Microsoft is discontinuing this feature for SharePoint. Is it a mistake?

Microsoft recently announced on their roadmap that this feature will no longer be developed. Is it a sign of things to come? Lets break down what happened, what will happen next, and what it means for you.

What did Microsoft announce?

On their Microsoft 365 roadmap, the roadmap item for scoping controls was recently updated. It was a little vague when I first read the description, but what this is saying is that a feature currently in OneDrive would not come to SharePoint after all.

What this feature does in OneDrive is allow you to search a specific scope:

  • Files in OneDrive
  • Files in OneDrive and SharePoint
  • All content in OneDrive and SharePoint

Search scopes have been in SharePoint for a long time, and power users were very used to them. It made refining your search easy because you could omit results you didn’t want (such as results from other SharePoint sites)

Originally, this feature was being developed for SharePoint, and it made sense: people using SharePoint search for files and content, too!

This announcement states that development on this feature for SharePoint is being discontinued. What does this mean? Doesn’t Microsoft care about searching?

Why (I think) Microsoft made this change

Search within Microsoft 365 is changing. You could argue that web searching across the globe is changing. This change is all due to one thing: AI

How many times a day do you see or hear the word “Copilot”? It’s everywhere and will soon be in every Microsoft product you use.

Here’s the thing. People seem to like searching with Copilot. Even I’m guilty of it, but it doesn’t make sense at first. Here’s how search has changed:

Before AI, you went to a search engine and typed in the keywords that described what you wanted to find. The search results came up, and (hopefully) you found the result you wanted. Otherwise, you had to use the pagination controls at the bottom to go to the next page of results. If all that failed, you had to change your keywords.

Since the creation of GPT-3, which led the way for Copilot, here’s the new experience:

You use a prompt to describe what you’re looking for, in natural language (NOT keywords). AI combed through its knowledge and returns the information (NOT search results) in a summary. If the information returned isn’t what you want, you could simply tell the AI in plain language as much, and it would try again. You could provide additional context to aid it in finding the information. The main difference is that you’re not necessarily getting search results returned. You’re getting the actual information you’re looking for. 

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That could be a simple answer to a question, like “Does spinach belong in a smoothie”, or it could be a more complex answer from information across multiple sources.

The old way of searching knowing how to use search-based keywords (and related syntax) to find results, then navigating to the result to find the information you wanted.

The new way is just “asking” and getting a direct answer, not search results.

It’s a stark difference, and one people are still getting used to, but as one person who loved keyword searches and the nuances of the syntax, I really like AI based searches. Even though I end up typing out a LOT more words to get an answer, the answer is more relevant, and I see less junk (like sponsored results).

This is the reason I believe Microsoft stopped developing more keyword-based search technology for SharePoint. Copilot is coming to SharePoint! Two different Copilots are coming, to be exact. Searching via AI is a much better experience, once you get used to it.

For the people who say “I don’t want AI” and “the old way was better”, well you didn’t think that way originally. Some of us old farts remember the old days of search, and it was a little difficult at first. It took us a while to get used to.

This is no different. I don’t see why keyword-based technology is relevant anymore when a much better experience is available. We’ve seen search technology get scrapped before (even in SharePoint) when better technology comes out.

Conclusion

I think we’ll see less development of keyword-search features as more emphasis is placed on AI in general, not just with Copilot. We could see some integration with the Microsoft Search bar as well. Anything is possible!

In the short term, I’d put my money on Click-to-copilot being the evolution of search within SharePoint. It’s quickly developed, can include the scope you prefer, and may do the trick for now. I’m sure this will evolve and provide more flexibility in how search is performed, but it’s pretty powerful on its surface.

What I do know is that Copilot is much faster to get used to than keyword searching. That means for new users, it’ll be more natural. The ultimate goal is to provide answers people want and reduce the learning curve involved in finding that information. When users don’t even have to read the document in order to find information stored in it, the search experience improves dramatically.

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Tags

Copilot, News, OneDrive, SharePoint