If you’re used to earlier versions of SharePoint, you might have noticed that in those versions the UI made a distinction between things like lists, document libraries, picture libraries, discussion lists, and surveys. This distinction was based on technical differences rather than anything that was likely to matter to users, and generated a lot of confusion. For example, why did surveys and picture libraries get their own category when each contained only one kind of thing, but the lists category might have a couple dozen options? And who thinks of a calendar as a list, anyway?
Figure 1: Example of left navigation area from a SharePoint 2010 site showing the categorization of different lists and libraries.
While we were thinking about how to address the issue of oddly categorized functionality on the site, another interesting thing happened: the concept of “apps” became mainstream. People became comfortable with apps on their phones and on sites like Facebook. New places to install apps seemed to pop up on a daily basis. We wanted to make it easier for people to get new functionality into their SharePoint sites without requiring that they understand anything about how or where the code was deployed.
We considered tacking on “apps” as another category like lists/libraries/and so on, but it seemed a bit ridiculous. We asked customers how they thought about their sites and the things in them, and we repeatedly heard this message:
- The site itself is a place.
- Users are people who could go to that place.
- A theme is a thing that changes how that place looks.
- The remaining functionality in their lists/libraries/and so on is similar to “apps” you might find on your phone.
When we thought about it that way, calling everything an app made a lot of sense. The flow for interacting with existing ones, finding and acquiring new ones, and getting rid of ones that weren’t relevant anymore were all the same for list/libraries and this new thing called apps. Rather than introducing a sixth category of “things that add functionality to my site but are for some reason technically different than the other five categories” we decided to consolidate everything under the term “app.” There are technical differences between surveys and picture libraries and a third-party app from Contoso. But, from an experience perspective, they’re all apps.
Figure 2: Example of the Site Contents page in a site in SharePoint 2013 showing the new single category for Lists, Libraries, and other Apps.
On the Site Contents page of a site, where we used to list the five categories of app-like things, the heading now reads Lists, Libraries, and other Apps. By invoking lists and libraries, we hope to bridge the gap between the old, hard-to-understand technical categorization and the new everything-is-an-app model. We’re excited with the response we’ve gotten so far, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about how you work with apps in your site. Let us know in the comments!