Some people assume that if a concept is old, it's no longer relevant. Since we looked at the continued relevancy of the quaint old fashioned concept of information publishing on intranets in last month's post, I thought we'd take on a few more of those dusty relics of days gone by today: metadata and intranet search. The concepts are interrelated in that the success of communicating content on a one to many basis -- or an n to m basis, as you may have a small body of publishers or content creators putting out information to the company -- relies on findability.
In order to consume information, your employees have to find it. You can help them do this in many ways: from the structure of your portals and intranet sites, through the creation of indexes and site maps, to the thorough application of metadata to the content items. To improve it's "ambient findability" content should be well structured itself, and provided with plenty of appropriate metadata. (Check out the book "Ambient Findability" by Peter Mooreville).
Unfortunately this seems to have become an old fashioned concept in some quarters. The idea we're hearing from the social collaboration world is that structured metadata schemas and the building of taxonomies are "old school." I would argue that this is simply not so, and the free-for-all that is an enterprise folksonomy is not going to be successful in every scenario (or many of them).
The Need for Good Metadata
Once an intranet or intranet site or sites reaches a certain size it will become increasing difficult for people to find the pertinent content they require at any given time to complete any given task. At this point we should see a good collaboration between UX design specialists and information management professionals.
It is a popular belief (based on research?) that people fall into two overarching categories: those who like to browse a navigation structure to find information and those who just like to use search tools / interfaces. Some even suggest this is generational, in that those of us who grew up with early versions of Windows and Mac OS (or even Unix) are used to browsing folder structures, while the post-Google generation are much more used to a simple search box. I am not sure that it's so clear cut along those generational lines, but I do think it's a case of the right tool, or the right interface, for the right job.
For the information publishers, being able to browse a structure might help them put the information not just in the right "place" but in the right context, particularly if the CMS can automatically append metadata based on which container the content item has been placed. As to whether or not a "simple search box" cuts the mustard on an intranet, let's return to that later.