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Leveraging Social Applications, Activities Tracking, and User Connections

Liferay Portal has many apps available for social interaction and collaboration. Some of these apps are designed to help you work together as a team, while others are designed to foster social interactions between team members at your organization.

Out-of-the box, Liferay Portal includes these social apps:

  • Activities
  • Group Statistics
  • User Statistics
  • Requests

The following social apps are available in Liferay’s Social Networking app on Liferay Marketplace:

  • Summary
  • Wall
  • Friends
  • Members
  • Friends’ Activities
  • Members’ Activities
  • Meetups
  • Maps

Liferay’s Social Networking app is available for both Liferay Portal CE and Liferay DXP:

Some of the social networking apps should be used on your site’s public pages, while others should be used as part of a user’s personal site. As you might expect, the apps intended for a personal page foster simple social interactions, while the ones that can be placed on any site help teams interact and improve productivity.

Unless otherwise noted, these apps have minimal configuration options. Some of them provide additional options for customizing feed lengths or display styles. Additional styling changes can be made through custom CSS.

Liferay Portal’s Social Tools in Action

To get started with Liferay Portal’s social features, you first want to add social apps to your users’ public personal pages. You can set things up any way you want, but for simplicity’s sake, this example shows something that’s fairly similar to the original Facebook layout. You’ll give your users a way to send and receive connection request using their Profile and Dashboard pages.

Setting up Users’ Personal Pages

Before you start adding apps to pages, you should configure Liferay Portal so that everyone (or some subset of everyone) has the same social features. You can do this in two ways:

User Groups: You can create a user group site by placing users into a group. The pages and apps defined by the user group site are copied to members’ personal sites. This lets you control whether users can modify pages, and you can push changes out to users in the future. Once the site template is assigned to a user group, you can make it so all users are members of this group. The advantage of this is that it can be managed entirely through the interface, and it’s easy to configure. If you base your user group’s site on a template, you can use the Enable propagation of changes from the site template option to manage all user pages by changing the template. This is the recommended way to manage personal pages across the portal.

Portal Properties Configuration: The legacy way to do this is with the configuration file. You can specify a default layout and applications for personal pages in your portal-ext.properties file. Note that this method applies changes to all users’ personal sites. It does not, however, provide as much maintainability or as many customization options as user group sites does. User group sites allow you to choose what’s modifiable by the user. For more information on the portal-ext.properties method, search for Default User Private Layouts and Default User Public Layouts in the properties documentation.

Because it’s the recommended method, use the user group method to create the layouts. As an administrator, go to the Control Panel and select Site Templates from under the Sites section. Click Add (icon-add.png) and fill out the form. Call your new site template Social Layout Public. Click Save.

social-networking-site-template.png

Figure 1: You can give your site template a custom name and description and also specify several configuration settings..

Now repeat the process and create a site template called Social Layout Private.

You need to give your users a way to request connections and also to respond to connection requests. To do that, you’ll use the Requests application and the Summary application. The Requests application goes on users’ dashboard pages, as they are private pages just for that user. The Summary application goes on users’ profile pages which are public. This way, users can visit the profile and request a connection.

Once you’ve created the templates, click the Go to Other Site button. Click the link for the Social Layout Public site. Now you want to change the name of the page from the default to Welcome. Under Navigation → Pages, edit the default page (labeled Home) and change its name to Welcome. Click Save. Now you’ll add an application to the page. Click the Go to Site link in the menu and then click the Add button (icon-add-app.png). Under ApplicationsSocial, drag the Summary application to the column on the left.

Awesome! You’ve now set up a site template that contains the Summary application for users’ public profiles. Now you need to do the same thing for the Requests application and users’ private dashboards. Click the Go to Other Site button, but this time click the link for the Social Layout Private site. As you did before, change the name of the default page from home to Welcome. Then click the Go to Site link, click the Add button, and under ApplicationsSocial, drag the Requests application and drop it into the leftmost column.

You’re almost there. Click Control Panel and select User Groups from the Users section. Once there, click Add and name the group Social Users. When creating a user group, you can select site templates to apply to those users’ profiles and dashboards. For My Profile, select Social Layout Public. For My Dashboard, select Social Layout Private. Click Save.

