Sitecore & Xamarin for Mobile Apps

I had the pleasure of presenting this topic at Sitecore Symposium this year in Las Vegas. The aim of the topic was to demonstrate the steps required to get started with Xamarin development in conjunction with Sitecore’s Mobile SDK.

I have turned this presentation into an article, which you can find here:

https://www.valtech.com/blog/sitecore–xamarin-for-mobile-apps/

You can also download the slides from the presentation here:

Everyone gets an app!

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Sitecore Quick Tip: Getting and Setting SafeDictionary

Sitecore’s SafeDictionary is used throughout Sitecore’s libraries and the purpose of it (as opposed to using Dictionary) is to allow dictionary[key] without exceptions, instead returning default(T).

To read values into a SafeDictionary from a Sitecore field that uses a query string internally (validator parameters, rendering parameters, name value field etc.) you can use:


var parameters = Sitecore.Web.WebUtil.ParseQueryString(item["Field Name"]);

Then of course you can modify the SafeDictionary:


if (!parameters.ContainsKey("foo"))
{
    parameters.Add("foo", "bar");
}

And writing the SafeDictionary back to the field:


item["Field Name"] = string.Join("&", parameters.Select(x => $"{System.Web.HttpUtility.UrlEncode(x.Key)}={System.Web.HttpUtility.UrlEncode(x.Value)}"));

Sitecore Sunday Pt 4: Conditional (Rules Based) Field Validators

Sitecore’s OOTB field validators are used on pretty much every Sitecore implementation I’ve seen in the last 10 years, which makes it a pretty useful feature! However there are times when there is a little more context surrounding whether or not a particular field is valid.

Thankfully Sitecore makes it super simple to create custom field validators where we have reign to do pretty much whatever we want and there have been some interesting ones put out there for example this image width, height and aspect ratio validator by Brian Pedersen.

I will be calling this approach IFTTV (If This Then Valid).

If This Then Valid

Sorry.

To setup field validator items that use the rules engine we first of course need a template with the necessary validation fields. Sitecore actually already provides this template:

/sitecore/templates/System/Validation/Rules Validation Rule

However this template is intended for use with item level validation that reads from rules under the item:

/sitecore/system/Settings/Rules/Validation Rules/Rules

I feel this approach is disconnected from the management of field validation rules under:

/sitecore/system/Settings/Validation Rules/Field Rules

But we can still take advantage of the template. The first step is to create a template that inherits from the Rules Validation Rule template and specifies our field level rules implementation in the type field.

If This Then Valid Template

The implementation is fairly straight forward:


using Sitecore.Data.Validators;
using Sitecore.Rules;
using Sitecore.Rules.Validators;
using System.Runtime.Serialization;

public class IfThisThenValid : StandardValidator
{
    public override string Name => "If This Then Required";

    public IfThisThenValid()
    {
    }

    public IfThisThenValid(SerializationInfo info, StreamingContext context) : base(info, context)
    {
    }

    protected override ValidatorResult Evaluate()
    {
        var item = GetItem();

        if (item == null)
            return ValidatorResult.Valid;

        var ruleContext = new ValidatorsRuleContext
        {
            Item = item,
            Validator = this,
            Result = ValidatorResult.Valid,
            Text = string.Empty
        };

        var validatorItem = item.Database.GetItem(ValidatorID);

        if (validatorItem == null)
            return ValidatorResult.Valid;

        var rules = RuleFactory.GetRules<ValidatorsRuleContext>(new[] { validatorItem }, "Rule");

        if (rules == null)
            return ValidatorResult.Valid;

        rules.Run(ruleContext);

        if (ruleContext.Result == ValidatorResult.Valid)
            return ValidatorResult.Valid;

        base.Text = ruleContext.Text;

        return base.GetFailedResult(ruleContext.Result);
    }

    protected override ValidatorResult GetMaxValidatorResult()
    {
        // Critical or above (Fatal) is important for experience editor support

        return base.GetFailedResult(ValidatorResult.CriticalError);
    }
}

To summarise:

  • Inherit from Sitecore’s StandardValidator
  • Get the item being validated (rules are run against this as the context item)
  • Get the validator item (this is where our rules live)
  • Get the rules in the validator item and run them against the context item using a ValidatorsRuleContext (which returns a ValidationResult). This is where the difference lies from Sitecore’s standard implementation*, which evaluates the context item against the rules under: /sitecore/system/Settings/Rules/Validation Rules/Rules
  • Return the result

*Sitecore.Data.Validators.ItemValidators.ValidationRulesValidator,Sitecore.Kernel

Then I will create a folder under /sitecore/system/Settings/Validation Rules/Field Rules and an insert options rule so we can create new rules based field validators and organise them in folders:

If This Then Valid Insert Options

As an example I added two fields to the Sample Item template, Sitecore Image and External Image, the validation scenario is at least one of them must be provided. Here’s our rule based validator:

If This Then Valid Rule

Which is associated with our fields on the sample item:

If This Then Valid Field

And here’s it in action:

If This Then Valid Usage

And that’s it, pretty straight forward but a ton of uses, especially considering the extensibility of the rules engine.

