One of the great things about Office 365 and SharePoint Online is the improved development and release schedules that Microsoft have adopted. This new practice has been in part inspired by the Yammer team, who have always worked this way, and in part by the nature of web and cloud development. Users expect more rapid release schedules, so companies like Microsoft have to adapt.
Not only do new features arrive in a much more timely fashion, but Microsoft is also much better at communicating these changes than they were in years gone by. The Office team blog and the well received Office 365 roadmap website play a big part in this.
A recent example of both this new release schedule, and improved communications strategy, is the announcement of two new taxonomy features for Office 365 - the taxonomy refinement panel web part and faceted navigation.
Both features have previously been available as part of SharePoint 2013 ‘On Premises’, and are now available in Office 365 as part of SharePoint Online. Both features also build upon a lot of the good work Microsoft have done in SharePoint 2013 with search and taxonomy support.
The taxonomy refinement panel relies quite heavily on the previously released Content Search web part. A discussion on that feature is a blog post in its own right, but in essence it allows the elements of a search result to be displayed as standard page content.
Let us take a closer look at both new components.
The Taxonomy Refinement Panel web part
The first new feature is the ‘Taxonomy Refinement Panel’ web part. This allows users to refine what is shown on a page, using categories derived from the sites navigation. In essence it can be used to build dynamic sub menus for users to drill down into content. It is extremely useful for sites with complex categories and subcategories of ordered content.
The categories that appear in the refinement panel are taken from the ‘managed navigation’ of the site in question. Again this is quite a detailed topic, but involves defining a set of terms (stored as a term set) that go on to make up the navigation of that site. Microsoft has written a full outline over on TechNet.
The content shown when users select a category is controlled by the Content Search web part we briefly mentioned earlier. The Taxonomy Refinement Panel must be connected, via its configuration properties, to the appropriate Content Search web part.
You can find out more about how to configure the various properties of the Taxonomy Refinement Panel web part over on the Microsoft TechNet pages.
Faceted Navigation is a way to browse content on a site by using filters. The terms used in these filters are called categories and are tied to SharePoint category pages. Category pages, and the wider elements of faceted navigation are part of the cross site publishing functionality available in SharePoint 2013.
Faceted Navigation is a great way for content managers to provide pages of information covering different types of content, without having to create unique physical pages each time.
Faceted Navigation relies on some of the concepts used by the Taxonomy Refinement Panel, including elements of managed navigation.
You can find out more about Faceted Navigation over on the Microsoft TechNet pages.
Both new features are available now (in the Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E4 plans, as well as Government G3 and G4 and Education A3 and A4 plans).
As is the way with Office 365, these features will be rolling out across tenants gradually, so if you don’t see the features immediately then they should appear very soon.
Click here to view our ‘Demystifying SharePoint Taxonomy’ webcast, which touches on useful taxonomy tools for classifying SharePoint content.