I closed out day two of the Best Practices Conference with Ruven Gotz's instructive session on "Content Types and Site Columns-Working with Stakeholders to Build the Taxonomy." Ruven suggests beginning your discussion with stakeholders with a metaphor to help explain the concept of metadata. Ruven's own metaphor of choice is the grocery store (content is grouped by area, signs point to different areas of interest, individual items feature labels, etc.), but fully recognizes that the base metaphor we all use every day is that of files and file folders. Ruven suggests that since we've all been using this metaphor for so long, we think it's natural, but in actuality, it's not.
Ruven defines metadata as simply "data about data," and points out that "even folders are metadata." The model that Ruven espouses adopting in SharePoint is not a folder-based model, but he also cautions that, "folders are always a bad idea [in SharePoint] ... except when they're not. You can't necessarily eliminate them, so don't take it as gospel that they're always bad."
Suggesting using an Excel spreadsheet to begin the process of familiarizing users with his recommended SharePoint structure, Ruven creates a spreadsheet which contains the same pertinent data as is contained in a similarly folder-based taxonomy. Using the Best Practices Conference (BPC) as the use case in his demo, Ruven then proceeded to build the desired taxonomy, just as he would for a group of users. After first sketching out all of the desired information pertaining to BPC participants (Attendee, speaker, or sponsor; Name; company; phone; conference track or tracks of interest; etc.), Ruven then moves onto creating the information in SharePoint.
This creation is accomplished through first setting up a BPC09 group at the top-level of the SharePoint site, then adding all of the site columns to contain the desired metadata. With the columns created, it's time to create the content types, which is accomplished by adding from existing columns and defining the content types. Back at the site level, Ruven then creates a new list (BPC People), allows management of content types (via advanced settings), and cautions to make sure that the "display new folders" option is disabled (else users will likely create their familiar folders, which is exactly the behavior you're attempting to discourage). Once you add the new content types via the "add from content types" option, and you're ready to start populating your BPC People metadata. Once that data has been populated, presto, users can now sort the metadata as desired, and group by content type for display purposes, all without a folder in sight.
The bottom line, as Ruven put it, begins with teaching your stakeholders by using a metaphor then working through the metaphor with them, but the real key is showing them how those file structures translate into libraries and lists [in SharePoint], simplifying the process and allowing for appropriate "chunking and grouping ... making it easier to find things." Ruven suggests giving the users "homework" to ensure that they're grasping the concepts (i.e., the Excel spreadsheet of the demo), then building the taxonomy together with those users, and ultimately translating that taxonomy into SharePoint. Based on the applause of the capacity-plus audience, it seemed clear that Ruven had made more than a few converts to his preferred method of working with stakeholders, and for the good of everyone involved.
Aug 25 2009, 07:27 PM
John Anderson joined Bamboo Solutions as Manager of Content & Syndication in May of 2008 after a 12-year career at AOL. New to SharePoint at the time of his hiring, John was tasked with creating a new blog for the just-launched Bamboo Nation community in which he would document his daily SharePoint learning process. Thus was born the end user-centric SharePoint Blank, for which John authored 200 posts within a year, and which he continues to write today (albeit much more sporadically). Currently serving as Managing Editor, John sets the tone for Bamboo Nation as its lead blogger, and oversees content across Bamboo properties.