Adventures with SharePoint 2010 ActivityManager, Newsfeed and other animals…

So this week i was tasked with creating a custom newsfeed and social wall (think Facebook) for a client using SharePoint 2010’s built in activity feed. One aspect of the project was to take the OOTB activities from the newsfeed and save them in an external database, so custom built solutions will be able to display them. While it may seem as a simple task at first, it turned out to be, what you may call, a learning experience.

In the following post I’ll walk you through all the steps and findings i got from this experience, so hopefully you will save precious time if you get to deal with the same things i had to.

Chapter 1: The case of the missing activities.

Before getting to the developing part I started with the basics. After creating a handful of users I created some activities for them (tagging, creating a new blog post etc.). Soon after, I realized no activities are shown on any of the user’s newsfeeds. First thing that came to my mind was:

Thankfully, the solution was quick and easy.

By default, SharePoint doesn’t enable the newsfeed, and as such, the timer job responsible for collection all the data for the newsfeed and recent activities is disabled.

To fix this unfortunate issue, simply follow these instructions:

1)  Head over to central admin, click on Manage service applications and then click on your User profile service application. Once there, click on Setup my sites under the My site settings section:

2) When the new page opens, scroll down and find the Newsfeed section. Make sure the Enable newsfeed on My sites checkbox is checked and click OK.

3) Click on Monitoring on the left side quick navigation menu, and then click on Review job definitions under the Timer Jobs section.

4) Find the User Profile Service Application – Activity Feed Job (first part of the job name might vary in your environment), click on it and then click on Enable.

5) Set the desired time frame for the job to run (usually set to run every hour) and click Run Now.

6) Once the job finishes its run (you can see it on the Job History link under the Timer Links section of the left menu) all the activities are shown on the user’s my site.

Chapter 2: Who are you ActivityManager, and what have you done with my activities??

So with the activities shown, and everything is sunny and bright, I moved forward to create my custom timer job that will copy the activities from the newsfeed to my own database.

Things seemed pretty straightforward from this point on. All I have to do now is create a timer job that will loop through all the users in the User Profile Service (UPS for short), initialize an ActivitiyManager object for each one of them and use the GetActivitiesByMe method to get all of the specified user activities.

Creating the timer job was a breeze. Just create a new class and inherit from SPJobDefinition base class. Inside the Execute method i get access to the UserProfileManager using the following code:

var currentContext = SPServiceContext.GetContext(webApp.ServiceApplicationProxyGroup, SPSiteSubscriptionIdentifier.Default);
UserProfileManager userProfMan = new UserProfileManager(currentContext);

So far so good.  Inside the foreach loop of the user profiles, it’s time to initialize the ActivityManager for each profile and get its activities. The ActivityManager object require the following arguments:


Pay special attention to the last line: “userProfile: The UserProfile object representing the user who will be treated as the current user for this…” We will get back to this line shortly.

So with this info in mind, I created my ActivityManager class instance as follows:

foreach (UserProfile profile in userProfMan)
{
    ActivityManager activityMan = new ActivityManager(profile, currentContext);
}

Now, to get all of the selected user activities, i make a call to the GetActivitiesByMe method of the ActivitiyManager as follows:

ActivityEventsCollection myActs =  activityMan.GetActivitiesByMe();

So all smiling and happy i deploy my solution, set a breakpoint right at the end of the foreach loop and run the timer job from SharePoint’s central admin page.

When the first user returned zero activities i thought “OK, i might have forgotten to add activities for that one”, when the second returned zero i started to get suspicious, when the third, fourth and fifth returned zero activities – i knew something went wrong.

After a few hours of debugging, googling and using reflector, I found this key piece of evidence:

public ActivityEventsCollection GetActivitiesForMe(DateTime minEventTime, int maxEvents)
{
    this.EnsureViewerInfo();
    return new ActivityEventsCollection(this, -1L, false, minEventTime, maxEvents);
}

This is the method that gets called once you try to get events for a user and can be found under Microsoft.Office.Server.UserProfile.dll.

When the method gets called,It calls the EnsureViewerInfo method which has the following code snippet:

this.GetViewerAndPublisherInfo(this.m_UserInfoRetrieved ? null : UserProfileGlobal.GetCurrentUserName(), null, out person, out person2);

The method checks if m_UserInfoRetrieved private member is true. if so it returns null but otherwise it calls the GetCurrentUserName method.

I couldn’t find ANYWHERE in the code that sets this member so from what i can understand it is always false and as such always calls the GetCurrentUserName method!

The GetCurrentUserName method uses the current http context and windows authentication methods to get the current user. It doesn’t care nor want to care about whatever UserProfile you passed to the ActivityManager constructor.

Trying to find confirmation to my theory i found the following thread on MSDN forums:
Sharepoint 2010 social network API Activity feeds
On this thread, a member named Daniel Larson wrote the following:

…You cannot impersonate the activity manager… not with elevated priveledge or other means! In fact, nowhere in the Social APIs do they support impersonation.

>> Do you know why ActivityManager needs user profile object to create a new object?

Just guessing, but when they wrote the code they probably thought they’d support impersonation, but then decided against it for security reasons.

This is the exact same conclusion as i got.

Seeing this, i realized i will have to find another way to get a user’s activity feed.

Chapter 3: The case of the missing ‘New blog post’ activity!

