Does anyone use SharePoint Discussion Lists?


One of the most underused features of Windows SharePoint Services is discussion lists.  I don’t think I have ever seen an implementation where a vibrant community has been interacting using discussion lists.  On the face of it you’d think this would be a killer feature.  Web-based discussion lists are a central feature of any internet-based community/collaboration site.  Yet when I go work with large corporations this feature is invariably ignored.  I got to thinking recently why this might be.  My theory is that in the corporate environment there are so may other ways to communicate that offer more advantages:

  • Face-to-face or phone – instant feedback, more interactive, direct discussion with the accepted internal authority on the subject.
  • Email distribution lists – offline access, richer/faster UI, push mechanism works to make the commnity more involved/vibrant, especially if the community is relatively small.
  • Internet discussion lists – The availability of internet based discussion lists, whether web-based or UseNet groups offers access to a wider range of experience and view points.

So what do you make of WSS discussion lists?  Is there something wrong with the feature set they offer?  Do you use them, or is my theory correct?

[Update 18/1/05]: Also see follow-up post: SharePoint Discussion Lists – What’s Needed To Make Them Work?

Comments (13)

  1. Yes. I’ve used WSS discussion lists.

    For a government client, I leveraged the use of discussion lists to allow for "moderated" collaboration on various IT business cases various individuals within the organization were tasked to prepare. The feature primarily served as a repository where the organization could build up somewhat of a "knowledge base" around best practices for preparing and evaluating their business cases and also allow participants to add their two-cents regarding how better to streamline the business processes that went in to business case creation.

    Obviously, this type of solution could get out of hand, and therefore, only specified groups had the permissions to post/respond to discussion threads where each posted item was "reviewed" by senior management prior to being made public.

  2. Jason Dossett says:

    It’s hard to get people to use discussion lists in our company because the interface isn’t very mature. People are used to bulletin board discussions, and the standard discussion list views don’t look BB-ish at all. Being able to see the post you are replying to would be nice as well. I’ve tried creating a custom interface that looked more BB, but it’s dependent on additions and modifications to SharePoint’s jscript, which makes it hard to redistribute. The lack of tools for creating new standard templates makes it difficult as well.

  3. Jason Dossett says:

    One other point, face-to-face or phone might be ‘easier’, but I’m not sure they are more advantageous overall. Face-to-face and phone conversations aren’t captured. Decisions get made without any kind of trail of what went into them or what was decided. This seems to be part of the uphill cultural shift that we are faced with when trying to get people to move to SharePoint.

  4. Jenda says:

    Hello,the main problem with WSS discussions is that they can not handle longer discusion threads nicely,look at dpreview Forum etc,how easy it is to list all,see most frequent threads,see new etc;this is exactly what prevents us to use them IMHO

    (feel free to contact me on j.knoulich(at)gmc.net for more info

  5. Matt Smith says:

    We implemented SharePoint Portal Server at http://www.tmhp.com. This implementation uses two SPS sites: one for the anonymous internet and the other for the secure extranet portion.

    We wanted to use the discussion lists in the anonymous section of the site, but since it is anonymous, we couldn’t get the rights working correctly to allow anonymous users to submit posts. So we moved the discussion list to the secure portion of the site.

    Since our site deals with Texas Medicaid, we have a lot of oversight from our state customer. Pretty much anything that is posted by us to the site has to go through a review and approval process. Since it would be nearly impossible to reply to the discussion list and have it go through the same process, our discussion list is not moderated and there is no one monitoring the list and answering questions. It is kind of a one user helps another user situation.

    Aside from the bureaucracy aspect, I’m not all that thrilled with the user interaction of the discussion lists either. In threaded view, I’m not a fan of having to click so many times to read responses. And if you switch to flat view, the responses are interwoven across threads. While it isn’t meant to be an ASP.Net forum or InstantForum, it seems to be lacking (as Jason points out above).

    With that said, there is actually a fair amount of activity on the discussion list, but not nearly what it could be if it were in the anonymous area, if the interface were better and if we were actively involved in answering questions.

  6. Tim Smith says:

    My current customer is in a highly regulated industry and has forced us to disable discussion forums b/c they are not easily auditable enterprise-wide.

  7. User says:

    The interface is plain ugly and barely functional when compared to UBB.

    If the discussions weren’t quite so crappy to look at, people might use them more.

  8. Rohan Cragg says:

    I agree, the available views just don’t cut it, even very inexperienced users realise the limitations very quickly and we’ve not been able to convince anyone to use discussion lists. I hope version 3 brings something more substantial to the table.

  9. Mads Nissen says:

    Your assumptions matches our experience quite accurately. Another "intra-discussion" killer is IM.

    If the UI had been great and there had been solid notification features (IM or mail) so that conversations could move quickly people might use it.

  10. Outlook email distribution lists just seem so much easier; a chief advantage is that it’s much harder to ignore email.

    The big downside of distrubtion lists is that they aren’t archived (say to a SharePoint discussion); this gives new people no easy way to read past discussions.

  11. Jerry Conner says:

    The problem is discussion lists in general–not just SharePoint discussion lists.

    Obviously, various types of discussion lists are used extensively outside the corporate walls where information can be free. Inside the companies, however, where ambitious managers play chess games with information, information cannot be free, and discussion lists are actively discouraged at all but the most enlightened companies.

  12. Mark Bower says:

    I posted my theory yesterday on why SharePoint discussion lists aren’t used more. The votes are in and it looks like I am out-gunned on this one with most folks blaming poor feature set for low take-up…

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