Understanding SharePoint Metadata – It Really Isn’t Something New – Part 1

As many of you know, I have been promoting the use of metadata rather than folders as a way to organize the information you store in SharePoint libraries. Some of you have found this transition to be difficult to grasp. I am here today to assure you that you actually have been working with metadata in libraries for years, although you may not have thought about it in those terms.

First, what is metadata? Metadata is any information that helps classify an object, a file in this case. Let’s take a look at a standard Windows library, something we are all familiar with. In a standard Windows directory, you can view information such as the date the file was created or last modified. This information classifies changes to a file basically providing some insight to its origin and most recent changes. You might use this information to list all the files in a directory by the date created to help find a file you know you created last month.

You might also use the modified data to list the files in reverse chronological order to identify the files you worked on last.

You might even have used the Size column to sort the file by size to determine which ones were taking all the space on your thumb drive. On a network drive, the Authors column also may have helped identify who created or modified the file. The Type column might also have helped to group files of similar source type. But you know that there are many other columns that could be displayed for a normal Windows directory? Just right click on the directory header to display a popup of the available data.

By design, the popup displays the 10 most common/recent columns used, but these ten are not the only things tracked for files. In fact, if you click on the More… option at the bottom of the popup, a dialog appears that lets you choose which columns to display in the current library.

To select a column, simply click the checkbox to the left of the column name. You can even click on the column title itself and then use the Move Up and Move Down buttons to the right of the dialog to change the order in which the columns appear when you display the library. For the selected column, you can define the default width of the column in pixels with the option at the bottom of the dialog. Both of these last things can be changed directly in the list itself by clicking on a column header and dragging it to the right or left to change the order or by clicking on the faint line separating the column headers to change the column width of the column to the left of the line.

Perhaps you already knew that, but did you know that some of the column data applies to only certain types of files? For example, if you have a file of pictures, you may still be interested in creation dates, sizes, and authors, but you may also find columns like the Dimensions column interesting. This column will tell you the size of the picture in pixels while the Size column tells you the size of the file in KB. These two values will help you determine if you should resize a picture before uploading it to your web page to minimize the time it takes the network to transfer the image from the server to the end user.

Similarly, music libraries have their own set of default metadata specifically to help you track the order of songs from an album, the album name, the composer, the length in minutes and seconds, and other information about the songs.

Well, that is it for the introduction. Next week I will explain a few reasons why metadata is so much more important in SharePoint than it was in Windows and then explore a way to convert from a nested folder document library structure to a metadata library structure.

C’ya then.


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