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Microsoft Previews SharePoint Online Communication Site Feature

A preview of the SharePoint Communication Site feature is getting released to Office 365 "first release" subscribers, Microsoft announced this week.

A Communication Site is a new SharePoint intranet feature that was demonstrated during Microsoft's Virtual Summit event last month. It's used for broader communications than a traditional SharePoint Team Site, which serves for intragroup communications. The Communication Site preview is getting released to Office 365 subscribers over the next two to three weeks. Microsoft is planning a broader rollout worldwide of the finished product at the end of August.

Users get access to templates to create a Communication Site. They can use the Topics template to share news or the Showcase template to display photos. There's also a Blank template option. Next, users can add WebParts bearing names such as "Hero," "People," "Events" and "Stream" to enhance communications. They can add so-called "real-time" data to the page, with links to SharePoint documents, Yammer feeds, Power BI reports and Microsoft Stream videos (the Microsoft Stream service for delivering video went live earlier this month). Microsoft Graph search technology is supported, letting users add links to company experts.

Microsoft has added some additional improvements to the Communication Site feature since its Virtual Summit description. The Hero and Image WebParts can now span across the section layout. Users also have greater control over a Communication Site's header image and title. When users send e-mails with links to a Communication Site, it will now display with a thumbnail view, along with a title, a description and an optional message.

A Communication Site now has a "see all" link so that users can access more content than is contained in the initial view. Microsoft added support for animated GIFs in the Image WebPart of a Communication Site. There also are multiple formats available now for News in a WebPart, including list, side-by-side and top story.

Microsoft is promising that the Communication Site feature will work with mobile applications. However, these apps need to be updated first. The SharePoint Mobile App for iOS devices will get updated "within a few days." The one for Android devices will get support "in the coming weeks."

The Communication Site feature can be used with external users. However, IT pros will have to set that up using PowerShell right now. Microsoft is currently working on a graphical user interface equivalent, though.

"We are working on the admin user interface to enable external sharing in a similar fashion as is done today for team sites," Microsoft's announcement explained.

For those with questions, Microsoft already conducted a SharePoint Communication Site "ask me anything" session, with answers archived here. However, SharePoint luminary Jeff Teper, corporate vice president for SharePoint, OneDrive and Office, will answer questions via the @SharePoint Twitter handle on Wednesday, June 28 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.

Other coming events include a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Web presentation on a SharePoint implementation used by the company Shire, which will happen on July 13. There also will be a SharePoint Webcast on July 19 featuring Mark Kashman, senior product manager on the SharePoint team.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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