Persistent Personalized Content in SharePoint


I’m agonizing over that title because it really does not do this feature justice. Let’s see if I can do better with the description and some pictures. Of all the work we did to bring this new Intranet to fruition – this is the one feature that sets it apart – and the one I am most proud of.

To start, we all should be familiar with SharePoint’s native ability to personalize web part pages. Great feature. Your users can create a personal view of a page and add/modify/arrange web parts as they like – and there are so many kinds of web parts available – stocks, weather, social apps, RSS feeds, audio/video podcasts, email, calendars, list aggregators, the list goes on forever. All that is wonderful – your users spend time to personalize a page and then they browse to another page. New page = new (or different) web parts.

When we sat down to design our new Intranet we wanted to have more web parts and more personalized content available – but how useful is that stock web part if you can only see it on your My Site or home page? Not very useful at all. We wanted these web parts to follow users as they navigated the site so the information would always be at their fingertips – but not taking up valuable screen real estate.

I give you: The Sidebar

The Sidebar (collapsed)
The Sidebar (open, pinned)

The simplest description is this: The Sidebar is a personal view of a custom web part page wrapped in jQuery. It exists in our custom master page as a series of DIVs and an iFrame – and being in the master page allows it to persist across all pages in our farm. The sidebar slides open and closed as users mouse over or away from the Sidebar tab. It can be pinned to the side (useful if you have a wide monitor) or it can be detached and docked to the side of your monitor in a separate browser window.

Rather than dwell on the technical issues with implementing this (oh there are a few and it took us months to get it right) let’s discuss how this affects the user experience. Users can now have their personal content follow them as they use the intranet. Their web parts are no longer anchored to a home page or their My Site – seldom to be seen. Administrators can push common web parts to all users – like social applications and company news – and because the Sidebar is persistent the users can consume the content at any time – from any page.

Podcast web parts are great – until you navigate away from the page and lose the feed. Put a podcast web part in your Sidebar and dock it to your desktop – Now you can stream content and browse without skipping a beat.

The Sidebar brings the personalization aspects of SharePoint 2010 to the forefront and, we find, has increased user interest in using and interacting with the web parts.

Options

The sidebar contains a few options, represented as buttons across the top-right of the Sidebar:

Detach, Refresh, and Personalize

Detach

As mentioned above, Detach will dock a copy of the Sidebar to the side of your active monitor in a separate instance of your browser. Why? Useful if you have any podcast web parts or other streaming content and you do not want that content reset or interrupted as you browse the rest of the web site. You can minimize it and have that content continue to run in the background.

Refresh

Does exactly what it says – it refreshes the Sidebar content.

Personalize

Choosing the Personalize option in the Sidebar opens a modal window to the web part page editor for the Sidebar:

Users simply choose web parts from the gallery and add them to the layout. They can move and modify existing web parts too. Also, Sidebar Administrators can seed web parts into everyone’s Sidebar by default. For example, all of our users receive the My Updates and My Weather web parts by default. Users can hide, but not delete administrator-defined web parts.

Another nice touch is how web part properties are modified. When you edit a web part, instead of the web part properties panel opening on the right of the screen, we have it opening in a modal window. This change was necessary due to the fixed-width layout of our sites but I think it is a much better way to handle the web part properties than the native right-panel view. (This change is based off an example on the Internet, don’t have the URL at the moment but I will update this post when I have it and give full credit to the author)

Pretty cool, right? Sadly you will not find a link at the end of this post with all the code you need to build your own Sidebar (SunGard Intellectual Property). I can point you in the right direction if you need some help with your own implementation.

Want to know more – look for me at the SharePoint Conference next week in Anaheim and chat me up on all things SharePoint. Follow me on twitter for updates from the conference: http://twitter.com/#!/marcrdavis

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2 thoughts on “Persistent Personalized Content in SharePoint

  1. Hey Marc,

    This solution is exactly what I have been combing the internet for for the past several days. We are redesigning our UI/UX with the recent purchase of Newsgator Social Sites over SharePoint 2010.

    Using what you have above to display the users’ Activity Feed would be an invaluably useful feature. Is there any way that you might be persuaded to share some of your secrets or consider selling your solution? 🙂

    • Hi Brian – Thanks for the interest in the Sidebar. Unfortunately this solution is the intellectual property of SunGard, so selling it is slightly problematic. 🙂 What I can do is perhaps set you on the right path. I’ll email you with my contact information and we can discuss.

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