Explaining SharePoint 101 to your users – go to the Mall

SharePoint-is-like-the-mallSo I do a lot of introductory meetings and workshops with clients that want or just bought SharePoint.

One of the most common question I will get is

“How do I explain SharePoint to my users?”

No worries, here is a simple way to get your users to not only understand SharePoint, but also be able to understand the power, breadth, and functionality possibilities.

Real world SharePoint Scenario

I like to put it into context for all users. Everyone has been to the Mall (or a version of that in your town), so use a concept everyone can identify with. Here you go.

SharePoint Explained Visually

On the left is the SharePoint language or term, on the right is the real world translation.

Your Enterprise The Country
SharePoint The State/Province in which the mall resides.
The Farm The city in which the mall resides
The Web Application The actual building
Site Collections The different floors in the mall
Sites The different stores on the floor
Lists and Libraries The shelves and displays in the store
Items and Documents The merchandise on the shelf
Metadata The barcode, pricing, and information on the package
Content Types A grouping or type of products (i.e. Books, Clothes, Toys
Web Parts Unique Displays or Kiosks

Other Uses for SharePoint

So why is this so valuable, because this allows you to take SharePoint and breakdown the barriers of technology.  Look at the above scenario and consider Security, Governance, Maintenance, Language Translation, Web Parts, Information Architecture, etc.  It can be translated to a common theme.

I also see a value in this when discussion requirements, when a customer is asking for the moon, or just something simple; I like to translate to the value or difficulty in this scenario.  Now will the Mall work for everyone…..NO….you may need to find a more relevant example depending on industry or company.  Consider a professional sports organization, you can translate it to the Stadium.  For manufacturing, consider Plants or Locations.  Remember that SharePoint can act as an extension of your organization, and in many cases your Global Navigation of your sites does end up being a Org Chart.


Technology can be very confusing and daunting for people, try not toe overpower or use it as a weapon.  If you can get people engaged, get them past the vast mystic that is Enterprise Applications you will get better solution delivery, better adoption, better requests for services.  Remember SharePoint is for everyone….enable collaboration.


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