What is Metadata and Why Must I Use It?

Sometimes it’s hard to convince people to use metadata instead of subfolders.  Just saying that sentence invokes confused looks.  What does that even mean?!

The science of tagging and retrieving information is a huge subject.   Search for taxonomy and metadata and you’ll get over 186million hits combined – way worse than SharePoint at a mere 70million. There are so many words that could mean the same thing it’s no wonder people get confused.

Lets take it down a level and focus just on your one project, the latest one you’re working on.

What type of documents are you working with?  There will be Word, PowerPoint, Excel and emails; and those are used to make minutes, agendas, project plans, status reports, budgets and communications.  Your project is being done by a certain team in a certain time frame right?  You are only sending those documents to the team members, not to every single person in the company.  How about where you keep those documents? They’re either on your C:drive or on a fileshare, and busy being sent around via email.  Then what happens when a document is updated?  It gets sent around again and it’s hard to determine who has the correct version of the document.  Not only that, but it’s also difficult to find the latest version of the document in the subfolder because the newest one isn’t on top of the list, so you need to either re-sort the documents, or scroll through all of them to find the latest one.

So how can metadata resolve any of this?  Well metadata is information about information.  Let’s look at a fileshare example:

Here we have a MOF (Microsoft Operations Framework) Job Aid. Apart from picking up that it’s a Risk Template by the name, we also know it’s an Excel document because of the icon.  But we also know it’s in an earlier version of Excel, what size it is, when it was last modified, that it belongs in the Job Aids Manage section of the Graphics component of Framework.  Information about information.

All those subfolders and information you see above, are metadata.  You’ve been using it for years and you didn’t even realise it! 🙂

What SharePoint does, is take that information, display it to you smarter and make it easier to work with.

First you need to extract that metadata by clicking on every subfolder and making a list of what you see.

Put them in Excel so you can copy and paste them, and sort them alphabetically first.

Now you can build your document library with this metadata, upload and tag the docs; see the version, and send people a direct link.

Then create views based on those columns.

By doing this we have gotten rid of 14 subfolders!  We have one point of truth to upload, activated versioning so it’s always the right version, and created different views so we can report on different things. I can just send a link to the library or applicable view to bring down the email bandwidth.

Is it easy to use?  Yes.

Does it make me feel good?  Yes, because it’s easier to work now, less frustration in finding and storing stuff.

Do I see the point? Yes.

Considering each of us spends 16% of our day every day looking for information; if we could drop that percentage even by a little, we would save millions in lost man hours annually.  Metadata can help you do that.

Do you see the point now?

My Top 7 Document Management Tips

  1. Use full names in your document name and the date format YYYY-MM-DD for perfect ordering.
  2. Standardise your naming conventions – don’t have 3 things that mean the same thing.
  3. If you insist on using subfolders, never number them, and never go more than one level deep.  You create a system only you can understand.
  4. Make your metadata re-usable where possible, (Site Columns, lookups, Content Types, Managed Metadata).
  5. ALWAYS put in a strong description when creating libraries and lists so your site remains user friendly.
  6. Use versioning on important, dynamic documents.
  7. Don’t manage by exception, manage by the rule.  Go up a level if it gets to crowded; ie: technical spec, functional spec, test spec … just make the tag Spec instead.


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    ipad and tested to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.

    My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it
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  3. Your post hyperlink suggests that there is a video tutorial for creating metadata ordering, but it isn’t on the you tube site. I know that this metadata stuff is a critical element of good file management (as is naming convention). I just can’t figure out what you are doing here. It may be screen shots, or it may be the busy sharepoint page layouts. There is something hard on the eyes about the sharepoint interface.


  4. Hi Veronique

    Nice article. At Pingar, we have automated the process of applying metadata to SharePoint documents. You can check out a blog post at http://www.pingar.com/Blog/Posts.aspx?PostID=55

    Last week, we went one step further. At Launch Silicon Valley 2011, we demonstrated the automatic assignment of multiple metadata properties to documents as they were being scanned directly into SharePoint 2010. This is the result of a joint research collaboration between Pingar and Fuji Xerox. You can view a quick 45 second video that demonstrates this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kluVp25upag

    We will be demonstrating more ways to make metadata ‘sexy’ …and relevant in Anaheim in October. Hope to see you there.



  5. What would be best practices to manage metadata? From your experience is it a good idea to try implement RK and IM metadata standards through a content type hierarchy to be applied to all site. We are trying to find ways to implement SP and to be Recordkeeping compliant at same time… Maybe not a good idea? Thanks


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