I Don’t Want to Learn Metadata. What’s Wrong With Folders?
Blog Part 4 of 10
In this blog post, where I address reasons people say they “hate” SharePoint, we will discuss metadata and folders.
I have not spent as much time on any one topic more than I have on Folders vs Metadata and the importance of understanding metadata and its implications on performance and functionality in SharePoint.
You may not be in a position to have to learn what Metadata is or how to create it, but you have to be involved, at some level, in the process of data classification and categorization. As I mentioned in the previous post, “Garbage In – Garbage Out”, metadata makes SharePoint no better than your network drives. It takes a contribution from every user, regardless of their role, to guarantee that Search works better.
Metadata is “data about your data” and consists of fields in lists and libraries to provide detailed information about the list items or the documents in a library. For a Task in a Task List, a piece of metadata would be “Assigned To”. For a Document in a Document Library, a piece of metadata would be “Modified By” or when you get really metadata-savvy, a field titled “Document Sensitivity Classification” (or something shorter) to tell us whether a document is “classified” or not.
In the pre-SharePoint world, we classified and categorized documents by placing them in folders. There are more problems with folders in SharePoint and I won’t get into them here. You can read one of my 10-15 previous blog posts about why folders are discouraged in SharePoint. The key takeaway is that there are many metadata-based features in SharePoint, like Views, that rely on metadata. You say you want to make Search better? Then you need managed properties, aka Metadata. Search is all about keywords/metadata.
So, who creates metadata? The level of involvement with metadata really depends on your SharePoint role. Site Owners work with Enterprise Content Managers to come up with an enterprise taxonomy. Someone at this level should think about to what extent data classification is important to your organization. Using Site Columns, Content Types, and Managed Metadata, Site Owners can create and put in place metadata fields which are then used by End Users when they upload documents or create list items. As an End User you provide metadata by simply filling out a SharePoint web-based form when uploading a document or inside a document itself.
As an End User you provide metadata by simply filling out a SharePoint web-based form when uploading a document or inside a document itself.
Continuing to think in terms of folders, or containers, for storing information is missing out on the many opportunities that SharePoint affords for tracking and finding information. You can start by putting together a team of volunteers that wants to understand how to improve Search and how to take advantage of SharePoint and its many metadata-based features. They can start to implement metadata on a small scale just to show its value by showing how to visualize content by using something as simple as List Views.
Bottom line is this. A significant value was placed on SharePoint as a productivity tool. In order to maximize the return on investment, you have to participate in some way in implementing a taxonomy and system of classification by using metadata. You may not be the role tasked with creating metadata, but we all participate in classification and categorization simply by being contributors on a team.
Ready for more? In the next blog post in this series I discuss how SharePoint is NOT Facebook! You can read that post here.