Metadata is all around us. We have all been using metadata since we were kids, not even thinking about it. The color of your bike, the number of horses under the hood of your first car and the feeling of the grass between your toes in the summer. It’s all basically metadata, describing properties of things and people around us, like color, taste, smell, feelings or appearance.
Despite the fact that metadata is such an important and natural thing for us it sometime become puzzling when it comes to information and intranets. A lot of organizations struggle with their intranets and their metadata within.
There are of course several reasons and different organizations all have their own challenges. Challenges like the lack of implementation and training, technical problems, absences of an information model or maybe plain old habit (file share, folder, heritage).
Unfortunately there’s no magic blue pill to this that will solve all the problems and headaches in one go. However, there’s a few tricks that I have picked up over the years that may help you on your way.
One of these are the power of required. Everyone knows a required metadata field. What everyone doesn’t know is its hidden power.
First and fourth most, a metadata field with information is useful, an empty field has no value. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions, information model or technical features are if the metadata field is left empty. Without information the metadata field become useless. Here’s your first and most obvious reason to make the fields required.
Secondly, adding required metadata fields will not only force your users to submit metadata but will at the same time also require your user’s time and concentration. The concern for your users will in turn force you into considering the purpose of the metadata. It will make you (and your organization) question the purpose and intentions with the metadata.
For each piece or field of metadata you should ask yourself:
What’s the purpose of this metadata, why do my users have to submit this piece of information? If the answer isn’t entirely clear, remove the field. If it doesn’t feel comfortable making it required, if it will be difficult to gain user acceptance, go back and question the objective again. If the purpose is clear and you will be able to communicate it in a way that you gain user acceptance then make it required.
This way you will only end up with the metadata fields that you absolutely need and have a clear purpose with. You will also be able to better communicate why and make your users understand why this piece of information is vital for your organization and users.
Some organizations try to come out easy by adding a huge amount of metadata fields, like implementing the whole Dublin core standard. Without really understanding why and questioning each field they make the fields optional in an attempt to gain user acceptance. Without user acceptance and a clear intention your users will undouble leave the metadata fields empty, making them useless.
Remember to include the metadata model in your continuous intranet governance process in order to keep it up to date with the current business needs. Continue to challenge, question and communicate the purpose and intentions of your metadata throughout the life cycle of the information.