User-Generated Taxonomies Will Make or Break SharePoint

By Christian Buckley posted 12-15-2011 16:11


The less control or governance you put in place over a system, the more likely end users are to embrace that system – and make a mess of it. That's the problem with cheap (free), web-based tools with cool features and viral natures. People find them, start using them to solve small problems, and then suddenly it's become a "production" system in your organization, people are relying upon it for key business processes, and someone high up the executive ladder asks (demands) the IT team to now support it.


Hey, that sounds a lot like SharePoint in most companies.


You installed that **free** version of WSS (and now Foundation) as an experiment, to test the waters, to build out a proof of concept. And then it not only worked, but it was quick to deploy and easy to use. And people walked by your cube saying "Hey, that's very cool. How did you do that?" And then you showed them. And then they wanted access, and started to build their own business solutions. And then someone from IT noticed that usage of the non-SharePoint portal was decreasing in your group and sent out a reconnaissance team to investigate….


Don't get me wrong. To a large extent, I support the rogue IT groups. Their purpose is to solve business problems, to make customers happy, and to push the envelope when the feature request process breaks down for making critical updates to the primary company portal. And SharePoint is both powerful and empowering, allowing end users with a little bit of technical understanding to do some amazing things (many folks just don't always do it in a supportable way). 


Let me flip my original statement: the more control you put on a system, the less likely people are to use it.


This is certainly true with SharePoint 2010 and managed metadata. Great idea -- provide organizations with the ability to outline and control their taxonomies, building out vast keywords lists, and allowing users and their sites to consume as needed. But there's a rogue activity that happens, even here. People want to expand what you've built. As soon as you go to print with your spanking-new taxonomy, somebody wants to add to it, expand it, modify it. And if you don't build in some kind of process to manage those requests, end users will once again become ruffled.


Getting control of your metadata is probably the single most important aspect of being successful with SharePoint. But without active management of user-generated folksonomies, the search experience can become bloated and unreliable, affecting end user adoption. It's simple: if people cannot find their content, the system is a failure. Understanding – and taking action on – the role of metadata and taxonomy management in your SharePoint deployment will provide short-term value by helping end users to be productive quickly, and long-term by strengthening the overall search experience. Oh, and keep the information workers in the field from rebelling (yet again). 

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