Fun and games with the SharePoint social comment control

I’ve been working on a big SharePoint 2013 project at work, and I’m learning a lot about the ins and outs of developing custom applications with SharePoint. (TL;DR: It’s messy.) There have been a bunch of times when I’ve come across something weird and/or interesting and thought “I should write this up in a blog post,” but I just haven’t gotten around to it. Well, this time, I’m going to at least start writing something up. (We’ll see if I get far enough to have something coherent to post or not.)

My application is a farm-level solution using a couple of application pages. There’s a search page and a detail page, basically. The detail page loads data from a few different sources, based on parameters passed on the query string. So, in some ways, standard ASP.NET stuff.

After having gotten most of the stuff on the detail page done, I wanted to add the ability for users to add comments to the page. I looked at a number of possibilities for this. One option that jumped out is the social comment control. This control can be added to a page as a web part, via “Social Collaboration”, “Note Board”. To add it to an application page in Visual Studio, you need to do the following:

  1. Add a reference to “Microsoft.SharePoint.Portal” to your project.
  2. On your page, register the SharePoint portal controls:
    <%@ Register TagPrefix="SharePointPortalControls" Namespace="Microsoft.SharePoint.Portal.WebControls" Assembly="Microsoft.SharePoint.Portal, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c" %>
  3. Drop the social comment control on the page somewhere:
    <SharePointPortalControls:SocialCommentControl ID="CommentControl" runat="server"/>

I picked up the basics on this from this article, which also covers user ratings.

This initially seemed to work well. I was curious about where, exactly, SharePoint was storing these comments though. From this article, I learned that you need to go through central admin to get to them:

  1. Open the Central Admin home page.
  2. Click “Manage service applications” under “Application Management.”
  3. Click “User Profile Service Application”.
  4. Click “Manage Social Tags and Notes” under “My Site Settings”.

This gets you to a page where you can search for notes, by user and/or URL. You cannot do a wildcard search, or simply pull up all notes, so that’s pretty inconvenient. But it was reassuring to see that the notes are indeed stored by URL, with the full URL, including query string. So, for me, each detail page would have its own set of comments, no problem there.

When I did some testing, posting comments to the same page from two different user accounts, I hit a pretty major snag though. The two users could not see each other’s comments. That led me down a rabbit hole that brought me to this StackExchange page. I followed the advice to set “Security Trimming Options” to “Show all links regardless of permission”, and that (eventually) fixed the problem. I also ran the “Social Data Maintenance Job”, as described in this StackExchange page.

I’m not sure if changing that security trimming setting will have any negative effects, if I change it in production. It’s a Central Admin level setting, so it’s something I’ll need to review seriously.

Assuming I stick with this plan, I’m also going to need to be able to create comments in code, as I’m going to be importing a bunch of them from the old site that I’m replacing. It does seem to be possible to do that, based on info from these pages:

I haven’t actually tried writing any code for this yet, so I may stumble across some “gotchas,” as I have with a number of other seemingly-straighforward SharePoint tasks.

And, after going through all this, I see that, for SharePoint Online, the Tags & Notes feature has been retired. We’re not using SharePoint Online, but if we ever migrate to it, I’d have to redo this functionality. So that’s a serious knock against it.

A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing in SharePoint has been working out this way:

  1. Find a SharePoint feature that looks like it solves my problem nicely.
  2. Spend some time setting it up and doing some initial testing. Things look promising.
  3. Stumble across a problem. Spend a bunch of time researching it.
  4. Either:
    • Find that the problem isn’t really solvable and give up.
    • Or find a workaround that’s acceptable, maybe, but not great. (It relies on something undocumented, or a feature that’s deprecated, or it requires changing farm-level settings that I’m not sure I can change.)
  5. Realize that I’ve wasted half the day on this.
  6. Give up and go to lunch.

So my solution for commenting is probably going to be a standard SharePoint list that I’ll read and write in code-behind and show in a standard ASP.NET repeater, or something like that.

Well, I guess I’ve succeeded in writing a semi-coherent post about SharePoint programming. I’m not sure if it will help anyone, but it might be mildly amusing, if nothing else.

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