The Importance of Context

By Daniel Antion posted 04-10-2012 15:31


If I told you that when my daughter was very young, I once let her drink from a glass that had been contaminated with a grainy black particulate matter, you might think I was nuts. If I added that it was a glass of milk, and the particulate matter was OREO Cookie crumbs, you would understand. The additional information that proved so important in that sentence seems to be something that people are so willing to ignore as we move into an era characterized by communication at the speed of light. The information (context) that we forget to include is costing us followers, customers, and generally diminishes the value of the content that we choose to save for the next generation. For example, I remember watching a YouTube video that a friend sent me, of a group of men performing English Morris dancing to a concertina. According to the title, they are performing at Union Station, but there is no clue as to which Union Station (there are many). Yes, I could post a comment and ask the question, but the burden should be on the information provider, not the consumer, to handle that task. It is often the same with photographs; I would bet that one of the most frequently added comments on Flickr is some form of: “oooh, nice shot, where is that?

Ironically, the solution offered by Flickr, is to let you indicate on a map the precise location the picture was taken from. For information management purposes, I don’t think that’s enough. Look at this picture for example; look at the map and then read the description and tell me which one helps you understand the picture more. Even more ironic, is the habit we have for collecting and categorizing information without adding the relevant bits of data that will help us understand why we kept that information in the first place.

Context has to start with organization, in other words I should be able to derive something about a document based on where in SharePoint the creator decided to store it. This will NOT be the case if the library is called “Shared Documents.” We began a new project at work early last year, and we set up a SharePoint site for it. We were probably a bit premature, as we only recently started building out that site. One of the first things we discovered was that someone had uploaded 38 documents to Shared Documents. We realized that these documents need to be distributed across at least 5 new libraries. In addition, the Shared Documents library has nothing but the basic Team Site metadata, despite the fact that we quickly identified 2 pieces of metadata that should be defined for all site documents and about a 10 more that should be added to various libraries. The good news is that we decided to create the libraries we need before adding about 150 new documents to this site. The bad news is that we still aren’t talking about truly defining context.

In order to understand the metadata we need to capture, we have to fast forward a few years, look back at these libraries and ask “why did they think these documents were worth saving?” Somewhere in the metadata columns we create, we should have one that will answer that question. Why was this document created in the first place? Where was this presentation given? Who are the people in those pictures, where were the pictures taken and why were those people at that place? As we add those columns, we need to remember the lesson from Flickr – “very precise information might be as useless as no information.

#metadata #Search #context #SharePoint #sharepoint