Managed Metadata Services -- Mediation for Knowledge Planners

By Marc Solomon posted 03-29-2011 12:43



I can always tell when I'm about to stretch the limits of what I've come to know as the SharePoint homestead or "KM System." That's when I leave SharePoint for an extended period and tease through the trail of keywords, search sessions, and other unstructured droppings. These vestiges will some day be reassembled in the less compromised packaging known as "user experience."
The fact that I need to leave SharePoint to have any hope of seeing the SharePoint forest from the .NET ecology trees is not necessarily a programming or packaging flaw of Microsoft. As my yoga teacher likes to say, if you're used to stretching in the same place and in the same way each time you flex, then you're not really stretching.
Last week I logged a whole lot more time retreating to the clean, austere safety of Notepad. There I could unscramble a maelstrom of text-strings that pass for: (1) knowledge-seeking aspirations (user queries) and, (2) the top-of-mind approximations for how those user/consumers could ever hope to capture the treasures buried by a corpus of 118K MS Office files.
As any forecaster or planner will tell you, the mediated balance of supply and demand is a beautiful thing -- whether we're talking about just-in-time manufacturing or the happy marriage of content supply to knowledge demand. Again I'm not slamming Microsoft for not realizing the promise of building these tool-sets. Someone else would need to prove it before it ever lands above the radar in Redmond.
But I do applaud Big Windows for the screen blip it calls managed metadata services. That's one tiny leap of faith for Microsoft. A giant knowledge planning maneuver for all KM kind.
Automating the tagging process for me means pouring thousands of keywords through the strainer of MOSS 2007 and into the awaiting structure of SharePoint 2010. We lose the inconsistent grammar, the needless punctuation, and the trivial redundancies. What we get is the word map -- how the organization describes itself within the self-selecting vocabulary we use for talking shop and closing ranks.
Granted, some of these word associations are more directed than others. For instance no one leaves a file twisting in the breeze with an undocumented acronym. We ground that in the definition and season it with context. Other terms are less specific and more popular in use so they can move more freely between the many contexts you'll find them in and the richer set of association they inspire. Both mappings have a home in MMS.  
If this sounds abstract it's got more to do with my flaws as a writer than my skills as an information architect. There's nothing lofty or impractical about having supply rushing out to meet demand in its tracks. Any winning ECM architecture seeks to connect content supply and knowledge demand by strengthening the following interdependencies:
  • Action-based taxonomy -- A taxonomy of actions (not things) leverages shared agreements and understandings. Interaction-centric structures map to the way users post-process their search results when they address actual problems beyond searching! 
  • Location neutrality -- This means that users need not know where IP is stored in order to capture it.
  • Content mediation -- MMS keeps the promise of letting content supply (libraries and lists) speak directly with knowledge demand (queries). Reconciling the two through MMS means allowing producers the ability to shape their contributions so they are found by their peers through top-of-mind association. 
The Value of more formalized metadata structure is that consistency is enforced and that normalization occurs between word choices of content producers and top search terms used on the demand side.
Hullo ... uh vendor community? That's what we knowledge planners DO: mediate the dialectic between ECM producers and consumers. 
Imagine search analytics that don't just sound the "zero hits" alarm for fruitless searches, They steer users towards search suggestions that cracks open the otherwise closed door to your content inventories?
The best part is that you don't have to imagine this kind of linguistic telepathy as an add-on several iterations down the road. Just build your MMS, nurture your term sets, and watch the mediation work its magic.

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