SharePoint Search : Metadata and Context

In today's business, the Information Worker (IW) has increased responsibilities to be more productive and provide a higher level of quality results. These IW's must be able to quickly obtain the information they need to make proactive business decisions. There is an exceeding requirement for Corporate Knowledge Management (KM) solutions to deliver this information accurately and within the context of the current users needs. So how do we obtain accurate and relevant search results?

It is my hope to help you understand how this can be accomplished in this article. There is a myth that simply uploading files and storing information in a KM solution will begin providing IW's with the answers they are looking for. Unfortunately, this is true regardless of the technologies being used. Long before your KM solution can reach a level of relevant accuracy, there are a number of prerequisite design steps that must be followed. One of the primary design steps required in any KM solution is describing the information that will be stored and the context in which it will be used. Describing information is known as metadata and context is limiting it within a specific boundary. Using a taxonomy is a very common means by which we can describe information that will be stored in our KM solution. In it's most simplistic sense, a taxonomy is the classification and categorization of information. Once a taxonomy has been specifically defined for an organization, it can then be used to Tag content within a KM solution.

In such a taxonomy, each Book has a number of metadata tags. These tags further describe specific details about a book (data entity or Content Type). One of these metadata tags describes the type of book; this section of the map is considered a taxonomic categorization. Note, the Book Type taxonomy is confined to the Book Catalog topic; this defines the contextual boundary. This contextual boundary indicates the Book Type category should not be allowed anywhere other than the catalog. Hence a user should be able to search for specific Book Types within the boundary of the Book Catalog. In the "real world" the Book Types category wouldn't necessarily be confined to just the Book Catalog; you may wish to assign this categorization type to customer accounts so you can track the types of books each is most interested in.

Why is this type of information architecture and design important? Consistency is one of the key aspects of Knowledge Management solutions. The metadata tag Book Type and its associated values provide a consistent means by which users can quickly find books (by type). In the above example, I used the Book Type metadata tag and associated categorization to help you understand the need for data typing. What about a metadata tag such as Author; how are we to confine the results of a search to book Authors?

In Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, the Author metadata type is a predefined type and associated with the Created By field of all content. Let me provide you with an example. The Litware Corporation has an employee named Jane Cooper. Jane works with the Litware Corporation Knowledge Management solution everyday; uploading new documents, adding list items, etc. Each time Jane uploads a document or creates a list item, the item's associated Created By field will contain her name. If you now perform a search for any item where "Author contains Jane", you will be presented with a very long list of results; every item in MOSS where the Created By field contains Jane. Anyone in the company who attempts to use the Knowledge Management solution to locate books authored by anyone named Jane would have a difficult time doing so.

The second example described above is quite real and the reason I chose a fictitious book authoring corporation. This problem can be resolved in a couple of different ways. One would be to change the mapping of Author in MOSS to point to the Book Content Type Author metadata field. If this approach is taken, you may wish to create a new mapping to replace the previously defined Author mapping. A second and what I would consider a better, approach would be to rename the Book Content Type Author metadata field to Book Author. Doing this simply requires you to add a new mapping to MOSS so Book Author will be indexed and subsequently searchable.

There is a great deal more information to be told when it comes to business data entity mapping, metadata, content categorization and contextual boundaries; much more than can be covered in this article. However, I do hope it has become evident that information architecture and design is one of the key prerequisites to the successful deployment of your Knowledge Management solution.

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