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Sharepoint Document Library - RANT - Part 2

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by , 18th February 2011 at 01:37 PM (4974 Views)
Because when you want to have a real rant - one post isnt enough (or you go on too much!), here is part 2 of my (Bil's) rant about Sharepoint Document Libraries...

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

If you do live in the world where you are interested in versioning is important then go over the draft/publish model with your users. Draft versions have two attributes. First they’re minor versions (0.1, 12.3, 8,348,23.58,328). They’re incremented each time you check a draft version in (and have major/minor versioning turned on). Second, they’re only visible to people that have edit capability on the document library.

For example you have some requirement document that’s going to evolve and perhaps go through a few public versions (say one version for each phase; architecture, design, construction, etc.). The team agrees to use versioning and you twist their arm into a using draft/publish model. It’s really simple. Every time they have a minor edit, they check it in (leaving it in draft). The team juggles around reading it, making comments, pontificating, whatever until they’re in agreement of the contents. Then the custodian of the document checks the last version in and chooses to publish it. It becomes the next major version up and visible to readers of the site.

This works well because all of your minor edits are behind the scenes (and the number of them can be limited if you choose) and people get to see the polished product. Then it’s back to draft modes and “dot” versions, the cycle repeats itself, until the next major change.


How many times have you seen a document named this in a document library? True, you might not have versioning turned on but c’mon people. Really? The best part is that you look in the doclib and see Document1-draft.doc, Document1-final.doc, Document1-final.docx, etc.

Sit down with your users and explain the virtues of versioning. Maybe it’s not for them and maybe they don’t need full blown major/minor, draft, publish versioning. That’s fine. However if they’re going to be working on documents that evolve and need to be reviewed it’s probably time to show them a draft/publish model.

Bottom line, if you see the –draft, –final behavior then nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem. You don’t have to call your user out in the daily stand up and berate them in front of the team, but be supportive and helpful. Not everyone is a SharePoint Guru like you (and for good reason).

A few things about folders that make them different from nuclear reactors:

•Document libraries have a path limitation (actually I think the limitation is on IE or maybe even HTTP) so nesting lots of folders inside of folders chews this up real quick. Trust me when you exceed the path. The error message you sometimes get is a blank screen.
•You generally have to know where something lives in order to find it. This can lead to dozens of clicks on folders depending on how great your folders are named.
•Folders are neither discoverable (other than the top level ones) nor searchable. Metadata is.
Folders don’t help organize information. Yes, I create a folder named “Expense Reports” but that doesn’t mean my smart users are going to put expense reports in them. Or a folder named “Architecture”. I guess I’m going to expect Visio drawings or stickmen or something in here but what happens when I start seeing server inventories in spreadsheets. Is it architecture or detailed design (or a document misfiled from some other project). Metadata and Content Types help you organize information.

Folders attach a fixed path to a document. If you drop something in a folder that’s how you retrieve it. If you decide one day to simply move it up or down the folder hierarchy, guess what? All those links are now broken. Using metadata to organize information means “I don’t care where this is but I know what it’s about”. Get into the habit sooner rather than later.

Where Am I?

Just a bit of a follow-up to using folders. One of the worst things you can do is drop a document library onto the home page of a site. Your site is for information. Try putting announcements, tasks, or pictures of kittens on your team/project home page. Not documents.

If you put a document library on the home page and have folders-from-hell enabled have you noticed the evil that is unleashed? No. Take a look again. Click on a folder. Now another one. Now another. Keep going until you’ve descended into the 9th level of Hell. Now take a good look at that url in your address bar. Go ahead. Click it. Now send it to someone with a note “I left your termination notice here” and paste in the link. When your unsuspecting suspect clicks on said link, nine times out of ten, he or she will be taken to… THE HOME PAGE of your site. Cool beans. Note that I said “maybe” so it’s not a guarantee but it’s also not very pretty. Like any Jessica Simpson movie pretty. And your users will grumble and gripe and blame SharePoint, not Jessica Simpson.

The other pro (or con depending on how full or empty your glass is) you get from dropping that beloved document library on your home page is the all important bread crumb trail. Pro or con, the breadcrumb trail that you see above a document library when you’re navigating through it is gone. It only exists when you send your users to the doclib itself so forget any navigation up the levels of Hell (or even knowing where you are if you care).

Metadata, metadata, metadata

I can’t find my documents without putting them in a folder called “My Documents”. Now after you noodle on that statement for a minute think about it. You unleash the fury of SharePoint on your team spouting commandments like “THOU SHALT PUT DOCUMENTS INTO THY DOCUMENT LIBRARY” and your team has no clue how to organize documents in a document library (let alone their own desktop) and you yell at them for not “categorizing” or “classifying” them properly.

Give yer head a shake.

You can’t bash people for playing the game incorrectly if you don’t give them the rules to the game.

Metadata is king in the SharePoint world. If you need to organize your documents dump them into a doclib and stick a column on said doclib called “Category” (or “LOLCATegory” if that turns your crank). Make it a choice field and let users add their own or make it a lookup into a list (or better yet use the metadata feature in 2010 but if you’re on 2007 we live in simpler times). Then create a view grouped by category. Create some searches on the category column. Create some views for categories the team feels important like “Important Architecture Documents” or “Things I would like to do to Bil if I could”. Pretty soon the team will be happy because they don’t have to spend 3 hours looking for a document that’s in front of their face.

Breaking Boundaries

One final question about document libraries is how much is enough? How many document libraries do I need to store my documents. The answer my friend is “it depends” (oh you knew I was going to say that). Only you or your team or the collective wisdom of whomever is using the library knows what the right division is.

There are a few factors you can use to decide where to draw the line. Size might matter (although less so in SharePoint 2010). You might want to break up document libraries based on security. While you can apply security to (gasp) folders or items in SharePoint, it might make more sense to just seclude off a library for privacy. Remember when you created the first team site and got a “Shared Documents” library for free? There’s nothing but fear and common sense preventing you from creating a “Team Documents” and only allow members of the team to have read access (“Unshared Documents” just sounds a little badly in the grammar department).

I can tell you I don’t know what the right division of document libraries is but I can tell you what the wrong one is. One document library per document. Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s evil.

Okay, to wrap up let’s just remember two key things:

•Document libraries are not file shares
•Dumping files into folders is not organization




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