The Battle Rages – SharePoint Folders Versus Metadata
I am a huge proponent of metadata. Even though we generate metadata as a business, I will go so far as to say that any metadata is a good thing, even if we didn’t create it. Yet how do I approach managing my own content? Well, I put it in folders. Then often I can’t find what I am looking for. I never fill in the properties field in a document.
So, what’s the problem? I like folders I guess, or I am just used to them. Even though I know metadata is more flexible and creates numerous opportunities to improve business applications everywhere, from search to records management, I guess I am just a typical end user who frequently can’t find what I am looking for.
Folders and metadata in SharePoint, if you are still using an older version of SharePoint, don’t play well together. In 2016, a truce was called but the battle hasn’t ended. If your organization is like most, then folders reign. A few organizations require end users to add metadata, which isn’t one of their favorite tasks by the way, and it does not typically yield accurate and usable metadata – but that’s a whole other blog.
There are benefits to becoming metadata driven. You must just decide if it’s worth the effort. If you have a taxonomy, and you should, then metadata provides the flexibility to rapidly change the taxonomy to adapt to business needs. The taxonomy provides end users with a robust search environment, as they can use multiple criteria rather than traversing trails of files, resulting in potential dead ends, or executing a folder search, which uses only the document title, if you can guess what it is. Another downside of folders is a broken URL, which usually occurs when a document is deeply nested. When a document is moved, well, the link is broken.
What about metadata? Using folders, you can reuse a document name, if it is filed in a different folder. With metadata, it has to be a unique name. Although I don’t understand why you would have documents with the same name in the first place. For the poor IT folks, metadata opens a can of worms at the permissions level. Folders let the administration team apply permissions on a group scale. Using metadata means administrators will have to apply permissions at the document, site, or library level instead, which can be a hassle.
Users are quite comfortable creating their own folders when they need to. Being metadata-driven, administrators and designated end users can create new columns for metadata. This may be good or bad, depending on your environment.
Those are only a few of the differences. Is your organization folder-driven or metadata-driven?
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