The word metadata is for many a foreign word. The IT folks and database analysts understand what it means and they describe it as “data about data” – I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t mean much to me. So it took me a while to embrace what this field is all about.
And while this means nothing to most people, I classify it sometimes as a site column on steroids. A site column can help you with setting similar data that will be used throughout your site and your site collection. A great example for using a site column might be to create a department list that you could use in multiple lists on your site. Something I noticed about this however, is that if for some strange reason you might want to have two Department columns in your list, then using the site column feature would limit you – because you can only use it once per list.
This is where the Managed Metadata column can help because you can use the same metadata field over and over again in a list – there’s no limitation. The data from which we pull information in a metadata column is coming from the site collection level – i.e. these are things that are globally useful to everyone within the DSA, not just your department. What’s also nice, is if the data changes (a department name changes for example) that information is populated throughout the division, so the information is always accurate.
Managed metadata ensures that whatever data is selected, it’s “normalized”, which means that people can’t change it when entering the data.
That means my department, named Communications & Innovative Technologies can’t become any of the following: Communications and Innovative Technologies, Communications, CIT, C&IT, or any other iteration. It means that our campus health center, Schiffert Health Center can’t become SHC, Shiffert, Schiffert, Health Center, Schiffert Health, etc. Using “normalized” data structures lets the database behind SharePoint run accurate reports. And because the data is managed centrally, it means that individual site owners don’t have to worry about making those types of changes.
Let’s see what Microsoft has to say about the Managed Metadata column type:
Use this column type to enable site users to select values from a specific term set of managed terms and apply these values to their content. Users can create and configure a Managed Metadata column to map to an existing term set or term, or they can create a new term set specifically for a Managed Metadata column. Managed Metadata columns have several unique features and characteristics that help users select and apply terms to content, such as support for “type-ahead,” as well as support for disambiguation of terms, descriptions, synonyms, and multi-lingual values.
Managed Metadata columns promote the consistent use of metadata across sites because they provide users with a list of terms that they can apply to their content. These terms come from a term set that is managed centrally in the Term Store Management Tool by a Term Store Administrator or other individuals with permissions to manage terms. Whenever the term set that a specific Managed Metadata column is bound to is updated, the updated terms will automatically become available to users wherever that Managed Metadata column is available. You can customize the Managed Metadata column in the following ways.
Multiple Value field Selecting the Allow multiple values checkbox enables the column to contain more than one value. Note that enabling this feature will prevent sorting data in list views.
Display format The value selected from the term set can be displayed either as a single value or with the full hierarchical path.
Select the Display term label in the field checkbox to display value of the terms set as a single value. For example: City.
Select the Display the entire path to the term in the field checkbox to display the value of the terms set as a full hierarchical path. For example: Location, Continent, Country/Region, City.
Term Set Settings Display terms from an enterprise managed term set, or create a custom term set to share with others in a site collection.
Use a managed term set Enter one or more terms, separated by semicolons, and select Find to filter the options to only include those which contain the desired terms. After finding the term set that contains the list of values to display in this column, click on a term to select the first level of the hierarchy to show in the column. All levels below the term you select will be seen when users choose a value.
Create a custom term set Enter a description for your custom term set and enter your terms set hierarchy directly into the box provided, or click Edit using Term Set Manager to open and use the Term Management tool.
NOTE: While a custom term is available to all users in a site collection, the terms in the set will not be available as Enterprise Keywords.