SPYam The Story So Far

09 July 2012

After Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer it wasn't going to be long before the SharePoint community started to take a closer interest in what it was all about and the impact it was likely to have on the world of SharePoint and the Microsoft stack more generally. Last week Joel Oleson, SharePoint superstar and community organiser set up SPYam, an (initially) invitation only Yammer community to help do just that. Since then the community has grown quickly and at time of writing has 455 members. Things are still changing rapidly and with the generous help of Neil McCarthy at Yammer the account has now been upgraded to Premium level which opens up the ability to create fuller profiles, add SharePoint integration and much more.

I was interested to see how things would develop along with several other initial members who voiced concern about whether the use of Yammer for the SharePoint community would catch on. Would people be enthusiastic participants to begin with and then fade away? What advantage did Yammer provide over Twitter or Facebook? Was this just one more social tool we were going to pile on top of all the others?

It does feel like there is a lot of tyre kicking going on but this after all was one of the reasons for setting up the community. There is lots of discussion around how groups should be organised or whether topics and the use of search are a better way to organise content or should it be a combination of both? Again, this is to be expected as people find their way into using this tool which feels somewhat familiar to those of us used to other social media platforms but has it's own terminology and options for achieving specific tasks.

Where I have seen success in the past using Yammer is in project teams that are geographically spread out. Yammer was fantastic for keeping the team in contact in a lightweight way that wasn't disruptive to our working patterns in the way that a teleconference that requires everyone to be present at the same time can be. Problems could be resolved and issues could be discussed either rapidly or over a period of time and the discussions could be widened out to include other colleagues as required. The main reason for this success was the focus on a project, there was a definite need for communication around a set of project related activities. The big question for me is whether SPYam can find it's focus or purpose quickly enough to keep the members coming back for more.

Initially SPYam definitely did feel like it was a group in search of a problem to solve and the comments about whether it really had a use felt like they may be justified. However, there are increasing numbers of discussion threads emerging that are engaging multiple people and generating useful content and ideas, there are some really interesting conversations happening around SP community user groups for example. Other interesting threads have included discussion about how to measure the success of using Yammer, whether corporate focussed start-ups will have more opportunities and whether HTML is a document. As the number of participants grows, sign up is now open to anyone (just drop me an email if you would like an invite), the amount of participation should continue to build and hopefully we will end up with a really useful space for the SharePoint community to come together. It is still very early days for SPYam but I think the initial signs are encouraging that this community will have some longevity and with the release of SharePoint vNext on the horizon there should be plenty to talk about.

Displaying a Visio 2010 drawing with links in a Page Viewer Web Part

04 October 2011

If you have tried saving a Visio 2010 drawing as a web page and then displaying it in a Page Viewer web part in SharePoint then you will know that by default hyperlinks in the drawing will no longer work.

This is because the default output format for Visio 2010 drawings being saved as a web page is XAML. When you save the drawing as a web page a collection of files are generated one of which is called xaml_1.js. Opening the Visio drawing .htm file directly in the browser works as expected and hyperlinks are active. However, if you try to display the Visio drawing inside a Page Viewer web part you will see a JavaScript error that references the xaml_1.js file seemingly because there is conflict with DOM elements that exist in the standard SharePoint page.

I suspect that this didn't receive much attention during testing by Microsoft as the assumption could be that if you are using Visio 2010 you will also be using SharePoint 2010 and Visio Services to display your Visio drawings in the browser.

There is a way to work around this by changing the output format of Visio to VML (Vector Markup Language) instead of XAML. Unless you choose VML the first time you save as a web page then Visio remebers the XAML default and there is no setting in Visio (that I can find!) that allows you to change this default. The only option left is to crack open the registry and go searching for the relevant setting.

Open regedit and go to - HKEY_CURRENT_USER -> Software -> Microsoft -> Office -> 14.0 -> Visio -> Solution -> SaveAsWeb -> Settings then change "priformat" from XAML to VML

Save your Visio drawing as a web page again and this time it will be produced using the VML format which does not include the xaml_1.js file that causes the error and prevents links from working.

When you add the link to a Page Viewer you should now have working links.

Most Common SharePoint Application Development Mistake

28 July 2011

SharePoint is a huge product with plenty of opportunities to make mistakes in lots of different ways. The infrastructure could be configured badly, the business may not have clearly defined what they hope to achieve with SharePoint or the information architecture is allowed to sprawl out of control.

Having worked with SharePoint for over 7 years there is one mistake that I see being repeated over and over again when SharePoint is introduced into an organisation.

Imagine the scene, SharePoint has just been installed and in this case the business do have a clear idea of what they expect from SharePoint. The first priority is to move several small legacy systems including some spreadsheets and a couple of Access database applications onto SharePoint.

