The word of the day is ‘Find” as in the word is not ‘search’ – people don’t (really) want to search, they want to find. That was the message offered up by Steve Weissman in our recent training sessions, and that was the message offered up by Bob Larrivee when I attended his AIIM ECM Master class several years ago. In fact, Bob was the first person I ever heard use the word “findability” in a sentence. Bob and Steve are correct, people want to find stuff. I might like to replace “Search” in SharePoint with “Find” just for that reason. I’m sure there are people who would tell me how to do that, “it’s just CSS” or “it’s just a bit of script” or “it’s just tweaking the master page” but I won’t really do it.
I won’t do it because we are conditioned to search. I’m not sure if that is Google’s fault, or Yahoo’s fault, perhaps it’s AOL’s fault, but ‘search’ rules and ‘find’ lags pretty far behind, even when we search. Despite that fact, finding is the goal. The problem with search is, well there are too many problems with search to talk about in one blog post, so let’s talk about find instead. How do we find what we are looking for in SharePoint?
We know where stuff is – The easiest way to find anything is to look where that thing is supposed to be. Well, unless you’re looking for something of mine. If I know that a particular type of report is in a document library in the Engineering site on SharePoint, it’s going to be pretty easy to find. That’s why it’s so important to design SharePoint in such a way that it supports your organization’s content. Of course, designing SharePoint isn’t just creating the site structure, we have to consider:
- Who should be able to find this stuff? – Permissions
- What do they need to see? – Views
- When do they need to see it? – Alerts
- How do we make views and alerts, not to mention search work better? – Metadata
Those attributes all help to make it easy to find what we are looking for.
We know what stuff is – We have lots of content in our company, but we have a relatively small number of types of content. Some of those types are generic: presentations, correspondence, contact lists, etc. and some of those things are unique to our business (or at least to insurance) like inspection reports. SharePoint supports both types of content, but it takes more effort to support the unique content. However, the results often make the effort worthwhile. In reality, a loss-control inspection report is just a Word document but if I am looking for one, my results are much better if restrict my view (or my search) to a specific Content Type than if I include all Word, or worse all Office documents.
We know what people do with stuff – This is where we have the opportunity to make content management shine. When you go to the grocery store, you will likely find rolls, jars of pickles, bags of chips and slices of cheese near where you can buy stuff that can be grilled. That’s because the people who lay out the store know that if you’re buying hamburger patties, you need, or can be tempted into thinking you need those other items. We’re not selling content on SharePoint, but we can make someone’s experience better if we bring together the content that they might want to see with the content they have selected. For example, we are working on a site where people can look at the recommendations that have resulted from those loss-control inspections. If I am looking at a recommendation, I am very likely to ask:
How many recommendations have we made at this place?
Was this recommendation accepted, rejected, explained away or ignored?
How many times have we made recommendations similar to this one at other plants?
Of course, with the right metadata and enough clicking, people could probably configure a list to answer some of those questions while they are looking at it. With a little more time, they could build a View to preserve those settings, but very often, that isn’t enough. In my example, we let them click on certain attributes in one list and then we present them with a page of web parts showing a composite picture from several lists – lists that are linked by metadata – so they can find the rolls and the pickles easily.
Search is a native element of SharePoint. With metadata and text indexing, we can make search return more and perhaps better results. By thinking about where we put our content, what our content is and how people will want to use it, we can use other features within SharePoint to help people find what they are looking for.