Happy validating!

Sitecore Sunday Pt 3: Conditional (Rules Based) Goal Registration

Goals in Sitecore allow us to register the fact that a site visitor has performed a specific action on the site and more importantly that that action has engagement value associated with it. Actions can vary but typically fall into one of two buckets, significant page views (end of conversion funnel pages) and on-page events (interacting with a map, playing a video etc.). For more on the importance of engagement value as a metric take a look at this guide by Sitecore’s SBOS (Sitecore Business Optimisation Services) team.

This post tackles more advanced scenarios where a certain pre-condition must be satisfied before considering a page view or on-page event as legitimate engagement, to put it another way, we want to qualify the action before registering the conversion. The example I will use is site search related but the concept and approach can easily be extended to cover other scenarios. The scenario is this, we want to register the “Site Search Page View” goal when a visitor views a search results page but not when the user subsequently pages through the search results as this is considered an extension of behavior but ultimately part of the original conversion.

The “Site Search Page View” goal looks like this.

Sample Internal Search Goal Item

On inspection we can see that the goal has a rules field. This field however does not represent a pre-condition that must be true before the goal is registered, it allows us to trigger further actions after the goal is registered if the conditions of the rules field are true. This could have some interesting uses but doesn’t solve the problem we are trying to solve here.

The solution to our problem once again lies in the processItem pipeline, defined in Sitecore.Analytics.config.


<processItem>
  <processor type="Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.CollectParameters,Sitecore.Analytics" />
  <processor type="Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.TriggerCampaigns,Sitecore.Analytics" />
  <processor type="Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.RegisterPageEvents,Sitecore.Analytics" />
  <processor type="Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.ProcessProfiles, Sitecore.Analytics" />
</processItem>

This is an extremely useful pipeline, which I also make use of in the post Sitecore Sunday Pt 2: Programmtic Profile Association. When goals are associated with page items in the traditional way (select the page and select Analyze > Goals), this information is stored in the pages __Tracking field as xml, just as associated profiles are.

The CollectParameters processor checks for the existence of the __Tracking field on the context item (or the context items template standard values) and if it is not null adds the tracking field to the TrackingParameters property of the ProcessItemArgs passed into Process method of the processor (a bit of a mouthful yes).


public class CollectParameters : ProcessItemProcessor
{
    public override void Process(ProcessItemArgs args)
    {
        // code removed for brevity

        if (!string.IsNullOrEmpty(args.Item["__Tracking"]))
        {
            Field item = args.Item.Fields["__Tracking"];

            if (item != null)
            {
                args.TrackingParameters.Add(new TrackingField(item));
            }
        }
    }
}

The RegisterPageEvents processor further down in the pipeline uses the TrackingParameters property to collect up all the goals associated with the current context (request) and registers them against the current page on the Interaction (session) object of the current contacts xDb record.

The trick now is to add additional tracking fields to the TrackingParameters property if certain conditions are true. To do this we will add an additional processor to the pipeline after the CollectParameters processor (to preserve standard functionality) and we’ll call it CollectConditionalParameters.


<pipelines>
  <processItem>
    <processor
      type="Sitecore.Feature.ConditionalGoals.Pipelines.ProcessItem.CollectConditionalParameters, Sitecore.Feature.ConditionalGoals"
      patch:after="*[@type='Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.CollectParameters,Sitecore.Analytics']" />
  </processItem>
</pipelines>

The code in this processor looks like this:


public class CollectConditionalParameters : ProcessItemProcessor
{
    public override void Process(ProcessItemArgs args)
    {
        var goals = ConditionalGoalsRepositoryFactory.Repository.Goals();

        foreach (var goal in goals.Where(x => x.IsMatch()))
        {
            args.TrackingParameters.Add(new TrackingField(goal.Fields["__Tracking"]));
        }
    }
}

To summarise before going into more detail:

  1. A collection of conditional goals is retrieved from a repository (obvious I know, detail to follow).
  2. For each conditional goal that is considered a match for the current context (based on its rules), add the tracking field on the conditional goal to the TrackingParameters property, which will be used later on in the pipeline by the RegisterPageEvents processor

The conditional goals repository gets a collection of items (separate from the goal items in the Marketing Control Panel and scoped to specific sites to support multi-tenancy) based on the “Conditional Goal” template. This template has three fields:

  1. Applies to Templates
  2. Rules
  3. Attributes To Register

The applies to templates field allows the author to select which page templates the goal applies to or if it applies to any page type, can be left blank. The rules field allows the author to set the condition(s) that must be satisfied for the goal to be registered. You’re probably thinking “The rules engine has conditions for the template that the context item is based on, why do we need the applies to templates field?”. Whilst this is a correct assertion, traditionally goals are assigned to specific pages or templates and marketers more often than not associate specific goals with specific page types, it felt an important enough condition to pull it out and pay special attention to it.

