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SharePoint 2013: What’s New for Intranet Sites

SharePoint 2013: What’s New for Intranet Sites

[frame]This post is part of a series that looks at what’s changed from an intranet manager perspective, in particular things employees will notice and improvements for site and content owners.

SharePoint 2013 Series

  1. Is SharePoint 2013 worth waiting for?
  2. SharePoint 2013 for intranet sites (this post)
  3. SharePoint 2013 social features
  4. SharePoint 2013 for collaboration
  5. SharePoint 2013 digital workplace and mobile (forthcoming)
  6. SharePoint 2013 governance, analytics and search (forthcoming)
  7. SharePoint 2013 user experience (forthcoming)

See our summary webinar on Slideshare: Is SharePoint 2013 worth waiting for?[/frame]



If you’re looking at SharePoint 2013 as a Content Management System (CMS) for publishing pages in your intranet, then the main improvement is the ability to publish content across sites more easily.  Improved moderation for two-way communication will also be a welcome addition. However, the out-of-the-box tools for managing news article remain primitive and confusing for the casual user. Microsoft claim that it is easier to brand your intranet, though caution against some changes.  Machine translation may be attractive to those running international sites, but don’t expect a polished result.

Flexible Publishing

2013 moves closer to the idea of a news centre where stories are published in multiple locations. It is based on the idea of catalogs and search-based publishing. You can take a list of news stories, for example and expose it as a catalog. A new content search web part on another site will then pick up stories from that catalog and re-display them. This comes into its own when you use metadata as part of the content search. For example, you could have a catalog of all news stories from each country tagged with #countryname, and then create a page that shows all news stories from Europe on one site, and all stories from Asia on another. Similarly you could have a catalog of all internal vacancies, but only show finance vacancies within a Finance Community site.

The same content search web part can be used to quickly create “What’s Hot” features by searching for the top 10 stories by number of views. There are also refiner web parts that will give users buttons to filter their views. For example, “Show me all stories from today | this week | this month”.

This isn’t entirely new to SharePoint, but there used to be a limitation that this wouldn’t work across different site collections (using the Content Query web part) and this has now been overcome. If you want to know more,  Laura Rogers has written a great summary on the content search web part.

Two-way CommunicationDiscussion posts can be flagged for moderation

SharePoint has had the ability to add comments and ratings to news stories and leader blog posts for a while, but many organizations have been hesitant in deploying this feature. Although 2013 won’t fix any deep-seated cultural reservations, it does at least make it easier to manage this process with additional moderation tools:

  • Employees can flag any comment as “Report to Moderator”. The site administrator will see a list of flagged posts to respond to
  • You can configure posts to have star ratings, a ‘Like’ button, or no ratings
  • You can make a post  ‘Featured’ so it rises to the top. For example, if there is a run of comments on a topic, then you could have an official response that is made the featured post
  • Using the content search web part (see above) you can create leader board views such as “Stories with the most comments” or “Highest rated comments”

See Part 3 of this series for more about SharePoint 2013’s social features.

Machine Translation and Multiple Languages

Machine translation options in SharePoint 2013

Often, when I introduce SharePoint to internal communicators and talk about handling multiple-languages, people excitedly ask if that means their articles will automatically be translated. It was a shame to dash their hopes and explain that still needed to happen manually. With 2013, however, there is access to an automated translation service in the cloud. It works on documents, pages and sites. You’re likely to see it if you use variations as it is integrated into the workflow (see screenshot), but it also appears in Office Apps such as Word. Sadly, in-place translations are not supported, so user’s don’t see a button saying “Translate This Page Into English” when they land on it, for example.

At this stage it’s not clear what the quality of translations will be like. The field has progressed greatly in the past few years, but still falls short of the requirements for most professional-level internal communications. The use of a cloud-based service may also create security issues in some companies. Overall though, it’s very encouraging to see this technology entering the toolkit.

Variations are SharePoint’s way of handling language variants on a reference site. For example, you might have a main site in English and want to create the same site in Spanish, French and German. Variations put the workflow in place to keep the content and layout consistent between the 4 sites. The feature was introduced in SharePoint 2007, but didn’t work well until 2010. In the new release, it’s also supported in the Office 365 edition.


Up until now, companies using agencies have sometimes become unstuck when trying to turn the mock-up into a reality on SharePoint. Microsoft claim that 2013 is much easier to brand:

“To brand a SharePoint site, designers just create a site design as they typically would, by implementing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Designers can create these files by using their design tool of choice, whether that is Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Expression Web, or some other HTML editor. You don’t have to use SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio 2013 to brand a SharePoint site.”

However, a slightly conflicting blog post from the SharePoint team also advises “Use SharePoint as an out-of-the-box application whenever possible – We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-the-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity”. I take this to mean that you can change brand elements like the banner and colour scheme, but if you don’t like the metro styling of things like the ribbon then you’re stuck with it.

Other Changes

Some other useful touches include:

  • Image renditions – you can create set sizes for images on your site, such as thumbnail, medium and large sizes. When you add an image, you can apply the appropriate rendition, improving consistency
  • Improved video support – videos can be embedded, more formats are supported and you can choose a frame as the thumbnail. You can have video renditions too, for example high- and low-bandwidth versions
  • Embed external media – the rich text editor now lets you embed any HTML content, including YouTube videos, Bing Maps etc, (see blog post by Stefan Bauer)
  • Drag and drop navigation menus – a more direct way to re-structure menus
  • Word format integrity – SharePoint now recognises Word formatting and shouldn’t go haywire when you paste directly into the content editor

Still Missing

What I find odd for a platform so widely used for internal communication is that there is nothing out of the box designed around a news centre concept. You would expect there to be a web part designed to manage a column of stories with controls over thumbnails, abstracts, publishing date etc. but this still isn’t the case. Instead companies have to resort to creating custom lists or adapting the blog web part. It’s do-able, but is feels like a very basic starting point for something done almost universally.


Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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