Now go to Control PanelConfigurationInstance Settings and select the Users section. Go to the Default User Associations tab and enter Social Users in the User Groups section. Now all users on the portal get a Social Profile page.

Awesome! You’ve now enabled your users to make social connections. Now the question is, how do we encourage users to visit each others’ fancy new profile pages?

Connecting Users Through Collaboration

There are many ways that social networks connect users. These generally involve some kind of mutual interest or experience. On a site like Facebook, you can connect with people from school, from work or from other personal connections. On a music based networking site like Last.fm, you can connect with people who have similar tastes to yours. With Liferay Portal’s social networking, collaboration is the key to connection.

The Site Members Directory can provide a simple way for users to connect. If you have a site dedicated to Lunar Resort astronauts, you can place a Site Members Directory on that site. Because it lists all the users that have joined that site, users can connect by sending requests to other users on that list. This isn’t the worst way to get users connected but it probably won’t be very effective. Why not? Well, other than sharing some very basic common interests, users don’t interact this way.

The Activities application provides a similar but more effective means of connection. Because it shows a list of what other users are doing, this application helps users discover who is among the most active across the site or the instance, and thus who might be a good connection. This application is covered below.

Probably the most effective way users can connect is by interacting with other users. Every application in the Collaboration category provides information on who is contributing, regardless of how. You can see who is creating a thread in a message board, editing a wiki article, blogging or creating a calendar event. Users can use these to connect based on content–if I find your blog interesting, or if you answer my question on the message board, we can use that as a point to connect as friends to further our interactions. This way, instead of our connection being forced or arbitrary, we’ve connected based on our direct interaction and share a common interest–just like people did before they had the Internet.

Using Liferay Portal’s Social Apps

Liferay Portal’s social apps provide a default implementation of Liferay Portal’s social API. However, this only scratches the surface of the platform’s capability. It’s also possible to develop your own implementation of Liferay Portal’s social API to use different social relationships. Please refer to the Liferay Portal Developer Tutorials or the Javadocs for information about Liferay Portal’s social API.

The core social application in Liferay Portal is Activities. It displays information about user activity on the site where you added the app. User activities tracked include updates to the Documents and Media library, blog posts, message boards posts, wiki pages, and bookmarks. Liferay Portal also tracks information about web content but only displays this information if the logged-in user is a site administrator. This application provides a summary of recent site activity. You can use it on a site’s public or private pages to show what site members have been up to or you can use it on the public or private pages of a user’s personal site. When added to a personal site, the Activities portlet just shows the activities of a single user.

social-activities.png

Figure 2: The Activities app shows information about asset-related user activity in the current site. It only displays information about web content if the current user is a site administrator.

Note that the app provides links to the assets listed in the feed. The links to the assets won’t work, however, unless there’s a way to display the assets on the page. For example, suppose that the user Joe Bloggs uploaded a document called Lunar Resort happenings for August to a site. An Activities app on that site would show a link to the Lunar Resort happenings for August document.

In addition to the Activities application, there are several other social applications you can use.

social-meetups.png

Figure 3: Meetups allow users to schedule meetings and hangouts.

The Meetups application is a tool for creating casual meetings for users of your site. Anyone can create a “meetup” and give it a title, description, date/time, maximum number of attendees, price, and provide an image. Meetups are displayed in the application for anyone to view. Users can register for the meetup, which lets the organizer keep track of who’s coming.

The options for creating a meetup are essentially the same as those for creating a calendar event.

The Wall application provides a place for users to leave messages on other users’ profiles. The messages can only be plain text as no formatting or HTML is supported. Once a post is added to a user’s wall, that user can delete it or respond to it with a quick link to post on the original poster’s wall.

Friend is only the default social relationship as implemented by Liferay Portal’s social portlets. You can design things so that users are automatically connected through Site and Organization membership. And there are many other relationship types beyond Friend: your developers can take advantage of these by using Liferay Portal’s social API.

Now that you have all these social applications running on your system, you might wonder: how can I measure social interaction? How do I identify the best contributors to my site? Liferay Portal has the answer: social activity measurements. This is discussed next.

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