Finally the attributes to register field is a field that uses the field type “Tracking” and allows the author to select the specific goal that should be registered if all conditions are true.

Conditional Goal Item

One thing I have noticed about the tracking field is that regardless of the values selected the field always displays “Nothing has been set”, I have opened a ticket with Sitecore support, I will update this post when I get a response.

Sitecore Support Response: This is a system field, when selections are made it modifies the __Tracking field (which we know). The text “Nothing has been set” is hard coded. Not considered a bug.

So that is really all there is to it, a simple yet powerful way to register page view goals but only when specific conditions are met, powered by the Sitecore rules engine and processed in the processItem pipeline.

Sitecore Module: Profile Key Scaffolder

In the Sitecore Sunday Pt2: Programmatic Profile Association post I talked about Sitecore profiles that map 1 to 1 with existing site taxonomies and how to associate these profiles to your site visitors without having to re-tag all of your content.

As part of this process setting up profile, profile key, profile card and pattern card items is still required and this can be quite a time consuming task because for each profile key you have to:

  1. Create the profile key item
  2. Set its max value to 10 (or a scale of your choosing)
  3. Create a profile card item with the same name
  4. Set its radar graph to the maximum value for the profile key
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for the pattern card

You can see with a lot of profile keys how this could become tedious.

Profile scaffolding to the rescue!

Download the Profile Scaffolder, which is a small and unobtrusive module (Helix stylee) that reduces the task outlined above to a single step:

  1. Create a profile key and give it a name. Done.

Happy profiling!

Sitecore Sunday Pt 2: Programmatic Profile Association

Sitecore profiles and content tagging offer an interesting mechanism to implicitly understand the profiles your site visitors belong to, the journeys they take and how they behave differently to other users. For more information on the concept of profiles take a look at this post by nonlinear’s Amanda Shiga.

Where the tagging of content items with profiles can seem redundant is when profiles map 1 to 1 with taxonomies that already exist in your sites architecture, for example:

  • The content they are viewing is already tagged with controlled vocabulary e.g. luxury
  • The content they are viewing exists within a specific information architecture e.g. the luxury section
  • There are properties of the content they are viewing that identify the type of customer they are e.g. a price banding that indicates luxury

This is especially true for sites with thousands of pages and/or products. Who is going to tag all that content/data again?

In this post I want to explore technical solutions to automating the process of associating profiles to your site visitors without the upfront and ongoing tagging using the very taxonomies mentioned above.

Yo Dawg, I'm Implicitly, Implicitly Profiling

The first thing to look at is how does Sitecore traditionally associate profiles and profile scores with a users contact record (xDb contact that is) when they view an item tagged with a profile? It starts in the startTracking pipeline (Sitecore.Analytics.Tracking.config):


<startTracking>
<!-- other processors removed for brevity -->
<processor type="Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.StartTracking.ProcessItem, Sitecore.Analytics"/>
</startTracking>

This processor actually just runs another pipeline defined in Sitecore.Analytics.config, and the last processor in this pipeline is where things start to happen:


<processItem>
<!-- other processors removed for brevity -->
<processor type="Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.ProcessProfiles, Sitecore.Analytics" />
</processItem>

When Sitecore items are associated with profiles the association is stored in the __Tracking field as xml.


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<tracking>
   <profile id="{ABCD566E-264B-4E73-8A67-970CFCCAA82A}" name="Sales Cycle" presets="evaluate|100||">
      <key name="Search and Inspiration" value="0" />
      <key name="Evaluate" value="10" />
      <key name="Enquire" value="0" />
   </profile>
</tracking>

The ProcessProfiles processor iterates over the TrackingField instances added to the pipeline args by previous processors and passes each TrackingField into the TrackingFieldProcessor class to read the xml, extract the profiles and scores associated with each profile key and store those values against the current contact, ready to be flushed into xDb at the end of the session.


public override void Process(ProcessItemArgs args)
{
    Assert.ArgumentNotNull(args, "args");
    
    foreach (TrackingField trackingParameter in args.TrackingParameters)
    {
        TrackingFieldProcessor.ProcessProfiles(args.Interaction, trackingParameter);
    }
}

Sitecore’s CollectParameters processor comes first in the processItem pipeline and simply adds the TrackingField of the context item to the list of tracking fields on the pipeline args.


public override void Process(ProcessItemArgs args)
{
    Assert.ArgumentNotNull(args, "args");

    if (!string.IsNullOrEmpty(args.Item["__Tracking"]))
    {
        Field item = args.Item.Fields["__Tracking"];

        if (item != null)
        {
            args.TrackingParameters.Add(new TrackingField(item));
        }
    }
    
    // source code removed for brevity
}

The following approach circumvents the content tagging process by mapping profiles to site taxonomies that can be evaluated inside the processItem pipeline.