The justification for this is that moving these apps to the SharePoint platform will make them easier to find and share, they will immediately fall under the SharePoint backup and disaster recovery regimes and using SharePoint as the interface will provide a more consistent user experience across all of these apps. In addition to that the business has heard all about how rapidly small applications can be developed and deployed using SharePoint and are excited to see this process in action.

Back in the IT department the .Net developers have just come back from a weeks intensive training and naturally they want to make a good impression by demonstrating their newly acquired SharePoint knowledge and showing the business what a great platform SharePoint is.

The requirements to migrate several spreadsheet based apps start to roll in and the team begin by putting together a few quick prototypes. The decision is made to move the spreadsheet contents across into SharePoint lists to take advantage of functionality like views and to be able to apply approval workflows to items.

The users of the apps take a look at the protoypes and start to provide feedback. Requests include things like:

  • Can a row be highlighted in red if some field drops below a specific number?
  • Could a link be added to the view item form that takes us straight to a specific view?
  • We don't always really like seeing the Alert Me functionality, can this be hidden for some of the lists but left on for others?

The developers know that technically they can do all of these things and they want to say yes to the business. This is a mistake.

It is a mistake for a couple of reasons. The business has been promised rapid application development by whoever sold them SharePoint. They may even have been told that this assumes you use as much out of the box functionality as possible and avoid code customisation if you can. Understandably, what they don't realise is that the things they are asking for are customisations that will require code to be written, tested, deployed and maintained.

It is up to the developers or IT managers to explain this to the business users and make it very clear whether what is being asked for is out of the box or whether it is a code based customisation.

Another reason it is a mistake is that the requests to turn off alerts or add links in unusual places are significant changes to the standard interface. One of the benefits of using SharePoint is that it provides a consistent platform and each change to that platform chips away at this consistency. The benefit of a consistent interface is that once a user has mastered one application or area of SharePoint they should be able to open any other SharePoint site and feel immediately at home. The changes mentioned may sound small but over time can build up to mean that some areas of SharePoint become almost unrecognisable. This will lead to an increase in support calls and training costs as users will be confused by these inconsistencies and ultimately this can hurt user adoption of the platform as a whole.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't use code based customisations or alter the user interface in any way but these customisations do come with an overhead that needs to be understood by the business. The danger is that if this is not clearly explained the original expectations of rapid application development and the benefits of a consistent platform are not met and the business starts to question whether these claims were ever true or even worse, whether any claim made about SharePoint is true!

An informed choice needs to be made by the business on a per application basis as to whether they are prepared to invest the extra time and effort to get an application that meets 100% of requirements. Or, decide that it is better to have something delivered far more rapidly that meets ~80% of the requirements and loses some of the nice to have elements. In addition, there also needs to be someone in the business taking an overall view of what customisations are acceptable across the platform to preserve interface consistency for the benefit of all applications.

This is clearly not an all or nothing choice and there is a sliding scale of just how much customisation the business is prepared to take on. Once people come to terms with and fully understand these choices and trade offs they usually feel much happier about SharePoint and the best way to deliver applications for their business. Ultimately SharePoint is about giving the business the tools to do a job in the most effective and efficient way possible and sometimes this means having to say no to some requirements.

What do you think? Is this something you have seen happening at companies you work with? Are there other mistakes that you see happening more frequently?

SharePoint 2010 SPTimer job won't activate

02 February 2011

...and the error you see in ULS viewer is "The SPPersistedObject, XXXXXXXXXXX, could not be updated because the current user is not a Farm Administrator"

Solution can be found here - http://unclepaul84.blogspot.com/2010/06/sppersistedobject-xxxxxxxxxxx-could-not.html - cheers Paul!

Script to turn off remote administration security is:

# AUTHOR: Paul Kotlyar
# DESCRIPTION: sets an option on content web service that allows updating of SP Administration objects such as SPJobDefinition from content web applications
function Set-RemoteAdministratorAccessDenied-False()
 # load sharepoint api libs
 [System.Reflection.Assembly]::LoadWithPartialName("Microsoft.SharePoint") > $null
 [System.Reflection.Assembly]::LoadWithPartialName("Microsoft.SharePoint.Administration") > $null

  # get content web service
 $contentService = [Microsoft.SharePoint.Administration.SPWebService]::ContentService
  # turn off remote administration security
 $contentService.RemoteAdministratorAccessDenied = $false
  # update the web service


SharePoint 2010 newsfeed is empty

26 January 2011

One of the great new features in SharePoint 2010 is the "My Newsfeed" section of My Site.
This is similar to the wall on Facebook and allows you to see the activities of your colleagues such as comments they are making and items they are tagging.
After installing SharePoint 2010 I added a load of colleagues and then sat back in anticipation of a steady stream of activity but nothing happened. Instead the message,  "There are no activities in your newsfeed. Stay connected by adding colleagues and interests." kept on staring back at me.
It turns out there is a timer job that needs to be enabled in order for the news feed to be populated.
This can be found in Central Administration -> Monitoring -> Review job definitions -> [User Profile Service Application] - Activity Feed Job
Simply click on the link for this timer job and set up the schedule. If you want to see immediate results click the "Run Now" button.

