I attend my first Microsoft (MS) oriented user group meeting yesterday, the SharePoint User Group on search and accessibility. Unfortunately our developers werre either too busy or on holiday, so I got volunteered.
The meeting was at an LBi office in London, and had a great start with free pizza’s & beer, which after my three hours of travel was a very welcome sight. The topics up were SharePoint 2007’s (SP) search, and creating an accessible web site.
The first part on search went mostly went over my head, not due to the presenter (Riaz Ahmed), but because I’m really not an MS developer. It was quite funny though when Riaz asked the audience how many people used MS’s Live search, and three people put their hands up (out of around 50 MS developers?).
The presentation is up now, and the main thing that struck me in this part was how many damn servers you need to use, the minimum in any of the diagrams was three (web site, search & database). The example used was for LBi’s intranet, where SharePoint 2007 enterprise search was used to index about 6 million documents on a file system, several thousand wiki pages, some blogs, and the ‘people’.
Yes and no, it depends how you architect it.
Method for Creating an Accessible SharePoint Site
After outlining their typical development team, Riaz suggested that it should be the ‘Experience Architect’ (aka Information Architect, Usability person, Interface designer etc.) who after suitable training should own the:
- Site content types and Page layouts
- Site structure
These are all things in SharePoint with relatively easy interfaces to control, and this represents quite a good direction for things to go.
Their development environment includes:
- Visual Studio 2005
- VS2005 extension for WSS
- Source control (TFS), because the expected source control method isn’t really up to it.
- SharePoint designer (not to create templates, but to validate the SharePoint aspects.
- WSS/Sharepoint SDK.
Apparently you also need you own SP farm!?
The main issues they had found with the default output from SP were complete lack of valid code, custom attributes, and inline styles.
I have to say, I really got the impression that for them, accessibility = valid HTML. This might be unfair, I’ll wait until the site goes live before commenting further (about structural code, alternative text etc.). This is not the new site yet.
They looked at several ways of controlling the code, and after an unsuccessful attempt with ‘Web Parts’, settled on filtering the output. Andrew Lister was quite funny and approachable, despite the obviously depressing content of the topic.
So, for any non-authenticated user, the content goes through a filter that strips out the rubbish. Obviously this put some overhead on the system, so they instituted caching, and asked Microsoft about a better solution.
Apparently Microsoft said
wait until the next version, to which an audience member said
They’ve been saying that since version 1!. (Alun David has been asking for about 6/7 years.)
The implications of this approach (and I certainly don’t have a better approach, this isn’t a critisim) are:
- You can’t use any out-of-the-box functionality. Nothing. Or at least nothing that goes to the front-end site (they weren’t concerned with authenticated users).
- The output is only as good as your filter, so if a user puts in unusual code to the content, it may cause unexpected effects.
For functions like the survey, they wrote a module from scratch, which is what you would have to do for any function. The normal SP functions are used for back-end functionality, but Riaz estimated it was 80% .Net development, and 20% SP development.
They will be doing another session in the near future that will go into more of the technical details.
I also have to wonder about the interface of the content editor, does anyone know how configurable that is?
Q & A
In the questions and answers it turned out that some people were working on making accessible Intranets, and had been talking about the issues with Microsoft. Apparently there have been some rumblings going up the food chain at MS in the last few weeks, I wonder if Molly’s post had anything to do with that?
Most people were pretty hacked off that MS hasn’t done anything about this, and if people using SP are hacked off, perhaps MS will listen. From the comments the best way to register complaints is through SharePoint NVPs (whatever they are).
Most CMSs started working on making sure they could output decent code a couple of years ago (with various level of success), but since SharePoint 2007 is now Microsoft’s primary CMS product, the question is: when will they start trying to catch up?