Content types and site columns are the foundational elements of SharePoint, but they often get misused. Whether it’s creating too many content types, not enough, or recreating site columns that are already available out of the box, it is critical to remember some key aspects when instituting and managing these items:
Content types are a core organizational feature of SharePoint 2010. They are designed to give users the ability to organize SharePoint content in a centralized and meaningful manner. Site columns (metadata) can be encapsulated within a content type to allow for reusable structure or independently added to sites and lists.
At its most basic level, a content type is a collection of settings which can be applied to content. They are reusable since content types are independent of sites and lists. A content type includes site columns to define the desired information. Example: The Task content type includes site columns for Task Status, Start Date and Due Date where the Schedule content type includes site columns for Location, Start Time and End Time. Using these content types as a template when a new task or event list needs to be created is much more efficient than rebuilding separate lists from site columns.
Sample Issue Content Type
Site columns are similar to content types in that they are centrally manged and can be added to sites and lists. They differ in that the information in a site column is focused to a single definition of data while content types enscapulate multiple site columns and definitions of data. Example: A site column named Department is created as a single line of text for users to enter their department name and a content type is created named Projects which includes the site columns of Department, Project Name and Project Due Date.
Site columns can contain multiple types of information, ranging from a Single line of text to Managed Metadata. It is important to note the difference between metadata and managed metadata. Site columns are referred to as metadata since they represent an attribute a user wants to manage. Example: The site column of Department is an attribute that can be reused in multiple lists.
Sample Site Column Information Options
Managed metadata is collection of centrally managed terms that can be used as attributes for SharePoint items. Defining a site column to use Managed Metadata for information is a powerful tool for assigning attributes. Example: Creating a Department site column, based on a managed metadata term set containing all of the department names in an organization, allows users to select the correct department and reduces typographical errors and non relevant data. It also provides for the proper tagging of documents for routing and search purposes.
Content Type Hub
Content types can also be stored in a Content Type Hub for centralized management of content types across Site Collections and Web Applications. This features utilizes the Managed Metadata Service and allows Site Collections to subscribe to any published content types. Any changes to published content types will be updated in the subsribing Site Collections. Since managed metadata can be created as a site column within a content type, terms can be globally syndicated across Site Collections and Web applications.
Content Type and Site Column Suggestions
Centrally creating and managing relevant content types and site columns is critical to ensuring consitent attributes across SharePoint. The following points offer guidance on maintaining an organized content type and site column structure:
Review the built in content types and site columns before creating new ones
SharePoint 2010 comes with many built in content types and site columns that may meet the needs of your structure. In planning your SharePoint structure, review the built in options before creating any new content types or site columns. New content types will be based on content types that already exist (parent content types). This allows for a pre organized template to begin the content type creation process. Example: Creating a new content type of “Proposal Document” based on the parent content type of “Document” will provide the necessary settings for referencing a document template and include the site columns of Name, Title and Keywords.
Carefully plan the information contained in content types and site columns and be prepared to refine metadata
Creation of new content types and site columns should not be done on an ad hoc basis. Take the time to discover what metadata is relevant to your organizations data collection and referencing needs. Creation of underutilized site columns (metadata) and content types places an unnecessary data entry burden on users which can lead to poor adoption of SharePoint and creation of non-relevant data.
Centrally manage content types and site columns
Site columns (metadata) can be created at the list or document library level. Site columns created in this manner exist only at the list level in which they were created and not within the confines of content types or the centrally managed Site Column Gallery. This becomes problematic when managing consistent metadata as these site columns cannot be reused. It is highly recommended to create new site columns within the Site Column Gallery and add these site columns to the content types associated with the preferred list or document library. Changes made to centrally managed content types will propagate down to the list and document libraries they have been added to.
A SharePoint implementation with multiple Site Collections or Web applications would benefit from the use of a Content Type Hub. This will allow for central management of “global” content types across the Enterprise for Site Collections that are subscribed to published content types. Leveraging this feature in tandem with managed metadata creates globally syndicated terms. Example: A content type containing a managed metadata site column, based on a product term set, is published. The list of products can now be reused as an attribute across the organization.
Content types and site columns are core to ensuring a strong SharePoint foundation. While determining this component of the logical Information Architecture may seem like a mundane task, the rewards of a strong and manageable foundation cannot be understated.