A Forward-Looking SharePoint Metadata Strategy

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Metadata is a keystone to a modern integrated future-ready Intranet.  In a meta-driven architecture, relationships are no longer defined with rigid structure, instead simple tags flexibly connect related content.

Metadata, combined with the modern vision of a flat architecture, gives us an environment where we can slice and dice pages and topics to reveal them wherever you want, as frequently as you want. To take advantage of this power, make sure your Intranet strategy includes a metadata strategy.

Why I Love Metadata

Metadata has many dimensions, So does my love for it…

  • Ability to easily move & reorganize
  • Renaming w/o redoing
  • Our data needs many dimensions
  • But mostly I love it because it is so flexible
  • Relates anything to anything else
  • Many architecture decisions become less critical
  • Reduces conflict
  • Future-proofs your architecture

Inter-Related Content

Our future is a core intranet where contributors create page content and select some metadata.  That metadata is systematically used to reveal related stuff on the page. That is to say it delivers a Wikipedia-like page where everything related to the topic is listed. The contributor does very little work to make this happen and much of our navigation occurs through the links on the page. 

This future is here today, native in SharePoint. 

Web Part-to-Web Part Connections

I love the potential of new functionality called web-part-to-web-part connections.  This is part of a feature called “Dynamic Data” and it lets web parts on a page talk to each other and essentially define parameters for each other. Here’s a few use-case examples:

  • Pick a list item in one web part and have another list in another web part automagically filtered by that choice. 
  • Select a document from a list and have that document open in an adjacent web part.
  • Specify a news article’s topic(s) using managed metadata tags and reveal a list of all knowledgebase pages and company events that are related.
  • Select a department from a list, and reveal a hierarchical outline of all Intranet content pages the department owns.

Hopefully this list will get you thinking about ways dynamic data can be used in your Intranet. Web Part to Web Part connections is loaded with potential for dynamically connecting content via metadata.

It is this functionality that makes an automated Wikipedia-like page possible.  Unfortunately, today it takes a Developer to create these connections.  I look forward to seeing this functionality evolve to where the power is put in the hands of a citizen developer like me.

On the Edge of Modern Metadata

Microsoft has only scratched the surface with modernizing metadata.

New(ish) web parts that allow you to reveal filtered lists of pages, news and documents based on a managed metadata column are just great. Self-governance tools that identify items missing metadata, and bulk edit capabilities were also important steps, but I’m betting that there is a lot more to come.

Metadata has many behind-the-scenes parts and pieces that haven’t yet been touched by Modern. Consider all the elements of the Term Store, Site Columns, Universal Content Types, and Managed Navigation. There is a lot more to come!

The roots of SharePoint Metadata

Reviewing the limited (and quite disconnected) documentation that Microsoft has available for the Term Store and related functionality, it appears this functionality was developed to:

  1. Dynamically reveal catalog content
  2. Tag documents in libraries
  3. Take a first step towards data-driven navigation

Our needs have moved well beyond this. Microsoft has laid a good foundation in Modern, and they’re forming a solid path for adoption with the functionality they’ve delivered.

What exactly is Managed Metadata in SharePoint?

At its core a managed metadata column is a Choices column on steroids.

  • Choices column based on a central list.
  • That list can be available throughout your full ecosystem.
  • Lists can be structured with a hierarchy, but that’s not required.
  • Lists can be reused as many times as you want.
  • Allows you to rename and move items in the list or hierarchy.
    • Reorganize or change once and everything related will be reflect the change.
  • Have a single item in a list reused in other lists and hierarchies
    • Make a change in one place, and have it reflected in other lists/hierarchies it is part of
  • Use the column to filter
  • Use the hierarchy to control access/security

In a meta-driven environment, content reorganization doesn’t mean re-architect, it simply means add or change some metadata.  This is immensely powerful! 

Impact On Search

Good search needs good metadata, but metadata hasn’t been a priority for many of us. 

How many times have you heard “Search on the Intranet sucks” from employees? Too many!  Solid metadata will help this in a big way, but it requires consistency and a bit of governance as well. Metadata needs the same sort of strategic vision and planning we give any other important business technology.

Four Truths of enterprise search:

  1. People have a false expectation for enterprise search.
  2. Search isn’t magic, it takes a lot of work, it doesn’t just happen. 
  3. Our enterprise search is measured against great consumer experiences of Google, Bing and all the others.
  4. Most organizations do not have anyone on-staff that understands it

Organizations are only now opening their eyes to these realities.

For a quick trip in the way-back machine, take a look at the properties of the ten documents your organization reuses the most.  Mine are populated with data about co-workers I haven’t worked with in a decade, past partners, project, clients, and most have zero relation to what the current document is about.  Ask yourself, how often have you changed tags on a document to reflect what it is about. 

Fixing this definitely requires education and a change in mindset. Once the information is in Modern SharePoint there are a ton of configuration and automation things you can do to make it less challenging. 

Most of us are working in metadata environments where configurations are untouched, they’ve been left at default.

That’s because we don’t understand it. It is easy to get overwhelmed by its potential scope, the politics and the required behavior change. But metadata doesn’t need to be a wicked problem.

Preparing for Your Metadata Journey

So how do you get started?

  1. There’s a lot of parts and pieces to metadata in the SharePoint ecosystem.  Your first step is to understand how they all interact with each other and how the technology is intended to work.
  2. You’ll also need something that not many of us have–a metadata strategy or vision.
  3. Followed-up with a metadata plan,
  4. a little bit of governance,
  5. and a new role of content metadata ownership for contributors.

Straighten The Maze Can Help You Stay On-Track

My Overview report will help you define your SharePoint metadata strategy or vision.  This report is loaded with information that will support steps 1 & 2 of your journey.  A 17-page chapter is dedicated to metadata.  It is a FREE guidebook that will help with steps 1 and 2 of your journey.

Coming Soon:
A full report focusing on all the important details of Metadata.

Download the Overview report and you’ll be added to our mailing list.  We’ll let you know when the Metadata report is available.