SharePoint Audiences

Written By: Knox Cameron -- 5/10/2011 -- join -- contribute -- (4718) comments -- printer friendly version

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Categories: Configurations, Design, Features, MOSS 2007, Permission Management, SharePoint 2010

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Some Issues

Some time ago, I worked with a client who wanted to use this feature on their site. Apart from the lack of flexibility in formatting the information display, we found two other significant issues.

The first was that they wanted a number of users to be able to contribute items to be shown on the site. They believed their users would find it hard to select the correct audiences for their items out of all the groups available in the directory (global audiences, AD groups and lists and SharePoint groups). We managed to work out a solution where we added some custom columns in the list in which users could easily select relevant audiences for the item. We then built a workflow to run after the item was saved. The workflow would set the appropriate audiences and groups in the target audiences field, based on the selections users had made in the custom columns.

The key to making this work was to uncover the internal format for the information SharePoint stores in the target audiences column. We found that it stores global audiences first as GUIDs, comma separated, followed by a double semi-colon separator, followed by AD groups and distribution lists as LDAP container name paths ("ADSPath"), carriage return separated, followed by another double semi-colon, followed by SharePoint group names, comma separated! With some string building in the workflow, we were able to enter the relevant audiences into the field so that SharePoint would recognize them.

The other issue was that they wanted to show just the latest three items relevant to the user. The CQWP has an option to limit the number of items returned. Unfortunately though, it limits the number of items returned before applying an audience filter! This means that if (say) none of the first three items returned is relevant to the user's audience, nothing will be displayed. It won't keep looking for more items until it finds three with the right audience.

This last limitation was a deal breaker for them, and we were unable to find a practical workaround. Unfortunately, you cannot apply audience filtering in any other web part. You cannot even use the swiss-army-knife SharePoint Designer DataForm (or DataView) Web Part, because targeted content is not exposed as a web service or standard query option.

So, what sounds like the most promising of options for using audience targeting, setting target audiences on individual items, has some major practical limitations:

  • You need a reasonably skilled content author managing the items to target them appropriately, unless you build some sort of workaround like the workflow discussed earlier;
  • You are limited to using the content query web part to display the information filtered by the user's audience, which restricts flexibility in formatting the display; and
  • There is no good way to control the number of items returned in a content query web part when target audiences are applied.

Next Steps

  • Identify where you identify distinct audiences among your users, and improve your site by showing them more relevant information
  • Work out how to define those audiences using AD groups or distribution lists, or global audiences based on profile properties, or SharePoint groups
  • Design your landing page with web parts that show information relevant to specific audiences, and configure target audiences on those web parts so they only display for the right users
  • See Using a Custom List for Portal Splash Page for a way to configure the information to be shown on a portal page without using SharePoint audiences
  • See Configuring Tabbed Navigation in MOSS 2007 for more about configuring SharePoint navigation
  • Return to MSSharepointTips to read about other topics and ideas.
  • Check out for great information about Microsoft SQL Server.

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