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Managed metadata overview (SharePoint Server 2010)

Published: May 12, 2010

Managed metadata is a hierarchical collection of centrally managed terms that you can define, and then use as attributes for items in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

This article introduces the core concepts about managed metadata, and then describes the way you use managed metadata. An example is used throughout this article to illustrate the concepts. The final section presents several benefits of incorporating managed metadata into your SharePoint Server 2010 solution.

In this article:

Understanding managed metadata

This section defines several key concepts related to managed metadata.

Terms and term sets

A term is a word or a phrase that can be associated with an item in SharePoint Server 2010. A term set is a collection of related terms. You can specify that a Microsoft SharePoint Server column must contain a term from a specific term set. Managed metadata is a way of referring to the fact that terms and term sets can be created and managed independently from the columns themselves.

Local term sets are created within the context of a site collection. For example, if you add a column to a list in a document library, and create a new term set to bind the column to, the new term set is local to the site collection that contains the document library.

Global term sets are created outside the context of a site collection. For example, the term store administrator could create a term set group called "Human Resources" and designate a person to manage the term set group. The group manager would create term sets that relate to Human Resources, such as job titles and pay grades in the Human Resources term set group.

Users can see only global term sets and term sets that are local to the user's site collection.

For example, imagine that you are organizing a conference. Each conference session is assigned a room, and the large sessions are also assigned an overflow room, in which attendees who do not fit into the primary room can watch the session broadcast on large screens. You decide to track all of the sessions and their associated details in a SharePoint Server list.

To keep track of the sessions and their conference rooms, you would:

  1. Create a term set called “Conference rooms” to represent all of the available rooms.

  2. Add a term to the term set for each conference room.

  3. Create a content type called “Session.”

  4. Add two new columns to the content type: “Room” and “Overflow room.”

  5. Specify that the value of each of these columns must come from the "Conference rooms" term set.

  6. Create a list of sessions.

In this example, whenever you add a session to the list, you provide values for the Room and Overflow room. If you subsequently reserve an additional room at the conference center, you would add a new term to the Conference rooms term set, and it would become a valid value for the two columns.

Managed terms, enterprise keywords, and the term store

Terms can be divided into two types:

  • Managed terms, which are usually pre-defined, can only be created by users with the appropriate permissions, and are often organized into a hierarchy.

  • Enterprise keywords, which are simply words or phrases that have been added to SharePoint Server 2010 items. All enterprise keywords are part of a single, non-hierarchical term set called the keyword set.

Managed terms and enterprise keywords are used differently. For more information, see the "Using terms" section later in this topic.

note Note:

The word "managed" is often omitted when referring to managed terms when the meaning is clear from the context.

Both managed terms and enterprise keywords are stored in a database referred to as a term store.

Working with managed metadata

The following sections describe how terms are created and used. The conference room example is used throughout these sections to illustrate the concepts.

Creating terms

SharePoint Server 2010 includes the Term Store Management Tool, which you use to create and manage term sets. If you have the appropriate permissions you can use the Term Store Management Tool to:

  • Create or delete a term set.

  • Add, modify, or delete terms.

  • Arrange managed terms within a term set into a hierarchy.

  • Define synonyms.

  • Import terms.

  • Make enterprise keywords into managed terms by moving them into a term set.

Example:

To organize the conference sessions, you start by using the Term Store Management Tool to define a term set to represent all of the conference rooms. Then you use the same tool to add a term to the term set for each room. You start defining the following term set and terms:

  • Conference rooms (term set)

    • La Nouvelle Ballroom

    • Room 256

    • Room 270

    • Mardi Gras Ballroom

    • Room 287

    • Room 391

    • Room 348b

    • Hall C

    • Hall D

    • Room 348a

    • Auditorium C

    • Auditorium D

    • Auditorium E

    • Room 354

    • Room 355

    • Room 293

The term set is becoming unwieldy; you will have to scroll through too long a list when you select a conference room. You decide to reorganize the term set based on which wing of the conference center the rooms are located in. The new term set and terms now have this structure:

  • Conference rooms (term set)

    • Auditoriums

      • Auditorium C

      • Auditorium D

      • Auditorium E

    • Halls

      • Hall A

      • Hall B

      • Hall C

      • Hall D

    • Ballrooms

      • La Nouvelle Ballroom

      • Mardi Gras Ballroom

    • Second floor

      • Room 256

      • Room 270

      • Room 287

      • Room 293

    • Third floor

      • Room 348a

      • Room 348b

      • Room 354

      • Room 355

      • Room 391

Because the terms "Auditoriums," "Halls," "Second floor," and "Third floor" are used only for grouping other terms and do not represent actual rooms in which sessions can be held, you do not make these terms available for users to select.

Using terms

A column is a location in a list in which to store information about a SharePoint Server item. When you define a column, you provide a name for the column, specify the column's type, and provide additional information that depends on the column type.

SharePoint Server 2010 introduces a new column type called managed metadata. When you create a managed metadata column, you specify the term set from which the column's value must come. When you want users to provide information for list items (including documents), and the valid values for the information are contained in a term set, use a managed metadata column. Create a new content type or modify an existing content type, and add the managed metadata column to the content type.

