SharePoint helps to easily manipulate SharePoint objects/data with JavaScript. All the communication aspects with the web services are handled automatically by the framework
CSOM The Client Side Object Model helps client .NET applications to interact with SharePoint
REST APIs The REST APIs of SharePoint 2013 are very rich and allow to deal with many different services including Search, User Profiles etc…On top of it, there support OData. They can be easily consumed by JavaScript or other client applications (.NET, Java…)
IBM Connections 4.5 Client APIs
REST APIs In Connections, the REST APIs are almost completely based on ATOM Feeds. Most of the times, you can’t get JSON data back which is a pity since most modern apps work with JSON of course. Moreover, they do not support OData which makes it harder (and sometimes impossilbe) to filter data and/or select only the properties you want to get back. Moreover, the documentation is pretty bad. So, if you ever have to deal with IBM Connections REST APIs, open Fiddler, use the UI and monitor all the flows, it will be way more efficient than reading the crappy doc from the IBM wiki…
IWidgets These are page blocks based on the Dojo toolkit. I’ve developed a few of them. Basically, work consists in consuming the ATOM feeds and handle rendering
OpenSocial Mainly to deploy Gadgets (page blocks similar to webparts) in an existing web application such as IBM Connections. Ultimately, OpenSocial should replace IWidgets. It’s a good initiative from IBM to embed a compliant OpenSocial container in their product.

Basically, we could consider that OpenSocial is some kind of JSOM since it provides some astraction layer to consume Connections feeds. However, JSOM covers more aspects (not only Social). IWidgets are based on Dojo Toolkit which is another Open Source solution. However, when you come from the SharePoint world and you have to deploy an IWidget, it’s quite incredible to see the deployment process of an IWidget which basically consists in copying files manually to the web server…and to manually update system files.

When you’re used to the SharePoint Solution Framework which handles deployments in multi-servers farms automatically, it’s quite scary…I’ve already worked in very large SharePoint development teams, with industrialization of the deployment processes but I could hardly imagine how to achieve that level of professionalism with IBM Connections…back to the old days of batch files (or Korn Shell).

Moreover, in the context of a IWidget which is a pure client side component, it’s really a pity that IBM Connections requires server-side copies etc…to register the component plus a service restart causing an outage of that service for a while. So, to deploy client-side code executed by a browser, you cause an outage on the server. In SharePoint, if you deploy that as an App, you can just use the App Model to deploy everything…and there is no need to deploy anything on the physical servers.

IBM Connections 4.5 Server-Side APIs
Connections SPIs Some kind of event receivers firing when something happens in Connections. You can hook your own piece of code to handle that event as you wish. It’s very similar to SharePoint Event Receivers

And? That’s it!

SharePoint 2013 Server-Side APIs
User Profiles
Search
Taxonomy
BCS
BI
Forms Services
WCF Factories
Extensible REST APIs & CSOM
Event Receivers
Workflows
Application Pages
Social
Data (CAML, SPLINQ)
Webparts
Apps
Sandboxed
Site Definitions, List Definitions, WebTemplates
Custom Actions
Delegate Controls
Publishing (Device Channels, Masterpages, page layouts…)
Cross-Site Publishing (catalogs…)
Custom Field Types
Dîsplay Templates
Feature framework

+ dozens of built-in services (content deployment, secure store etc…) and functionalities and an extraordinary flexible and manageable topology.

Conclusion

Even if SharePoint isn’t a specific Enterprise Social product, it’s far from being ridiculous when comparing it to a product such as IBM Connections which has been created for that purpose only. Taking into account the amount of free third parties (CodePlex for instance) , paid third parties (such as Newsgator) and the much richer APIs, SharePoint is more than competing with IBM Connections regarding Enterprise Social.
An interesting exercise would be to compare Yammer & IBM Connections since Yammer can also be integrated in on-premises SharePoint installations.I’ve been involved in the past in a project where we used Newsgator over SharePoint 2010. So, 2 years back, that combination was better than IBM Connections in terms of functionalities (much more things brought by Newsgator).I’d also add that the comparison stops at Social level. IBM Connections is clearly not a competitor in other aspects such as document management, search, LOB integration etc.. and will probably never be. SharePoint has become a monster that I traditionally compare to a Swiss Knife, it’s able to do a bit of everything but is ofen losing when compared with specialized competitors. On the other end, these competitors are usually pretty good in what they can do but offer nothing in the other areas. SharePoint’s strengh is precisely to cover a wide range of functionalities into the same product and to expose pretty strong APIs that can be leveraged by developers and/or third parties to extend the platform as they wish.

Happy Coding

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About Stephane Eyskens

Office 365, Azure PaaS and SharePoint platform expert
This entry was posted in IBM Connections, SharePoint and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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