Twitter SharePoint Web Part With OAuth

10 June 2010

As Twitter are about to stop allowing use of Basic Auth I have updated the Twitter friends timeline web part to use OAuth.

When you add the web part to the page you will be directed to the Twitter OAuth login page once. After that the authentication token and secret are persisted in the properties of the web part although only the token is browsable.

To change the account being displayed simply clear the Token property in the Miscellaneous section of the web part properties and you will be prompted for a new set of credentials.

As a bonus I have also included a Twitter search web part. This does not require authentication but does require you to provide a search term in the Miscellaneous section of the web part properties.

To download the .wsp SharePoint solution file visit this page.

Thanks to Shannon Whitley for his OAuth Twitter example

North East SharePoint user group meeting - Wednesday 16th June

28 May 2010

TSG is teaming up with SUGUK to present the next user group session in the north east.

Tony Hughes from Microsoft Partner TSG who will lead us through methods to exploit Sharepoint functionality in the small to medium Sharepoint Enterprise.
This session bridging the technical, development and business audience will be both interactive and enlightening.  It will cover how list enhancements in Sharepoint 2010 can be deployed to allow integrated data solutions,  dip into the exploitation of Excel to create Business Intelligence, show us how to take advantage of Key performance Indicators and dashboards in Sharepoint, delve into how we can use Sharepoint Designer to create valuable data views and step into the critical realm of document management to show the importance of and approaches to document Version Control and Approval Routing.

For more information and to sign up follow this link.

SharePoint support turns from a trickle to a flood

01 November 2009

When Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 was in beta, and for some time after it was given a full release, the level of support and documentation available was, at best, pretty sketchy. Over time Microsoft have improved what is available on MSDN and Technet as well as publishing best practices but what really saved MOSS 2007 and the people who work with it was the SharePoint community who have done a great job in supporting each other with blog posts, forums, wikis, white papers and the like.

Given that history, it is fantastic to see the amount of information being made available before the public beta of SharePoint 2010 is even released. As the NDA on SharePoint 2010 was lifted at the SharePoint conference in Las Vegas there was a veritable blizzard of blog posts from various SharePoint insiders.

Other than watching the SharePoint conference key note one of the best summaries of top new features came from Joel Oleson and also includes further links to the MSDN and Technet documentation for SharePoint 2010 as well as what looks like quite a promising Developer Centre being created by Microsoft that is currently tagged as in beta. Joel has also started doing some presentations on the new admin features of SharePoint 2010 with further information on his blog.

Andrew Connell was quick off the mark with 3 blog posts on improvements to the Web Content Management aspects of SharePoint 2010 and a further post on the new service application architecture.

Bil Simser filled in some of the details around improvements to look up columns and the addition of ratings functionality.

Spencer Harbar has produced a great post on the improvements to the development tools available for SharePoint 2010 which will all be very welcome given the amount of criticism Microsoft got from the development community for not doing more in this area for the previous version.

Another brilliant developer post on the factors that could persuade asp.net developers to start using SharePoint comes from Jeremy Thake the man behind SharePoint Dev Wiki. This is a wiki that was started as a reaction to the lack of a definitive resource for SharePoint developers and has become the place to go for reference material and guidance on SharePoint development. The site has now been extended to include a SharePoint 2007 Administration wiki and a shiny new SharePoint 2010 Development wiki which is already starting to be filled with content.

A communication method that wasn't available when the 2007 version was released was Twitter. Not being able to go to the SharePoint conference was frustrating but Twitter came to the rescue and at times it was almost like being there. Well, ok, maybe not but it did provide a rich stream of information about new features directly from the people who were lucky enough to be there. This allowed the people who couldn't be there in person to get a glimpse of some of the detail being revealed during the sessions and to see beyond the headlines of the keynote.

Back in the beta days of SharePoint 2007 it was often a case of feeling your way and piecing together bits of information from lots of different sources to achieve the end result you were looking for. I think I can say with some confidence that those bad old days are in the past for SharePoint. It is now a huge success story for Microsoft and they are supporting it better than ever with documentation and tools. In addition the community of people working with and supporting SharePoint has grown massively over the last few years and this is where a lot of the best content is going to come from. This time round the problem won't be the lack of information the issue will be that now the trickle has turned to a flood can we keep up with all the content being produced? This is where inititiatives like Dev Wiki can really help to put some structure to that content and also allows us to give authority to the best bits.

Have you come across any other great SharePoint 2010 posts that are worth sharing? If so please add them in the comments.