The public beta of SharePoint 2010 is out there for all of us to try who don’t have privileged access, and so now starts the time of deciphering the impact the next version of this very important software package will have on us. One of the things that excites me the most is improvements in the ability to architect information across your entire SharePoint farm with a metadata management service application (formerly SSP), and improvements in navigation by metadata. One thing I was not expecting to improve but has is the use of folders in SharePoint.
SharePoint 2007 brought us great improvements to how we think about storing and viewing information. With powerful options such as extensive metadata options, content types, and countless numbers of lists and libraries there were many options available to us. The folder paradigm to storing information was still present in SharePoint mostly to ease the transition from a file share to a web-based application, and it led to a debate amongst information architects on whether folders were a best practice for storing information in SharePoint.
There were people on different sides such as Paul Culmsee who see the issue differently than myself, but the good news is that SharePoint 2010 adds functionality to alleviate some of my concerns in using folders.
Setting Metadata with Folders
One of the things I was concerned about was that folders would remove the desire to create custom content types and metadata and instead use the folder paradigm that they were used to from the file share. In SharePoint 2010 we can specify metadata for a folder (which has always been a content type), and it will be propagated to the documents contained within the folders.
Views Without Folders
In SharePoint 2007 was an explicit option to not include folders within a view. This seems to me to be the best balance between those who prefer a folder view to those, like myself, who prefer views that are grouped. I always disliked folders (inside or outside of SharePoint), because I felt it an impediment to optimal findability (have you ever tried to navigate someone else’s document folder?). This strikes the balance between those who like folder views and those like myself who prefer grouped views.
Now navigation can be modified out-of-the-box in SharePoint to allow navigation by metadata and content types. Now I don’t have to mess with the terrible tree view, but now instead I can focus on utilizing metadata to optimize the navigation experience. This adds quite a bit of versatility in constructing the user experience for your end users.
The SharePoint team has improved the use of folders in SharePoint 2010, and they’ve also improved the experience to not use folders if you so choose such as large list throttling so folders don’t become a necessity. I hope you get a chance to play with the next version of this exciting platform.