SharePoint Online Loses Its Inside Look

Loss of Valuable Feature

In a surprising announcement, Microsoft said in MC394933 (June 24) that they plan to retire the SharePoint Inside Look part of the file preview card. Office 365 tenants will lose the feature starting in late July and the Inside Look will be gone by early August.

I think this is a pity. Inside Look estimates the time required to read a document and an extract of what it believes the author’s key points to be (at a glance – Figure 1). Some background process generated the key points and usually did a reasonable job, at least for documents written in English, which is all the feature supports.

SharePoint Online's Inside Look and At a Glance features
Figure 1: SharePoint Online’s Inside Look and At a Glance features

Composing a Custom At a Glance

Sometimes, the process did not work so well, especially for larger documents and no inside look is available. Our main file for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook is around 33 MB and SharePoint stays mute when it comes to the “at a glance” section. Fortunately, the option exists to create your own “at a glance” by composing three points of up to 100 characters each. The “Edit at a glance” option is available through the […] menu under “See details” in Figure 1, which and reveals an input form to compose the three points (Figure 2).

Editing custom At a Glance points
Figure 2: Editing custom At a Glance points

At a Glance Gone from Sharing Emails Too

In addition, Microsoft is retiring the insertion of the “at a glance” text in the email notification sent when someone shares a document (Figure 3). This is especially regrettable because the text gives recipients some immediate insight into the content within a document.

At a glance points in a SharePoint Online sharing notification
Figure 3: At a glance points in a SharePoint Online sharing notification

The Language Issue

Of course, I write documents in English and therefore get value from the feature. The problem might be because Microsoft says that the feature worked exclusively for Word documents written in English. This is surprising because Microsoft certainly has the translation capability to handle other languages. The obvious conclusion is that the issue lies in extracting the three “at a glance” points from the text of a document.

No doubt this is a machine learning task, probably based on something like creating points from sentences at the start of a document where summaries are most often located. I’m sure that scaling this capability up to handle the intricacies of non-English languages plus the resources needed to perform the processing are factors driving Microsoft’s decision to retire the Inside Look feature.

Removing Features is Hard

One thing that’s not clear is if the retirement covers the estimated time necessary to read a document. I’m unsure how Microsoft computes this number but can report that the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook (2022 edition) apparently takes 34 hours to read. Not all at one time, as that would leave you boggle-eyed and incapable of sensible conversation. I’m sure that the computation is based on factors such as the number of pages and words with other influences like the number of paragraphs and headings probably thrown in for good measure.

SharePoint Online has added some good features recently, like the document library drop-down menu and the ability to set a default sensitivity label for a document library (just like you can set a default retention label). It’s a pity to see something like the Inside Look disappear, even if it is English-only and only works for Word documents. Removing features is hard, but the cloud can take away functionality as quickly as new capabilities appear.

So much change, all the time. It’s a challenge to stay abreast of all the updates Microsoft makes across Office 365. Subscribe to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook to receive monthly insights into what happens, why it happens, and what new features and capabilities mean for your tenant.

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