The playground – it’s not just for kids any more.

Getting users into SharePoint, and comfortable using SharePoint, is key to any successful implementation. One of the best ways to encourage users to use the product is to empower your users to use SharePoint as they see fit. And while you probably have a formal training program for your users where you’ve taught them the skills they need, where do you users go to play with things after they’ve left the classroom? The answer – a playground!

Users frequently fall into one of two categories – the cavalier and the timid. And both need somewhere outside of the production sites to test their SharePoint skills.

The potential problems from the cavalier user are pretty obvious. Without giving it much thought, they start tweaking things, disabling things, and, well, just generally .

The potential problems from the timid user are a bit more subtle, but still as problematic. They become “scared” of SharePoint, unsure of where to click, what to do and ever fearful of “breaking” SharePoint. After a while, these users may eventually give up on SharePoint, not seeing its usefulness.

Both of those users need somewhere to go test things in an environment where they won’t break things. Once they work out the kinks, they can then take that knowledge and apply it to their normal sites.

To support this, every SharePoint deployment needs to have a web application dedicated to just this cause – to being a testing environment or playground. This can be just a separate web application rather than a brand new farm – save the cost deploying a new farm.

I also like a web application as it gives me the opportunity to create a separate application pool for further stability and security. Additionally, the web application allows for a new hostname – something like :-)

Along those lines, I have seen organizations use their My Sites for this purpose. I can’t disagree with this plan more. The goal of a My Site isn’t for testing, but to give the user to share information about themselves and documents. Their My Sites should be clean and designed for public.

The rules of the playground are pretty simple. Anyone who wants a site collection to play with gets one. I typically do this through a simple request form, just to ensure we’re not creating multiple site collections for the same user (unless necessary). Additionally, having a site collection for the user of course allows for quotas.

Once they have their site collection, I borrow the rules from the break room fridge:

  1. Just because you put something in there doesn’t mean it’s going to be there when you go back for it. This is a playground. There is no SLA.
  2. Periodically (say once a month), a script will reset all site collections back to their original state. This is to try to keep things clean. After a while I find playground sites sort of become like bent pieces of metal and impossible to get them straight again. Simplest way to handle this is to reset the site collections.

Want users that are more comfortable in SharePoint? Give them a playground – a safe environment where they can just go play with SharePoint.