The more implementations I do and information architectures I create I become increasingly convinced that it is an art form with a little bit of science . Sometimes many decisions an information architect has to make are driven by pragmatism and customer need and not always a well-defined best practice. It’s hard to label best practices in enterprise information architecture, because many of the decisions vary so much between implementations.
That doesn’t mean, however, that many IA decisions don’t have a logical backing to them.
The SharePoint content type is arguably one of the greatest tools any enterprise information architect can use to categorize content. Microsoft has done a phenomenal job of thinking through this tool, and it provides a wealth of opportunity to maximize a customer’s investment in SharePoint.
I get asked all the time about what they are, how to use them, and when do I need a new one. This post seeks to answer the latter. Remember, that there is no such thing as user-entered content that does not have a content type associated with it. They truly are the backbone of SharePoint.
Let’s look at the reasons why you would want to create a new content type.
New Content Type Justification
- Custom Metadata – If there’s a type of content that you have specific metadata needs then it makes sense to group them into their own content type. If you have two types of content that are similar, but each needs specific metadata the other doesn’t need then they can be split.
- Establishing Content Type Hierarchy – The best thing about content types is that they are hierarchical. This means you can abstract similar metadata between content types and give them a parent if it makes sense. Many people don’t use this feature enough.
- Information Management Policy – If you have a type of content that has specific requirements around information management then it makes sense to create a custom content type. At the content type level SharePoint provides auditing, retention, expiration and barcode capabilities.
- Workflow – If you want to attach a workflow at the content type level for a specific type of content then a new content type is required. Workflows at the content type level have been deprecated in the 2013 version however.
- Metadata Navigation – Metadata navigation is an interesting addition to SharePoint 2010, and it replaces the ability (through the UI) to group by content types in a view. If you would like the UX to change to allow options in filtering then adding a new content will provide that option.
- Document Set Content Types – Document Sets are another great addition to 2010, and there are many settings around document sets that may necessitate a new document set content type.
- Roll-Ups – One of the most powerful and common usages of content categorization in SharePoint is the ability to roll-up content. If your client would like to differentiate in a roll-up between policies and procedures then it makes sense to split them instead of creating a “Policy and Procedure” content type (I would split them anyway since they differ in purpose and audience most of the time).
- Search Verticals/Scopes – SharePoint search allows you the ability to use facets/filters based on content types as well as create search scopes that are scoped to a specific content. It helps tremendously to improve search result relevance.
- Sheer Number of Documents – as we continue to move from more concrete reasons to more pragmatic decisions the number of physical documents a type of content has can have a bearing on whether to have multiple content types. If, for instance, you have only a few rogue documents that don’t fit into your nice content type taxonomy then it might (or might not) make sense to create a custom content type for them. It’s a balance between keeping the experience as straight forward as possible while maintaining robust categorization options.
- Document Template – Perhaps you want a custom template attached to the content type, and that can be done at a content type (and list) level.
- Custom Document Information Panel – Have yet to actually do this, but you can do it on a content type.