As I realized the GetAcitiviesByMe method isn’t going to cut it, I went ahead and used the GetActivitiesForUser method of the same said ActivitiyManager object. This method takes a UserProfile object (or a string representing the user’s login name) as a single  argument and return an ActivityEventsCollection object. After the change, my code looks as follows:

foreach (UserProfile profile in userProfMan)
{
     ActivityManager activityMan = new ActivityManager(profile, currentContext);
     var activities = activityMan.GetActivitiesByUser(profile);
}

Once the solution deployed and debugged a progress was made! Instead of getting zero activities for users I now get some of them. A bit more checks and I realize that some types of activities just refuse to show up. The one that caught my eye the most was the “New blog post” activity. I’ll spare you the description of the head banging against the wall/desk/bowl of fruits etc. and just show you how to fix this.

Under the Setup My Sites area of My Site Settings (if you need a reminder on where it is – check chapter 1 in this article) you’ll find a section called Security Trimming Options. This property allows you to set whether to checks each link in the user’s activity feed against the user who try to watch it and determine whether he has the sufficient permissions to watch the activity or not:

By default, Check all links for permissions is selected and as such if the user who try to get the activities (the system account in my timer job case) doesn’t have direct access permissions to the area where the activity happened (the user’s blog in this example) – any activity from that area won’t be returned. By changing the property to Show all links regardless of permissions, all of the user activities are now returned in my custom timer job and i can happily move forward to get the correct template of the activity and save it to my database!

Chapter 4: “I could template you all day if i wanted to!”

So now i have a collection of ActivityEvent objects and i wish to template them the same way SharePoint does before showing them on a user’s my site or newsfeed. Sadly, an ActivityEvent object doesn’t come with a built-in property or method that will template the object for us. Instead, it has several properties (keywords) that are used by the templating engine to build the activity text:

  • Name
  • Link
  • Link2
  • Value
  • Publisher
  • Owner

An example of activity templates is as follows:

{Publisher} published a new blog post.<br/>{Link}

{Publisher} rated {Link} as {Value} of {Name}.

{Publisher} tagged {Link} with your interest.<br/>{Link2}

All of the OOTB templates are stored in the osrvcore resource file located at: C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\14\Resources.

What I need is the full activity text in order to store it in a database. Therefore, my plan of action is to load the templates resource file, get the right template for my ActivityEvent activity and use a super-simple regular expression to replace the keyword (i.e: Publisher, Link etc.) with its value from the ActivityEvent object.

To load the templates resource file I used Neo Assyrian’s post Retrieve Activities from the SharePoint 2010 Activity Feeds as reference:

ActivityType activityType = activityMan.ActivityTypes[activity.ActivityTypeId];
ActivityTemplate activityTemplate = activityType.ActivityTemplates[bool.FalseString];
var templateStr = SPUtility.GetLocalizedString("$Resources:" + activityTemplate.TitleFormatLocStringName, activityTemplate.TitleFormatLocStringResourceFile, (uint)CultureInfo.CurrentUICulture.LCID);

By getting the activity type (based on the ActivityTypeId of the current activity) we can get the ActivityTemplate object which, among other things, holds the title of the template. This title is actually the key in the resource (resx) file and its value is the template text.

Now that we have templateStr which holds the template text, it’s time to use my little non-scalable helper method and build the complete html text for that template:

private string RenderEvent(string format, ActivityEvent actEvent)
{
    Regex regx = new Regex(@”\{([^}]*)\}”, RegexOptions.IgnoreCase);

    MatchCollection mactches = regx.Matches(format);

    foreach (Match match in mactches)
{
        switch (match.Value.ToLower())
{
             case “{publisher}”:
format = format.Replace(match.Value, BuildUrl(actEvent.Publisher.Href, actEvent.Publisher.Name));
                 break;
             case “{value}”:
format = format.Replace(match.Value, actEvent.Value);
                 break;
            case “{link}”:
format = format.Replace(match.Value, BuildUrl(actEvent.Link.Href, actEvent.Link.Name));
                 break;
           case “{link2}”:
format = format.Replace(match.Value, BuildUrl(actEvent.Link2.Href, actEvent.Link2.Name));
                 break;
           case “{owner}”:
format = format.Replace(match.Value, BuildUrl(actEvent.Owner.Href, actEvent.Owner.Name));
                 break;
           case “{name}”:
format = format.Replace(match.Value, actEvent.Name);
                 break;
}
}
return format;
}

The method accepts two variables: a template format and an ActivityEvent object that represent the activity, it than use a simple regular expression to extract all the template keywords (words between two curly brackets) and then using a simple switch/case replace the keyword with HTML content using the BuildUrl method:

private string BuildUrl(string href, string name)
{
return string.Format(“<a href='{0}’ title='{1}’>{1}</a>”, href, name);
}

And that wrap the entire thing up. I now have the template fully rendered as html, just like SharePoint shows it on the user’s my site and newsfeed!

Epilogue:

So after all of this, I finally got my timer job working. Every hour it takes all the new activities and save them in an external database that i use with my custom web parts to show these activities. This just shows that even though the social API is not the best or the most neat one out there, with a little bit of work, we can bend it to do as we wish.

If you want to read a bit more about the newsfeed, check out my earlier post on the subject Working with SharePoint 2010 User Activity NewsFeed.

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