Example:

You create a new content type named "Session" to represent each session. Because conference sessions will have an associated room and overflow room, you add columns for each of these attributes. You add a column named "Room", choose Managed Metadata for the column's type, select the term set "Conference rooms" to provide values for the "Rooms" column, and indicate that the column can only contain a single value. You then create an additional column named "Overflow room," and map it to the same term set. Because not all sessions have an overflow room, you do not require that the column contain information. Because there may be multiple overflow rooms, you allow multiple values.

The definitions of the two columns are summarized in the following table:

Column name Term set Require a value? Allow multiple values?

Room

Conference rooms

Yes

No

Overflow room

Conference rooms

No

Yes

Finally, you create a list of sessions.

Entering terms

When a user creates or uploads a new SharePoint Server item of a type that has columns that require a value, the user must provide a value. If the column is a managed metadata column, the managed metadata control is displayed, and the user interacts with this control to enter the value.

The managed metadata control allows the user either to type a value or to select a value by hierarchically navigating the term set that is associated with the column. If the user begins typing a value, the control displays all terms in the associated term set that begin with the characters the user has typed. The name of the term set and the term's position in the hierarchy are indicated along with the term itself.

If the column's definition allows multiple values, the user can select more than one term. If both the term set and the column's definition allow new terms to be added, the user can also create a new term and insert it at the appropriate place in the term set's hierarchy.

Example:

A conference administrator adds a new session. SharePoint Server displays a form that contains a field for each column that is associated with the Session content type. When the administrator creates the keynote session, in the Room field, the administrator displays the hierarchy of terms within the Conference rooms term set, and then selects La Nouvelle Ballroom.

The administrator cannot remember which auditorium is being used for the overflow from the keynote session, but knows that it is the middle one. The administrator types aud, and the following terms are displayed as options:

  • Auditorium C [Conference rooms: Auditoriums]

  • Auditorium D [Conference rooms: Auditoriums]

  • Auditorium E [Conference rooms: Auditoriums]

The administrator selects Auditorium D.

Entering enterprise keywords

SharePoint Server 2010 includes a predefined column named Enterprise Keywords. You can add this column to content types. When a user adds a value to the Enterprise Keywords column, the enterprise keyword control is displayed, and the user interacts with the control to enter the value. The enterprise keyword control behaves in a similar fashion to the managed metadata control, except that the enterprise keyword control allows users to select enterprise keywords as well as managed terms.

When the user begins typing a value, the control displays the terms that begin with the characters the user has typed from the keyword set and other global term sets. The term set in which the term exists, as well as the term's position in the hierarchy are also displayed. There is usually an option for entering a new enterprise keyword as well. If the user enters a new enterprise keyword, the enterprise keyword is added to the keyword set.

The Enterprise Keywords column allows multiple values by default.

Example:

A conference administrator adds a new session to represent the welcome party for all attendees. The welcome party is being held at Mardi Gras World, which is an external venue. Because Mardi Gras World is not a member of the Conference rooms term set, the administrator cannot select it as the value of the Room field. However, the administrator does want to include the location, so that other administrators find this session when they search for the phrase “Mardi Gras World.” The administrator notices that the Session content type includes the Enterprise Keywords column, and decides to add the venue as an enterprise keyword.

The administrator begins typing the name of the venue into the enterprise keyword field. When the administrator has typed Mar, the following options are displayed:

  • Mardi Gras Ballroom [Conference rooms: Ballrooms]

  • Create new

The administrator selects Create New, and creates the enterprise keyword Mardi Gras World, which is now added to both the Enterprise Keywords column of the list item and the keyword set.

Benefits of using managed metadata

This section describes several of the benefits of using managed metadata.

More consistent use of terminology

Managed metadata facilitates more consistent use of terms, as well as more consistent use of the enterprise keywords that are added to SharePoint Server items. You can pre-define terms, and allow only authorized users to add new terms. You can also prohibit users from adding their own enterprise keywords to items, and require them to use existing ones. Managed metadata also provides greater accuracy by presenting only a list of correct terms from which users can select values. Because enterprise keywords are also a type of managed metadata, even the enterprise keywords that users apply to items can be more consistent.

Because metadata is used more consistently, you can have a higher degree of confidence that it is correct. When you use metadata to automate business processes—for example, placing documents in different files in the record center based on the value of their department attribute—you can be confident that the metadata was created by authorized users, and that the value of the department attribute is always one of the valid values.

Better search results

A simple search can provide more relevant results if items have consistent attributes.

As users apply managed terms and enterprise keywords to items, they are guided to terms that have already been used. In some cases, users might not even be able to enter a new value. Because users are focused on a specific set of terms, those terms—and not synonyms—are more likely to be applied to items. Searching for a managed term or an enterprise keyword is therefore likely to retrieve more relevant results.

Dynamic

In previous versions of SharePoint Server, to restrict the value of an attribute to being one of a set of values, you would have created a column whose type is "choice", and then provided a list of valid values. When you needed to add a new value to set of choices, you would have to modify every column that used the same set of values.

By using managed metadata in SharePoint Server 2010, you can separate the set of valid values from the columns whose value must be one of the set of valid values. When you need to add a new value, you add a term to the term set, and all columns that map to that term set would use the updated set of choices.

Using terms can help you keep SharePoint Server items in sync with the business as the business changes. For example, assume your company's new product had a code name early in its development, and was given an official name shortly before the product launched. You included a term for the code name in the "product" term set, and users have been identifying all documents related to the product by using the term. When the product name changed, you could edit the term and change its name to the product's official name. The term is still applied to the same items, but its name is now updated.

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