SharePoint OOB Features That I Never Use: Attachments, Multi-Valued Fields, and Meeting Workspaces

SharePoint is full of great features, but some have unwanted side effects.
SharePoint is full of great features, but some have unwanted side effects. | Source

SharePoint OOB Features

SharePoint has hundreds of easy-to-implement, Out-of-the-Box (OOB) features that benefit the masses, greatly, on a daily basis. But opting to implement some features can be met with insurmountable problems that can lead to trichotillomania later on when you need to perform some other type of function... like sorting, grouping, or migrating.

Here's an example of a great feature that easily lives up to it's task: The Preview Pane Style for a SharePoint View is simple and easy to implement, works as designed, and is easily customized to fit your needs.

Now, as promised, some features that can result in a heap of problems.

Attachments: The Nightmare Begins

Attachments, to me, are anachronisms leftover from the days when email ruled the universe. There are still many an office Australopithecus that attaches multiple documents into an email, and then sends it to as many distribution lists as they can find. This results in no less than a couple terabytes of digital waste logged into the tape backup landfill. And, no matter how many times your remind this wart of a human to simply send out a link to the pertinent documents, it falls on deaf ears as they have no idea how to copy and paste, let alone the difference between a file share and a SharePoint Document Library.

Well, the nightmare continues within any SharePoint list where the unsuspecting designer, albeit a highly trained rocket surgeon, or the first day admin assistant, doesn't know to turn off this option, which is set to on by default. And then the pain begins. Whether it's a task list, a calendar, or some custom list, the multiple Gigs of stale documents are stuffed into these list like a lifetime hoarder fills their home full of newspaper clippings and plastic-ware without lids.

Now, as you scream at the screen about how I'm a moron, and that Point-In-Time (PIT) documents are crucial to your business process, I scoff and simply retort... It's SharePoint, you bought it for a reason. Use it to it's fullest sharing potential, with transparency and easy availability to all, which again in my opinion, are not.

When you attach a document, it IMMEDIATELY becomes stale, and, If anyone happens to extract that document and do anything with it, you have not history, approvals, or other workflows associated to it, like documents in a Document Library would. When you've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars procuring, setting up, and operating SharePoint, why would you want stale documents?!

Next, Searching. Attachments will show up in a search result, but do not show up as a regular document object would. They'll show as an association to the item of which they're attached, but this is far less useful, and does not follow the typical end-user experience, which means that some user is going to call you to complain.

Finally migration. Let's assume that your list has Versioning enabled, and you create an item and add an attachment. EVERY instance of that list item will get an instance of the attachment. Even if there's only a view instances of the item, there may be hundreds, or thousands of items, each with just a couple of instances of their attached documents. Suddenly, your SQL Server content database is filled to capacity with useless dead weight. And, at some point someone tells you that you have to migrate a list from one Site Collection to another, but no matter what you try, you find that the list is too large to backup and restore, and now you have to figure out how to disassemble this monstrosity into a sizable chunk that SharePoint can handle, or write a PowerShell Script to parse all of the attachments into a Document Library then link all the documents back to list... which is one relative solution.

So, by now you've figured out that the alternative to an Attachment is to simply use a Document Library and link any pertinent documents back to that list item.

Multi-Valued Fields have Single Valued Use

Multi-Value Fields are widely available throughout SharePoint. They can be found with People, Choice, and Lookup fields, and offer the user the ability to add more than one value to single item. For example, suppose there is a Category field, and you're able to add Quinoa to "Vegan", "Gluten Free", and "Whole Grain". Another common mistake is to assign multiple people to a single task. The inherent problem with an MVF is that it is simply stored as a text value, and not independent values of the data.

On of the first pitfalls comes when trying to group by the MVFs. Using the multiple people assigned to a task concept, when you perform the grouping, any MVF instance will be treated a single group. So, "Bob, Sally, Tom" is treated as such, so when trying to group, you will get:

Bob
Bob, Sally, Tom
Bob, Tom
Sally
Sally, Tom
Tom

and any other permutation and combination of these three. (3 choose 3 which is, I think, 27 different possibilities, but I was never good at the maths.)

[Edit: 07/22/16] Recently I've been investigating the REST api and the use of the OData URI, and discovered that MVFs are unqueryable, thus adding to their further worthlessness.

Meeting Workspaces should be very Temporary

A Meeting Workspace is a specific subsite that can be used to organize content for a meeting, conference, or other collaborative experience. And, to make matters exponentially worse, it can have a recurring instance, like once a week, month, quarter, etc. Because it is a subsite, it can have its own wealth of Document Libraries, Lists with MVFs and attachments, calendars, and task lists.

So, what happens is a weekly meeting exists for a couple of years and then someone decides it's time to migrate the information to be woven into the existing lists and libraries of the Project or Team site. Then the migration effort begins. Hundreds of meeting agendas, thousand of task and calendar items, and then any random pics, attachments, and other endless nonsense has to be addressed.

There may be a need for a meeting workspace, but do yourself a favor and figure out what the exit strategy is for it before you ever click the create button. For example, where do the artifacts need to finish their life, when the Meeting Workspace is disposed?

Paul Harvey...

Hopefully, by reading this, you now understand the trouble you can cause by using these features. Heed the wise broadcaster, and acknowledge that you know what exists on the dark side of these features, and promise yourself that you will not create another one until you have thoroughly thought through the pro's and con's.

"And now you know, the rest of the story. Good Day."


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