Window Dressing

I remember when I was a child and my mother would take me to downtown Pittsburgh to see the store windows, decorated for Christmas. Once, when I was older, I got to see the men and women setting up those displays and I was amazed at how quickly they could transform each small space into a delightful holiday scene. Of course, I remained oblivious to the marketing aspect of the process, the room full of the season’s hottest inventory. I’ve recently realized that a SharePoint site’s main page is its “store window” and that like those department stores of old, we shouldn’t be afraid to change them to meet current customer demand.

We have an internet facing site with several portals for various business partners. These people visit the site infrequently, usually in conjunction with a meeting or event that they are attending or to access information from one of our many reference libraries. In some cases, these are also people who are not familiar with SharePoint. Our goal is to make their visit a success, and we have recently changed the way we prepare for these visits. We decorate the site for the occasion.

Just like the showroom window workers, I’ve just finished configuring one of our many external sites for an upcoming event; in this case, a meeting. Meetings are a common thing to support with SharePoint, and we have the requisite contact list of attendees, meeting agenda and a document library of supporting material. But, rather than create a sub-site for this content, we built the Custom Lists and Libraries off the main page and we placed Web-part representation of those resources right on the main page; one-stop shopping as it were.

There are two web-parts on the page that are interesting. The first is a contact list. We use Bamboo Solutions List Rollup part so that contacts can be maintained in a central list and displayed wherever they have a role. This gives us the comfort of knowing that a contact is up-to-date everywhere it appears. The second part on the page is a custom view of the meeting agenda. Rather than use one of SharePoint’s meeting templates, the agenda is a custom list. The full agenda list has the common elements you might find on any agenda but the main page view has the item and a reference to any supporting exhibits. That reference is in the form of a hyperlink so the site visitor can open the exhibits right from the agenda.

One other change we made was to the Document Library used for the exhibits. The library has folders for the various exhibits, as some have several documents. In case the visitor views the library listing instead of the agenda, we wanted the folders to contain descriptions of their contents. We created a custom Content Type to handle that requirement; we simply added an “explanation” column to a Folder type. The result is a kind of visual cross reference. The agenda (list) contains references (links) to the document library and the document library’s folder descriptions contain explanations that mirror the agenda. Regardless of how the visitor wants to explore the site, they understand what goes with what. Of course, the beauty of this approach is that everything is on the one page they know how to get to. . Today, the agenda has the prominent position; after the meeting is over, we’ll move the document library into the spotlight to lead visitors to the minutes.