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February 07
Managed Metadata Navigation: To Use, or Not to Use?

Ever try to manage a complex navigation scheme in SharePoint 2007/2010? Not exactly easy and certainly not flexible. That is until SharePoint 2013 brought us the new managed metadata navigation. An information architects dream, right?

Not necessarily.

Since early 2013 I've been focusing nearly exclusively on SharePoint 2013 Intranet and Public Website implementations -- and I've only worked on two projects where the managed metadata navigation has proven the best navigation option. So how do you decide? As I see it there are two very obvious use cases (and probably a bunch of other not-so-obvious ones) that would make managed metadata navigation a productive choice -- your content lends itself to an online store-like experience or you're creating a completely custom navigation that in no way relates to the site structure.

Your "Online Store"

So you want to be Amazon? Well, who doesn't? But let's be honest the vast majority of intranets and public facing websites don't contain "productized" content. Where does this make sense outside of the e-commerce world? It makes sense when, all (or nearly all) of your content is the same.

Think news sites or magazine websites. When we strip their content down to its most basic level it's nearly all articles (or multimedia). We're not dealing with a mix of documents, announcements, events or custom list items here. We're talking content that fits, nicely, in clearly defined topic-based buckets. Sure, we can certainly see a relationships between these articles, but by-and-large they fit squarely into one area. A sports article, for example, is about sports. It might be about a specific sport -- that's where taxonomy comes in -- but it's still about sports.

Most organizations don't have enough homogeneity in their content to make this navigation option feasible. If you're looking at more than six or seven major defining categories it's not productive. Not to mention the pressure it puts on content owners to ensure that every speck of content is tagged appropriately, otherwise it won't appear correctly as users navigation through the site.

My Custom Navigation

I recently finished a project where the site structure was, and I'm being generous here, complicated. We had a situation where the underlying content structure of the site, while necessary for security reasons, was not practical from a navigation standpoint.

While the site had literally hundreds of sites and sub sites -- only a small sample -- 30 or so, needed to be represented in the navigation. The other sites could be accessed through various other paths.

Ordinarily we stay away from custom development. But, in this case, a custom navigation driven by select term sets made sense. The drawback, of course, is that a manual navigation requires human intervention every step of the way. In this case, that worked for our team, but it's certainly something to consider before going down this route.

To really make this navigation innovation work for your organization you have to ask:

·         Does our content fit, very clearly, into a taxonomy?

·         Do we have enough content governance in place to effectively manage this approach?

·         Are our content owners and term store managers well-training in taxonomy and metadata?

Managed metadata navigation takes the control of the navigation away from the site structure and puts it in the hands of the content owners -- either by tagging or by manual linkages.

Want to read (or watch!) up on it and decide for yourself? Here are a few resources I've found useful and insightful:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ICmKCSGS7M

https://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/15876.sharepoint-2013-navigation-using-managed-metadata.aspx

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/justinvoels/archive/2012/12/05/sharepoint-managed-navigation-part-1.aspx 

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