The Importance of a Content Syndication and Aggregation Plan

One of the keys to managing a successful SharePoint implementation is having a Content Syndication and Aggregation Plan. Address the plan early in the design process to avoid more difficult changes later in the life of the system.

The plan should cover:
Content Locations – Helping users develop a methodology for where to locate content (Centrally / Group Level) and how to aggregate it when needed.

Role of Content – Is the content to be consumed (read) or updated? Content that needs to be modified from remote locations needs to be handled differently.

Content Types – By thinking about the content and content types early on in the process data can be addressed in a consistent way which will make it easier for people to understand and easier to aggregate the data thanks to common structures.

Why is a plan needed?
As Site Collections continue to grow in scope and size it will become clear that different groups need to work with the same data or that the same data has relevance in more than one context. The promise of collaboration tools like SharePoint is that they can deliver targeted information in specific places instead of making users visit dozens of different sources. One of the frequent complaints that I hear is that related data is in too many disparate sites, with another being that files are copied to multiple sites where they are consumed.

What are the methods for syndication and aggregation?
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) – Most people have a good understanding of what RSS is and how it can be used to pull content into the sites, but not all realize that they use it to share data within SharePoint sites.

As the full name suggests it is Really Simple, but that also means there can be some limits to what it can be used for. I tend to use it for communicating simple data like News, Announcements, and of course Blog updates.

Web Parts – With this approach web parts are configured to include data from one or more sources for display somewhere else. This can be done with a DataView configured in SharePoint Designer or with the Content Query Web Part (CQWP) if you have MOSS. One limit with these two options is that data must exist within the Site Collection; it cannot access data outside of that boundary.

Another option is a custom web part or a third party “Rollup” web part that provides similar functionality but offers the ability to access the data via a web service call opening up the data from any accessible SharePoint site.

Document Link Content Type – If the “Document Link” content type is added to the document library, it will enable the sites user’s to put a shortcut/link in the document library that points to the document’s source location. This is a simple, but effective way to list documents in more than one library without the storage overhead or the confusion around which is the correct location to edit the document.

Publishing – The MOSS Publishing features support configuring a Custom Send to Destination within the library’s Advanced Settings. This provides a mechanism for pushing documents from a source to a destination library which really comes in handy with a document control process that separates the Work in Process (WIP) library from the document library users consume information on.

Content Synchronization – There may be instances when you need to be able to synchronize data or files to another farm or site collection. Examples would include pushing content from an internal system to an extranet or visa versa. There are a few third party solutions that can help facilitate this, or a custom solution can be developed.

Examples of where it can be used.
Here are some common examples that I’ve run into:

  • Company Holidays and Calendar
  • Common Company Forms
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Project Information and Summary Status Reports

Summary
SharePoint has a great foundation for content syndication and aggregation. By developing your plan early in your design and communicating it to your community it will help shape design decisions and educate users on how to maximize the effectiveness of the content sharing. All of this will help avoid user frustration and lead to wider end user adoption and satisfaction with content that proves to be much more portable.

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