SharePoint Content Types and Templates

One of the most powerful features of SharePoint 2007 (MOSS), in my opinion, seems to be one that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the blogosphere: Content Types.  From a Knowledge Management or Content Management perspective, Content Types are a huge benefit.

Not only do Content Types allow you to define metadata (columns) that uniquely make up the Content Type, but you can also attach a template to each Content Type.  This allows you to provide the user the appropriate skeletal form or document whenever they click on New/[Content Type Name] in a library.  (If they already have the template instantiated, then they would use the Upload button instead.)

This means that you will want folks to change their work behavior slightly.  Whenever they create a new document, you will want them to go to the library and start with the blank template, because it may have changed since the last time they used it.  (I think that most people dig around on their hard drive and find the last one that they created and start there, which is a sloppy habit and leads to divergence from any standards that you are trying to put in place.)

The other thing that you will want to do for this approach to be successful is to make sure that you have Best Practice examples that have been instantiated from the templates easily available for the user.  These examples can (and should) change over time, as new instances are seen as improvements on the old Best Practices.  For something like a Network Access Request Form, the Best Practice isn’t going to change often, but for richer Content Types like Proposals they will.

A big part of the power behind Content Types is the capability for them in have parents from which they inherit metadata.  For instance, for an Intranet build out, you might create a base document Content Type called Intranet Base Document, and have all of the other document-based Content Types inherit from it.  That way you can manage columns that apply to all document Content Types in the parent.  Careful design and architecture of your Content Types up front will ensure that the foundation you lay will be of the greatest use going forward.  (You can’t change Content Type parentage after you’ve built them.)

If you haven’t looked at what Content Types in MOSS can do for you, it’s time to do so!

Have a thought or opinion?