8 Things You Need to Know About Taxonomy, Metadata and Information Architecture in SharePoint

by Seth Earley

This article was originally published in 2010 at, written by Jeff Carr, Consultant, and Seth Earley, President, Earley & Associates, Inc.

Organizations use SharePoint for a variety of purposes from intranets, extranets and customer portals to document management and team collaboration. There’s been significant excitement about new product functionality introduced as part of the SharePoint 2010 platform for taxonomy implementation and management across sites and site collections.

However, to get to a point where information assets are fully exploited and working to meet the needs of the organization, time and effort must be spent building an appropriate foundation for the information ecosystem—through design, development and application of foundational information architectures and enterprise taxonomy. A well planned and intelligently constructed foundation is the basis for successful information applications and high quality user experiences.

Only after we have designed and constructed a solid foundation with respect to the organizing principles of our information can we consider how it is to be managed, implemented and consumed by the technologies we employ. Keep this in mind as a key element of strategic information management as we work our way through our 8 things.

1. Use Taxonomy and Controlled Vocabulary for Content Enrichment

Controlled terms are managed in a Term Set and surfaced as part of a document’s properties using the Managed Metadata column. The field itself is directly bound to a Term Set or subset thereof, and enables users to easily browse available Terms for tagging. Users have the option of entering values into a text field where type-ahead functionality offers Term suggestions or browsing the full hierarchy of Terms in the Term Set itself.

2. Use Social Features for Personal Classification and Improved Findability

Uncontrolled terms are managed as a flat list and surfaced in a document’s properties through the Managed Keywords column. Rather than a forced selection from a controlled taxonomic list of values, users are able to apply their own descriptors to content as metadata in a folksonomic way that make sense to them. A further ability to create personal Tags and Notes as well as apply Ratings to content is offered to help with the retrieval of content at a later date in time.

3. Use Taxonomy and Metadata to Improve Navigation and Browsing

The goal of metadata lies not in the tagging of content itself, but rather in the potential it offers for the improvement of findability via constructs such as navigation. Navigation Hierarchies offer an expandable and collapsible hierarchy based on taxonomic value while Key Filters allow users to enter keywords into a text field and search against the taxonomy to find terms to apply as filters to document libraries and lists.

4. Use Taxonomy and Metadata to Improve Search and Discovery

A new search feature known as the Refinement Panel comes in the form of a web part displayed on the search results page along the left hand side of the interface, which offers searchers the ability to easily refine a result set based on metadata property such as File Type, Site, Author, Modified Date or Managed Metadata. Managed Keywords are also offered in an alphabetical listing as an additional refinement option appearing at the bottom in a section labeled Tags.

5. Share Content Types Across Site Collections

A fundamental challenge faced by organizations with respect to content types and metadata in earlier versions of SharePoint is the inability to easily reuse them across site collections. SharePoint 2010 has addressed this issue through Content Type Hubs, in which a specific site collection is selected to act as the central repository for content types intended for use enterprise-wide. Content types can then be published out for consumption across other site collections thus simplifying management.

6. Use Retention Stages to Manage the Lifecycle of Information

Automating processes that address the review, archival and/or disposition of information in the organization on a regularly scheduled basis can ensure both the relevance and timeliness of information. The implementation of retention schedules in SharePoint 2010 can be associated with specific types of content through the application of information management policies. Setting Retention Stages is a straightforward activity with the majority of the work likely taking place outside of the technological environment, as part of the organizational information management, records management or legal compliance strategy.

7. Administer Taxonomy Using Term Store Management

Taxonomy management sees a significant improvement over functionality offered by the product’s predecessors through the creation of a term store repository enabling centralized vocabulary management applicable across site collections. Management of taxonomy takes place within the Term Store Management Tool, which is accessible through either Central Administration or Site Administration and includes basic functionality for the management of taxonomy via Groups, Term Sets and Terms.

8. Import Taxonomy Using the Managed Metadata Import File

Term Sets can be imported into existing Groups in the Term Store Management Tool by Taxonomy Managers using the Managed Metadata Import File, which is a comma delimited document in standard UTF-8 CSV file format. The basic file contains the six types of metadata fields. To import additional information such as synonyms and translations for Terms requires customization using the Application Programming Interface, or API.

Summary and Conclusions

The many great features and functionality offered as part of the SharePoint 2010 platform are sure to provide the foundation for better management of information in the organization. However, the technology itself is only able to take us so far, and it’s crucial to be cognizant of the fact that there’s still a lot of outside work that needs to be done. The underlying foundation required to leverage our technological capability is derived from the establishment of up-front information architecture and taxonomy design, strong publishing models, standard workflow processes, corporate governance, continuous taxonomy management and well trained users that have been included as key stakeholders throughout the design process. Without a solid foundation, chaos in terms of findability and a good user experience are inevitable. With it, we stand an increased chance at success.

About the Author

Seth Earley is Editor, Data Analytics, IT Professional Magazine from the IEEE and CEO of Earley Information Science (EIS).  Seth has worked with a diverse roster of Fortune 1000 companies helping them to achieve higher levels of operating performance by making information more findable, usable and valuable. Follow him on Twitter @sethearley.

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