SharePoint is generally known as intranet software, a tool for enabling workplace collaboration or a method for producing company portals. It can also be used to produce internet-facing sites. This might seem a little puzzling to people who hear SharePoint and think of project sites and team collaboration. That seems a long way from the web.

But there are a lot of reasons why you might want to use SharePoint to create an internet site.

The first reason is that a lot of hard work has been done for you. If you want to create a website from scratch, you will have to do a lot of work around navigation, building menus and so on. There are a lot of websites out there with forums; SharePoint gives you discussion boards out of the box. If you want to have a blog or a news feed, you’ve got them. SharePoint is searchable. SharePoint allows you to have simple publishing policies for new content. It’s easy to produce and edit content without being a web designer.

Many of the features which make SharePoint such a strong proposition for corporate intranets (audience targeted content, customisable site templates, choice of webparts) can make it just as strong a proposition for the web.

One situation where SharePoint could be particularly applicable would be a franchised organisation. You might want some things to be universal across the franchise, but for subsites to be able to have their own content and branding. You could create a site collection in SharePoint, managed by central policies, but allow administrators for each member of the franchise to customise the content and/or look and feel of their sites. Yet each of those sites could use the same resources of organisation-wide information. The end user would know the difference when moving between different members of the franchise, but still feel a unified experience.

There are even situations where corporate features might make sense on a website. Perhaps you want to show a graph of key organisation figures with the general public. Traditionally, this graph would be an image. You would have to do the calculations to work out the graph, create the image file and then add it to the website. With SharePoint, you could have a spreadsheet on the server, displaying the graph through the browser using Excel Services. As soon as you update the spreadsheet, the Excel graph would be updated, which would in turn update the graph on the website. This could save enormous amounts of time and ensure that the users always see the most recent results.

Why not use SharePoint? I’ve known some people to express doubts about using SharePoint for a public facing site. They seem worried it might seem ugly or boring. This doesn’t have to be the case.