Metadata moderation: don’t go overboard!

If you are lucky enough to convert users from folders to metadata, you may find yourself having to convince users that they don’t really need metadata for every possible way to classify a document.  I really love it when users “get” the concept of metadata in SharePoint lists and libraries because the excitement they feel about how much easier it will be to find content is great to witness  But, sometimes, you can end up with too much of a good thing.  Here are a few of the guidelines I recommend to encourage metadata moderation:

If you have a library where lots of users will be publishing content (especially if the SharePoint library is replacing a file share), think carefully about how much time it will take users to successfully upload a document.  Too much metadata (especially required columns) can be a barrier to contribution.  I have found that most users have about 30 seconds of patience for adding metadata.  That pretty much translates into no more than 5 columns.  If at all possible, add a default value to most columns.  However, recognize that users may not always take the time to change the default so be sure that your “content steward” has the responsibility of periodically reviewing metadata assignments.

Are you going to have multiple documents that need to be classified based on your proposed metadata column?  Remember, the Name and Title of the document are also metadata.  If the column is not going to be used for searching, filtering, or browsing, you probably don’t need it!

You may be able to eliminate unnecessary columns by adding a column called Document Description to document libraries.  If you can get users to fill it out, this is one of my favorites because adding a meaningful description to a document helps users scan a list of documents to decide if they need to open it without having to go through the document opening process for several documents.  The description is also a good place to add words that can be used in searches but in a context that adds more value than just a laundry list of terms.

Good metadata helps users find content easily and improves the accuracy of search.  Too many options frustrates and confuses users.  Just like most things in life, moderation is the key to success with metadata.

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