Sharepoint. Metadata. Folders vs Columns.

November 4, 2009

It’s happening as we speak. . .  in email, fileshares, enterprise repositories, even social networks (FB or Twitter). People are exchanging data, information, ideas. And as we do – we likely give context, association, and meaning to user-to-user, or user-to-audience, collaboration. I’m talking about sharing data about data -> Metadata.

Facebook (FB) User ? A socially interactive form of metadata. Browse the People : status updates, friends/networks, pictures, and events. All the conversations, relationships, and interests are attributed to the content. Social metadata.

Business Scenario ? Glad you asked. If you’re delivering an email to your team you’re putting context around the message so the audience can understand what they have at the inbox : who is it from, the subject line, and what does the message body say about the attachment. All metadata? Kind of. Let’s break this down in a # of ways.

Information Breakdown

  1. Email Message – conversation from User to Audience
  2. Content – Metadata (who emailed it, subject, message body)
  3. Attachment – Unstructured Content (picture, excel file, etc)

These are all normal actions we understand and exercise on a daily basis.

Technology Breakdown

  1. Email Platform (lotus, exchange, gmail)
  2. Data Repository (hard drive, data file share, website)
  3. File Type (word, adobe, etc)

Fundamental compenents that make-up the communication process.

Now the big question. . . How would you manage that content : Delivery? Search? Share? Review the information breakdown(s) above and take a moment to think about it.

  1. How would I find a conversation buried in email? (Search by Sender, Subject line, or keyword and phrase)
  2. What about files that are stored on a team member’s workstation? What if he/she is out for the week on vaca? How will your team get that file, or know where it is?
  3. Welcome the new-hire. If he/she looks at a data file share they see a list of files and types. Where is that metadata, contextual meaning, and understanding? In those emails he/she never had.

You see how information breakdown works? Understand the technology layers involved? And how complex it is for users to retrieve the data about data?

That’s why I think solutions like Sharepoint will change the course for many users in the business environment. It enhances how we collaborate, centralizes the data, and helps that new user understand the data captured with context, association, and meaning. It changes our Technology Breakdown. Returning the purpose of email into a messaging system (not a content repository), you’re capturing metadata around a document (otherwise lost in email conversations that aren’t captured in the file repository), and the ability to find those and share those require pairing up emails with fileshare documents; there is no easy way to auto-connect the metadata and unstructured content (files) together.

Let’s take a document library for example. You have the ability to add columns (metadata categories) used to attribute characteristics to a document. (assuming the fields are required vs optional). When you upload documents into the library you are then requested to attribute the upload with context. (name, activity, strategic function, assigned to, versioning, etc). It’s no different than uploading a pix to a photo album on facebook, describing the album, adding captions to the pictures, and then tagging people in them.

In the instance that you’re a company uploading (tranferring) documents from a data fileshare, you are mostly applying a metadata framework with all your files. Think about how you’re storing content on the file share. You probably organize your folders by year, business area, projects, departments, etc. If you drill down through these folders to a particular file, take note of the folders you went through to find that file. If you want through something like this . . .

Customer > Operations > Department > Team > Project > Phase I > project_plan.pdf

Each Folder would be an example of a Sharepoint List Column you would create to translate the metadata principle into a function of filtering/sorting all files in a single list. I strongly encourage you to adopt this approach and DO NOT create folders in document library lists because you will cripple the intent and purpose of a sharepoint list in the first place.

You now have consolidation of content, captured metadata, and greater efficiency to finding (and learning) about the business you work in. And remember – It’s happening as we speak. . .  in email, fileshares, enterprise repositories, even social networks (FB or Twitter).

Think about how Sharepoint will help People exchange data, information,  and ideas. Embrace the technology and fabricate your collaboration framework into a solution that you can apply greater context, association, and meaning to collaboration. I’m talking about Sharepoint. Metadata. Folders vs Columns.

Another great article on metadata is with @maish at ->

– J. Wright


4 Responses to “Sharepoint. Metadata. Folders vs Columns.”

  1. Hello! That’s a remarkable contribution. Well that makes sense. As many others working as vendor, I prefer to use Outlook as my e-mail client and with the help of Email Sorter Wizard, an Outlook add-in, I get all my email organized. You have researched and published very interesting details. Thanks.

  2. Josef said

    Jane. Thanx for the comments on this entry. I thoroughly enjoy the technology, but solely driven by exceptional offerings that enhance our the user’s way of life; at the same time driving more value into the cost of owning, or operating, or subscribing too.

    Microsoft has delivered an exceptional business mash-up technology worth anybody’s time looking into adopting. If Google would step up to the plate for Enterprise-Ready Solutions, I would see them driving their Gmail, Apps, Wave solutions into revenue-stream opportunities. Until they rip the phrase ‘Beta’ off, that won’t happen. Besides – they have a bigger picture in mind – in my opinion.

    If there is anything else I can share or elaborate on – please ask. Thanx again for reading. Hope you come back!

    -J. Wright

  3. OMG enjoyed reading this post. I submitted your rss to my google reader!!

  4. Gregory said

    Hi Josef

    I want to thank you for your excellent work in this.

    The article is easy to read and simpler for me to understand than most of the info I have been reading about SP the last few weeks. The hard work is seen by how easily you have explained the issues, no doubt from the years you have put into understanding all of this. To me it makes it such a pleasure to read a comprehensive and well articulated entry.

    You have also saved our hospital thousands of dollars with this bit of info (if not hundereds of thousands) – I’m developing the business case for a document management system and SP is neck and neck with another system. I know your article was written some time ago but I only just found it, and the comments are directly applicable to one of our mandatory decision points: how to view and understand metadata, and how to make it work for you.

    Thank you Josef

    Dr Gregory Uppington

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