SharePoint, with its Publishing Feature provides a powerful and extensible platform to build public facing websites, which are otherwise called as internet websites or public facing websites or WCM websites. Some of the top SharePoint (publishing) websites include – Ferrari, Cadbury, Hawaiian Airlines, NZTE (more here & here). Without much discussion, lets get straight to the point – What it is like to build a website using SharePoint?. There are so many myths (which you might hear and read often) surrounding this which conclude SharePoint is not suitable for building such complex websites – Well, SharePoint is indeed a powerful platform not only to build intranet portals, but also WCM sites.
Some of the things you might immediately hear from your customers as well your own team (if the team is new to SharePoint WCM) would be:
Do we really need to use SharePoint to build this website?
I heard SharePoint is used only for Intranet and document management. Are you sure about this?
We don’t have SharePoint here, do you think it is a good idea to invest?
What about branding?
I want to have all those Web 2.0 features in my website. Can I?
How do I manage my content? Will SharePoint provide the ability to backup data regularly?
Search is very important for my website. What options do we have in SharePoint?
I heard something about Content Deployment, can we make use of it too?
Under the hood, SharePoint is nothing but ASP.Net. SharePoint is built on top of the ASP.Net framework, so the same ASP.Net concepts/rules apply to SharePoint too, except that some might be very specific to SharePoint.
So, lets get started and become familiar with few things before we start our long journey!
SharePoint Server 2007 Publishing Feature
One of the out-of-the box features available in SharePoint Server 2007 is the Publishing Feature. To use the web content management features, this feature must be activated in the site level or site collection level (based on where you need them). This feature provides the basic building block for the web content management websites. Turning on this feature will also install publishing-enabled content types and publishing-enabled site templates. Now, you have the basic platform which you can make use of to build your website!
Sweet, lets go with the Publishing Feature then!
One of the major misconceptions that I hear a lot of times is that the ‘out-of-the box’ Publishing Feature is all what is needed to build a public facing website – NO!
The Publishing Feature gives you nothing but the basic platform, and you as the website builder/developer have the full freedom to build/tweak/customize it to your needs and requirements!
Requirements is the KEY
As it goes with any project, know the requirements before getting down to build that website. Sit with your customer/team, arrange some meetings – get to know them and their requirements, what they want from the website, who would be the users of the website etc., And yes, don’t forget the SharePoint 80/20 Rule. This should roughly give you an idea what your customers are expecting out of this website and how SharePoint can help achieve that.
What would these requirements be?
Requirements can be anything and everything!
Some examples to get you started are:
- Site Structure
- Home Page or Welcome Page Layout
- Other Page Layouts
- Static Content Vs Dynamic Content
- HTML Web design template
- The SharePoint environment where the website is going to be deployed
There is also other requirements which you as a SharePoint consultant or developer need to consider. Some examples are:
- Dissecting every Page Layout into different individual components
- Web Parts Vs User Controls Vs Custom Field Controls
- Managing content in Lists Vs Providing in-place editing experience [More on this later in this series]
- Not to make any promises that everything and anything is possible, rather work out whether it is feasible to do so.
- Know your budget and work accordingly. [Some requirements might just go on and on and empty your pocket!]
[Requirements quoted above are solely to get you started and in no way mean these would be the only requirements list for a particular project]
To design or develop first?
This is a tricky question. I think it is better off if you have a HTML web design template ready by your designers. This would make the branding and development process much easier than what you might think. I am not saying the entire website should be designed, but at least an initial version with few page layouts. Remember that one of the requirements was to dissect the page layouts into different individual components – this task becomes much easier now as you have a template to work with. Now you can go build that master page, page layout(s), user controls or web parts or custom field controls depending on the requirements.
Know the SharePoint environment
This is the most important thing to do – Getting familiar with the SharePoint environment where the website is going to be deployed – Things can get really bad if you don’t configure the environment properly. So make sure you get hold of a SharePoint Administrator or SharePoint Network Infrastructure (or whatever you call them) and examine the available options in the environment. If there is not one yet, then this is the good time you start building one! This becomes entirely a separate challenging task! [ Good times, eh ]
Don’t ever under-estimate this task!
SharePoint WCM – Breaking the Ice
This blog post what you are reading is the first post of the kind, in this series. In the upcoming blog posts in this series, I will be taking you through the journey of what its like to build a WCM website using SharePoint.
Then you are ready for one hell of a ride with SharePoint