Let’s use the example of leveraging existing content tagging for a site that sells cars. Each car on the site is already tagged as Luxury, Family, Economic or Utility. This is a classic example of existing taxonomies mapping 1 to 1 with profiles. 

Profile map items can be created in the content tree (a profile map repository) that provide fields that allow the setup of rules that say:

“where the context item (Page) is linked to the item X (Family) in the field Y (Vehicle Type), associate the profile Z (Family Cars) with the current user”

Profile Map Item

To allow the selection of a specific profile on a profile map item we simply need to add a field of type Profile Cards which under the hood uses a TrackingField, yep, the same field that Sitecore stores profile information in when tagging pages with profiles. This means we can also take advantage of the TrackingFieldProcessor class in a custom processor in the processItem pipeline.

To add our pipeline we need to patch it in after the CollectParameters processor, not instead of it so that traditional content tagging continues to work if needed.


<pipelines>
  <processItem>
    <processor 
      type="Sitecore.Feature.ProfileMapper.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.CollectMappedParameters, Sitecore.Feature.ProfileMapper" 
      patch:after="*[@type='Sitecore.Analytics.Pipelines.ProcessItem.CollectParameters,Sitecore.Analytics']" />
  </processItem>
</pipelines>

Then the magic happens here:


public class CollectMappedParameters : ProcessItemProcessor
{
    public override void Process(ProcessItemArgs args)
    {
        foreach (var profileMapSet in GetProfileMapsSets())
        {

            // source code removed for brevity

            foreach (var profileMap in profileMapSet)
            {
                var trackingField = new ProfileMap(profileMap).EvaluateProfileMap(args.Item);

                if (trackingField != null)
                {
                    args.TrackingParameters.Add(trackingField);

                    if (matchSingle)
                        break;
                }
            }
        }
    }

    public virtual IEnumerable<IGrouping<ID, Item>> GetProfileMapsSets()
    {
        var sets = new ProfileMapRepository().GetProfileMapSets();

        return sets; 
    }
}

To summarise the code above:

  • A collection of profile map sets (a set could be market, price ranges etc.) is retrieved from a profile map repository (which uses a custom index for performance)
  • Each profile map within each set is evaluated against the current context item (Page) and if it’s a match returns its tracking field (containing the matching profile)
  • The tracking field is added to the TrackingParameters collection on the pipeline args, which means it will be used by the ProcessProfiles processor and passed to the TrackingFieldProcessor described above

Et voila! Without having to tag any Sitecore items with profiles we are associating profiles with our site users based on their browsing behaviour and based on taxonomies that already exist in the site.

We can extend profile mapping concepts, for example range maps that say:

“where the value of the field X (Price) on the context item (Page) is between LowerBounds (70000) and UpperBounds (1000000), associate the profile Y (Luxury) with the current user”.

Or really anything that applies to the business domain you are working with and of course we can use Sitecore’s rules field to take advantage of the rules engine.

This approach still requires us to create the profiles, profile keys, profile cards and pattern cards ahead of time and for these types of 1 to 1 mapping scenarios each profile and pattern card is typically a 1 to 1 mapping with a profile key and a score of 10 for its respective key and 0 in all others. For example:

1 to 1 profile key to cards

Happy profiling!

Sitecore Quick Tip: Programmatically Set Item to Not Publishable & Check if Is Publishable

Pretty straight forward but I needed this today. To set an entire item (not just certain versions of it) to not publishable:


using (new SecurityDisabler())
{
    item.Editing.BeginEdit();
    item.Publishing.NeverPublish = true;
    item.Editing.EndEdit();
}

Now of course this by itself will not remove the item from the content delivery servers, it needs to be published, so you can follow this up with:


Sitecore.Publishing.PublishManager.PublishItem(
    item,
    new Database[] { Database.GetDatabase("web") },
    new Language[] { Language.Parse("en") },
    false,
    true,
    false);

Which essentially says publish the item to the web database in english, do not perform a deep publish, perform a smart publish and do not publish related items.

Now more interestingly if you want to take any given item and tell whether its publishing is restricted in any way you can use the following:


var pubInfo = PublishingInformationBuilder.GetPublishingInformation(item, PublishingInformationLevel.Item);

var restrictions = pubInfo.OfType<ItemPublishingRestrictedError>().FirstOrDefault<ItemPublishingRestrictedError>();

This requires the using statements:


using Sitecore.Publishing.Explanations;
using Sitecore.Publishing.PublishingInformation;