Building a news workbench on MOSS 2007 -- Part 1

[Ed. note: This is the first of a five-post series about a solution that our Microsoft Web enterprise portal team built that deals with collecting, organizing, and publishing news content. We thought it would be interesting for people to read about the solution and understand how it was built. As always, use comments to ask questions! Thanks --George Perantatos]

Hi there. My name is Sean Squires and I'm a Program Manager for the Microsoft IT Information Services group. We are responsible for driving technical design and solution creation for many internal portal properties running Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). We also work closely with the product group evaluating new features and showcasing innovative ways to extend the product. George Perantatos, a recent contributor on this blog, invited me to share with you over a series of posts how we leveraged the many new publishing features of the latest release to create a news workbench solution for our primary employee communication portal, Microsoft Web (MSW). If you've caught any of our conference talks over the past year, we've briefly described some of the various components of the solution, but never provided a full overview. Enjoy!

Business Problem

The news workbench solution was originally conceived during the redesign of the MSW portal from SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to MOSS 2007 - to address the problem of effectively managing the discovery, selection, and distribution of news content published to the site or emailed to subscribers. The previous model was a very manual process; it was difficult to manage and was prone to user error. In rethinking the news publishing process it was important to figure out how to streamline it, automate steps where possible and, of course, leverage as many of the new content management features in MOSS as we could.

Solution Approach

Our approach was to build a workbench platform that would allow editors to easily perform in a single place all of the various tasks associated with their daily publishing cycle: to find, tag, edit, and distribute select news items to multiple targets. While we needed to build a few custom components, most of the design takes advantage of new features, search, content types, information management policy, and data roll-up via the Content Query web part (CQWP).

The workbench itself is a hidden publishing sub-site in the MSW site collection composed of two lists and a few search and preview pages in the Pages library. News items are first imported from external vendor feeds on a scheduled basis into a source list, and then crawled to provide a searchable index for editors. Permissions to this list are locked down to editors only to prevent portal visitors from getting non-related news through searches.

Editors have a custom advanced search page allowing them to tailor searches against this seed list. Items returned from a query can be selected for one or more distribution channels; these candidates are then copied to another list which allows for additional editing and specifying attributes such as category and sort order (we'll talk about this in more detail in the next post).

Once items are edited they can be previewed and published to a SharePoint page using the Content Query web part. We use the same page model to surface stories on archive pages for a prescribed amount of time after their initial run. They can also be packaged up and sent out via email to a specific subscriber base using custom mailer web parts. News items published to the portal or to newsletters are eventually flushed from the list using the out-of-box policy management feature.

Here is an overview diagram of the design and various components in the process:

Next Time

In my next post I'll talk more about the custom feed management process and how we provide updated news content to the editors for use on the site.