One of the SharePoint features that many end users and site administrators have a hard time understanding is the concept of Audience Targeting. In fact, I received a question recently asking me to describe how “Audience Targeting” differs from the authentication needed for features like “Collaborative Workspaces”.
The short answer is that Audience Targeting is not security. Audience Targeting is a type of personalization. Personalization is not security.
Authentication is the process by which a unique identifier (such as a username and password pair) is used to validate the identity of the user. The authentication is then used to authorize the requested access, such as gaining access to the Team Workspace areas, working on documents, accessing protected areas of content, etc.
SharePoint provides the ability for SharePoint Administrators to segment users into logical groupings called ‘Audiences’. An audience could be ‘new members’. An audience could be ‘everyone who lives in Dallas’. Audience Targeting is a way to flag content to be highlighted to authenticated users that are part of a specific Audience. While Audience Targeting may seem like a complex topic, it can really be thought of as a ‘filter’. Audience Targeting can be used to show an advertisement, a graphic, a video, a link, or any piece of content to a specific group of users (in the audience). This does not prevent other users from finding the content (though other links or searching) – it just highlights the content for the targeted users.
To make matters even more confusing for folks, you can actually use SharePoint Security Groups and Authentication Groups (such as AD Domain Groups or custom Roles) as audiences as well – extremely useful but confusing to some nevertheless.