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SharePoint: Migrating from folders to MetaData

Updated on February 4, 2013
Microsoft SharePoint is a fantastic content management system.
Microsoft SharePoint is a fantastic content management system. | Source

When most people begin using SharePoint Libraries, they often emulate the file share mentality, and make the same folders they had previously within their new SharePoint library, because that is all they know. Although there are good reasons to use folders, like in the case of security, folders can be cumbersome to deal with, or lead to categorization that is too limiting.

Instead, it is possible to use metadata, which is just additional columns in the library, to use for tagging the content, such that it can be easily manipulated for sorting, grouping, and searching. Since folders can not be used for these types of operations, many users find the need to migrate their data from the folder structure to a metadata-based taxonomy.

Birth of a SharePoint Library Taxonomy

The first thing to do when this topic surfaces around your office is to start asking people what classifications they need to make their life easier. Things like Category, SubCategory, Department, or maybe something like Effective Date or Active.

The hard part is that nobody can really agree in a timely fashion, and further, nobody wants to stop what their doing to start categorizing their existing content. Instead, just get the fields in place, and let people perform the tagging over time.

So, know that you have the wheels spinning in the organization about where you want to go, now it is time to address the most basic part of the migration. To do this, I like to capture the folder the item WAS in, such that as people do start tagging, they'll have some kind of reference as to where it started. To do this, perform the following:

Add a "Folder" MetaData column

Step #
Create a new column called "Folder"
This will allow you to capture the folder that it was a member.
Tag the existing content with the current folder name
This retains the information
Move the content from the current folder to the root
This gets it out of the folder
Delete the empty folder
Out of your life for good
Basic Steps to migrating SharePoint Content from a folder to MetaData

In-Depth creation of Folder MetaData Column

For the first step, it is a straight-forward as creating a new column with a single-line of text, or choice. in this case, the choice field is overkill if it is just you, but if there are some users of questionable ability, then the choice may save you some time and effort later.

For step 2, I like to switch to a DataSheet view for the current column. (This is after the Folder field is added to the list and the current view.) When in datasheet view, you can quickly copy and paste the folder value to all the content in the folder. Doing this one folder at a time takes a lot of thought out of it, as you're ONLY assigning the current folder's content with that folder name.

Step 3 is very simple when you have the ability to use the Explorer view. Switch the explorer view, and then move the content from the current subfolder up to the root folder. The only downside is that your name will be displayed in the Modified By, but there's programmatic ways to fix it, if it is really a problem.

Finally, Step 4 is the deletion of the empty folder such that people will not continue to add content to that folder.

The beauty of using these simple teps is that you can have multiple people all attacking different folders, and nobody interferes with another person's progress. Further, you can see how much work has been done, and how much remains to be completed, in case you need task tracking and management.

Using the new MetaData

Once the folder column is in place, create a new view which groups, sorts, or filters by the new column. By doing so, you can easily display the data to the users in a slightly familiar format. And, with minimal disruption, they can continue to work without needing any major retraining.

Additionally, once the views are made, you can create specific pages that use a List View Web Part that are based on one of the new filters.


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