A while back, I gave a webinar about designing SharePoint information architectures, and I was surprised that there were many people unaware about how the enterprise keywords column works in SharePoint 2010 and 2013. Many people are aware that the managed metadata service application brings system-wide and user-defined tagging (“folksonomy”), but many are confused on how this actually works.
“Managed” Metadata and Free Metadata
When Microsoft uses the designation of “managed metadata” it means two things: (1) enterprise metadata is managed centrally, and (2) enterprise metadata is normalized and defined. For the purposes of user-defined tagging, what we’re going to discuss fits in the former definition. The “term store” is also the designation used to define where this metadata is managed inside of the service application, and it has two parts.
The first part is what most of us are familiar with confronted with materials about the managed metadata service application. This is where term groups, term sets and terms are defined that are then added to the SharePoint interface through a new column called the Managed Metadata column. Below is a familiar screenshot of this experience. The autocomplete suggestions, and the term set shown when clicking on the icon, is limited to the term set specified in the column (as a note, I will be using the words “tag” and “term” interchangeably). Here is an example with a managed metadata column bound to a specific term set:
Before we talk more specifically about the enterprise keywords column, it’s important to note there is a variant in a term set definition where you can allow the ability for end users to add tags to an existing term set. While it might at first seem to duplicate the functionality of the enterprise keywords column it is actually a different approach. If your organizations governance has decided to allow the addition of terms by an end user to a term set it can be turned on by an option in the term store management (it is an option provided when highlighting a term set in the first screenshot below) as well as when you create the column (second screenshot below).
The user is then afforded the opportunity to add terms to a term set in the metadata dialogue. However, even though this functionality is available, I would advise instead that you keep the term store closed and provided contact information for someone to suggest a term addition. If your organization goes through the steps to define normalized metadata then it could potentially prove to be an administrative headache to continually normalize your term set, and it decreases the value of having a true managed taxonomy. Instead, I would suggest turning to the enterprise keywords column to fill this need (and we will also talk later about how using this column still allows users to grow your taxonomy).
As a final note in this section, if you’ve seen the “keywords” column in SharePoint 2007 and wondered about its purpose in 2010 and 2013, Mirjam van Olst has written an article explaining the reasoning behind its inclusion in 2010 as well how it functionally operates. Notice her remarks on how values are synced between the two, which I assume to be the same behavior in 2013.
The Enterprise Keywords Column Experience
Inside the SharePoint site columns listing provided on every new site collection is a site columns group with a single column inside. This column will be the only way to add user-defined keywords to content in SharePoint that are not bound to a term set.
The experience is slightly different than the term store. With the enterprise keywords column there is no icon on the right to select tags since it is not bound to a term set. Instead, there is a description that talks about the nature of the column. These “tags” (which at the end of the day are really user-defined terms) can be added freely and separate by a semicolon.
What is interesting and beneficial about this column as opposed to the managed one above, is that the autocomplete functionality will not only suggest user-defined tags but also all the terms present inside of the managed portion of the term store
The only aberration to this case is when you create a managed metadata column and instead of choosing a term set you choose the option to customize a term set in that interface. There is a warning given that terms added to this ad-hoc term set will not provide autocomplete values in the enterprise keywords column.
Utilizing the Enterprise Keywords Column
There are two major ways to add the functionality mentioned above to your SharePoint content management experience. The first is to add the enterprise keywords column to a content type. You could choose to either add the functionality to one, many or all of your custom content types. The column needs no configuration; simply add it to your content type as you would any other column. I would suggest that if an organizational requirement is to add this functionality is present on any content type that you create base content types that inherit from the out-of-the-box content types (document, item, page, etc.), and add custom content types that inherit from your base content type (I would suggest you do this anyway in any SharePoint implementation with custom content types).
The second way to add the enterprise keywords functionality is to do so with an option present on SharePoint lists and libraries.
If you currently do not have a content type on the list or library with the enterprise keywords column bound to it then you will have the ability to add the column to all content types. Interestingly, the second option allows you to add the tags that you add to the content in the list or library via the column as social tags which appear on your SharePoint profile page. If you have a content type with the enterprise keywords column on it the first checkbox is unavailable, but you can still enable the social option. (By simply adding the enterprise keywords column to a content type it does not appear as social tags in your profile.)
You might be asking: Which method should I choose? As always, the answer depends on your organization and information management needs. If you want the functionality system wide then I would use my suggestion earlier, and add it to base content types. However, if the need is only in specific lists and/or libraries then use the setting option. Regardless of which option you choose is it important to remember that the social integration only happens with the list or library setting.
Managing the Keywords in the Term Store
Like any investment, it’s not enough to do some work up front and then neglect it, and SharePoint is no exception. SharePoint provides us the ability to run administrative tasks in the term store such as delete, merge, reuse and more. Below you can see how the enterprise keywords tags are in the unmanaged portion of the term store. (Orphaned terms are terms that were used and the term that served as its parent has been deleted, and hashtags come from microblog entries in My Sites.)
Once the tag has made its way into the keywords section of the term store it can be moved into a term set. This is valuable, because allowing users to qualitatively describe content through tagging helps to identify where your corporate taxonomy needs to grow. Once you move it into a term set as shown below you can run all the managed metadata actions and provide synonyms and other functionality. It’s a great way to define a taxonomy both from the top-down and bottom-up.
After it has been moved you will see a different icon next to the term although it still exists in the Keywords term set. Also important to note that you cannot do any of the cool additions to 2013 terms such as custom properties until it is moved out of the Keywords term set into a formal, managed one.
The enterprise keywords column is a fantastic addition to the offering provided in SharePoint 2010 and 2013. It’s an important consideration when planning your 2010 implementation, and I would highly suggest you use the enterprise keywords functionality to improve the robustness of your corporate taxonomy. Your investment in SharePoint will be maximized, and you’ll empower users to contribute to its growth and success.
Nice post, Chris. I think more could benefit from your nicely laid out explanation of benefits and approach to enterprise keywords.
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Hi Chris, This has cleared a lot up for me thanks! When we turned this function on on our site there was a large list of random terms already in it, that we don’t want people to be able to use. In fact I was wondering if there is any way to delete all items in the Keywords list and start with a clean slate please? I’m relatively new to this so any tip would be greatly appreciated :) Thanks
The only way to do it that I know of is to delete and recreate the managed metadata service application, but that is presuming that you have an on-premises deployment.