Anita Fritz

Automatic Metadata – a great way to improve user adoption of SharePoint


• Being prompted for metadata every time they save to SharePoint is a major negative for users.
• A key to user adoption of SharePoint is to capture metadata as automatically as possible.
• MacroView Message and MacroView DMF provide great support for automatic metadata capture.

Metadata is a Good Thing, or is it?

I hear lots of war stories about how organizations tried to introduce SharePoint as the new, better way of managing documents and emails, only to find that the new SharePoint-based solution was not popular with users, which led to poor adoption by those users.

Disaffected users will tell you that one of the biggest negatives in their experience of the new SharePoint solution is the way they are constantly being prompted for metadata as they save new documents and emails. Previously they were managing their documents by saving them in folders in a Windows file share – the only thing they were promoted for was a file name. Managing emails was even easier – the most they had to do was drag and drop the emails to a private or public folders in Outlook.

A lot of SharePoint solutions do prompt for metadata as you save a document or email. This is because their designers believe that having additional metadata captured for the documents and emails enables more flexibility when it comes to searching and filtering to find documents in SharePoint. It’s definitely true that metadata helps when you are searching and filtering, but the key to success is to capture that additional metadata without needing to prompt the user.

Have metadata, but capture it automatically

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF are a great help in this regard. They make it easy to capture metadata automatically. They do this by:

  • Automatically recording metadata as they save documents and emails
  • Enabling SharePoint designs that facilitate automatic metadata

Automatic metadata recording when saving an email

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF perform extensive automatic recording of metadata as you save emails to SharePoint (online and on-premises).  In many cases a user can save an email to SharePoint without being prompted for metadata at all .  This makes saving an email to SharePoint as easy as saving an email to a private or public folder in Outlook, which is clearly a good thing when you are wanting users to adopt SharePoint.  See this MacroView Blog post for details.

Automatic metadata recording when saving other types of file

When you save an email attachment or upload a file from a Windows folder MacroView DMF and MacroView Message overcome an out-of-the-box SharePoint behaviour that business users find frustrating, which is that as you load a file into SharePoint the Created, Last Modified and Author information for the file is lost.  The loss of these file system attributes is frustrating because this information is often an important way of identifying the file in the file system. When you look at the file in SharePoint the Created metadata column shows the date and time the file was uploaded to SharePoint, Created By is the user who uploaded the file to SharePoint and Modified is the date/time the file was last updated in SharePoint.

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF  automatically record the file system attributes as additional metadata, provided that the corresponding columns are defined in the destination content type. The file system attributes are recorded in metadata columns with internal names as shows below:

Created ->   mvOriginalCreated
Last Modified ->   mvOriginalModified
Author  ->    mvOriginalAuthor

As they save files to SharePoint MacroView Message and MacroView DMF  automatically remove any characters that are illegal in SharePoint file names (e.g. #, &, etc)*.  Otherwise the user would receive an error message and the save would fail. MacroView DMF and MacroView Message automatically record the original file name (complete with any illegal characters) in a metadata column with the internal name mvOriginalFilename.  If the file is subsequently retrieved from SharePoint and inserted as an attachment in an outgoing email, the original filename is re-instated**. The advantage is that the party who originally sent the attachment sees the same filename as they used – they do not need to know that some of its characters were removed in order for the file to be stored in SharePoint.

* These characters are no longer illegal in SharePoint Online, but are still illegal in on-premises SharePoint Server implementations.
** This re-instatement is controlled by the UseOriginalFilenameForInsertAttachment configuration setting of MacroView DMF and MacroView Message.

Designing SharePoint to record metadata automatically

The key here is to make the metadata that you want recorded automatically a property of the SharePoint area that you are saving to.  For example if you are saving to a document library that holds documents for a customer called Acme Incorporated then you pre-define ‘Acme Incorporated’ as the default value of the Customer Name metadata column in that library.

It’s even better if you also define the Customer Name column as Hidden – that way Customer Name will not be included in the dialog that MacroView displays to prompt for metadata. If all the metadata columns are either Hidden and / or can be recorded automatically (like the email attribute columns mentioned above), MacroView will not display that dialog at all.
The default value for most types of metadata column can be defined as Calculated – that allows some additional logic – e.g. based on the values of other metadata columns.

Defaults for Person or Group Type Columns

Weirdly, SharePoint does not allow default values to be specified for Person or Group type columns.  However MacroView DMF and MacroView Message can be custom configured so that the current user is displayed as the default value of nominated Person or Group columns. Configuring like this can save a lot of user effort, and is possible because the MacroView profiling (metadata capture) dialog is designed to allow custom logic to be run. Contact MacroView for details.

Folder-level defaults

SharePoint does allow default values for a metadata column to be defined at Folder level – so that the default in a particular folder within a document library is different from the default at document library level. However these folder-level defaults can be very inefficient in operation. This is because a single XML document is used to record the default values for every folder in the document library – in a library that has thousands of folders this can lead to a very large XML document that needs to be downloaded and processed every time a document or email is saved (even if the metadata column is Hidden and so not displayed to the user).

For this reason MacroView Message and MacroView DMF do not support folder-level defaults in SharePoint Online. However the MacroView profiling (metadata capture) dialog can be custom configured to achieve the same effect as a folder level default. Contact MacroView for details.

Another good alternative to folder-level defaults is to use document sets instead.  From a metadata perspective document sets are superior to folders because a document set can have multiple metadata attributes, each of which can be ’shared’ with the documents and emails that are stored in that document set.  By saving a document or email to a document set these shared metadata attributes are automatically inherited by the document or email.  MacroView will display these automatically inherited properties in a greyed-out style – the user is made aware of what is being recorded, but is prevented from altering the inherited values.

MacroView facilitates automatic metadata recording

For automatic metadata recording to work you need to have separate areas corresponding to each different metadata value – e.g. a document library corresponding to each different customer, a document set corresponding to each Project or a folder corresponding to each type of document.

MacroView Message and MacroView DMF display a complete and accurate tree-view of the structure of the SharePoint document store – all the way from the Web Application level (in a SharePoint on-premises implementation) or Office 365 tenancy (in a SharePoint Online implementation) down to the most deeply-nested document set or folder. These MacroView products also enable efficient navigation of SharePoint environments that have a large number of nodes – e.g. sites, libraries, document sets and folders.  The result is that you can have granular designs – where the hierarchy has sites and sub-sites and many document libraries.  If you are using the native SharePoint web browser UI the only way to view a tree structure is to use document libraries with deeply nested folders, which can easily lead to problems with total URL lengths and List View Thresholds. In other words, MacroView enables a much broader class of designs for a SharePoint document store, which are much better at coping with volume.

More Information

Check out this YouTube video which shows MacroView DMF and MacroView Message automatically capturing metadata.

For more information about how MacroView solutions can automatically record metadata, and other ways these solutions promote user adoption of SharePoint, contact MacroView .