Friday, December 26, 2008

User generated content with liferay -for anonymous users (part 1)

If you are creating a "Web 2.0" site you might want to allow the users to generate content by themselves. Unfortunately there is no real "out of the box" support for this by liferay -except the discussion forum, which is way to limited in it's functionalitites or better: flexibility.

So to achieve this functionality lets first define the requirements a bit further:

  1. User shall be able to create content (entries)
  2. It shall be possible to comment and rate these entries
  3. It shall be possible to display the content in various ways (aggregated, isolated, pre-view,..)
  4. The entries should be stored search engine friendly
  5. Optimized for external users and internet (simple + user friendly, captcha support, evtl key word/html code blocking,...)

From my perspective there are three ways to achieve this:

  1. Complete custom coding
  2. Use API: Page, Journal articles, page comments, ...
  3. Use API: Blog

As I chose to use liferay to use a lot out of the box functionalties and not to do everything on my own (especially to be able to benefit from ongoing updates and improvements) I chose to go for option 2 or 3.

As 3 seemed to be easier and more comprehensive I chose to go for that option first...

Regarding the requirements:
There are still a lot of open questions which I will address in the following posts - but one thing already: Requirement 5 (simplicity, captcha, etc.) is of course not very much build in for guest.

So I will do that for my own based on JSF-portlets. Details on this will also come in the next posts. To give you an impression how my "API-wrapper" looks like - see the screenshot above

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Content, Navigation, Layout - and first Theme experience

Hi again,

today I want to inform you about roughly the first half year.

In this period of time the main focus was on the standard portlets, content and on some first tests in the area of themes.

Well - the most important aspect of a website is hopefully still the content. So this was the first focus. The portlets around journal articles are quite good. Very easy to start with. Creation and publishing of content is good and easy. Really.
What I miss a bit though is a bit more comprehensive way to manage links maybe. After some changes after some time regarding structure and links it was not completely obvious which journal articles linked to which pages. A link list could be interesting here I guess - or maybe I'm just missing a feature? :)
Well that's something for sure by the way: I'm strongly suppose that I'm missing some features. But I'm happy for any clue - so just feel free to point it out if you find anything stupid.

Navigation & basic layout
Woooow! Big respect to liferay here! I worked quite a bit with other "professional" portals - but what liferay offers here is really awesome. The possibilities to easily arrange pages and portles is just great. It's really just fun to create structures and to play around with the layout. It reminds me a lot of agile programming - meaning that you can consider the building of the website as continous prototyping.
You just place some content - and if it doesn't really convince or just doesn't seem to provide the usability you need - you drag and drop the stuff around.

And it even goes further: Border, colors, font can be changed in a matter of seconds. Especially nice if you want to quickly highlight certain parts to guide the user and to increase user conversion rates.
( is a good little example)

Theme editing / creation
As we were pretty convinced in the beginning - the next thing we wanted to do is to really brand our website. So we started with the plugin environment and created a theme. Not bad - especially with the firefox webdeveloper tools - you can quickly get some results.

But as we are no webdesigners we realized that it is A LOT of effort to make all the small details fit. So our first results never REALLY went life - as they simply were not good enough. We tried them out - and removed them again then. :) What I liked most back then was the "desktop theme" - a pity that liferay removed that by now - but that was really a tricky bit of a theme.
Well - and after liferay significantly improved their own standard look and feel (i think with 5.0) - we simply changed back to that. :)

One last small comment: I didn't really get why liferay takes velocity for their theme creation. It seems quite ok - but again a learning effort. And all the new things together are really quite a hurdle to get started. I think this knowledge and hurdle point shouldn't be underrated. Maybe some time it's even better to leverage knowledge and make it easy for people to just start then to take the little-bit-better-technology.

That's it for today - stay tuned for the experiences with migration and then portlet development.