Automatic Tagging Based from a Folder: How to Get Your Users to Eat their Vegetables (Without them knowing it)


The Debate

The health benefits of including vegetables as part of a healthy diet are well documented. Eating vegetables may help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, etc. However, there are some people who refuse to eat their vegetables, regardless of the benefits.

Tagging your content in SharePoint is like eating your vegetables – it’s good for you! However, just like with vegetables, there are many end users who do not like (or want) to have to tag their content. They prefer to use good old-fashioned folders. contains many articles on the topic of folders vs. tags (see: SharePoint Folders vs. Metadata, Folders in doc libraries are metadata cries for help, SharePoint: Convert Folder Structures to Metadata, and Folders and Metadata Rehashed).

The Teams


The Solution

Fortunately, SharePoint 2010 has an out-of-the-box feature that can satisfy both sides of the debate. The Column default value settings in a SharePoint library allow files to be tagged automatically based on what folder they live in. This solution allows contributors to store their content in folders without having to worry about tagging every file individually, while consumers can enjoy all the benefits that tagged content offers.


The Example

For example, let’s say I have a Technical Training documentation directory on a file share that I that I want to migrate over to SharePoint 2010. The file share directory contains three levels of folders on various Adobe and Microsoft products.


Step 1: Clean Up the Existing File Share Directory

Take the time to eliminate all unnecessary directories and files. You only want to move the most relevant files.

Step 2: Create Columns and Tags Based on Folder Structure

Use the existing folder structure on the networked file share as the basis for creating columns and tags in the SharePoint library.


For example, given the folder structure listed above, we can create a custom choice column in our document library called Vendor and supply it the values of Adobe and Microsoft. Then we can create another choice column called Product Suite and supply it values of Acrobat, CS5, Office 2007, Office 2010, etc. Finally, we can create a final choice column called Application and supply it values of Acrobat Professional, Acrobat Reader, Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, Access, Outlook, etc. Each choice column represents the topic of a folder. The values of the choices represent the titles of the folders.


Step 3: Re-Create the folder structure in the SharePoint Library

Take the time to re-create the folder structure in the SharePoint library. This will give you the opportunity to re-organize the folders and correct inconsistencies that existed in the file-share directory structure.


Step 4: Create the default value settings in the SharePoint library.

  1. Open the document library and go to the Library Settings page.
  2. Click the Column default value settings link in the General Settings column.
  3. Click the name of a folder in the Location to configure column, located on the left side of the screen. (e.g., Microsoft)
  4. 2011-08-19-FoldersVsTags-07.png

  5. Click the column name that corresponds to the selected location. (e.g., Vendor)
  6. 2011-08-19-FoldersVsTags-08.png

  7. Click the Use this default value option and enter the tag value in the default value field.
  8. 2011-08-19-FoldersVsTags-09.png

  9. Click OK.
  10. Repeat for all the columns and sub-columns on the library. The default values of the 2nd layer of folders will set in the Product Suite column. The default values for the 3rd layer of folders will be set in the Application column.
  11. Folders with a default value will display a green icon over the folder and the default value will be displayed.
  12. 2011-08-19-FoldersVsTags-10.png

Step 5: Copy or move the files from the file share directories into the SharePoint Library directories.

Use whatever method you prefer to copy or move the files from the file share directories into the SharePoint library folders. The files will be tagged automatically depending on what folder they are placed in. Files that are placed in 2nd or 3rd level folders will inherit the default values of their parent folders as well. (e.g. When a file is placed in the Microsoft 2011-08-19-FoldersVsTags-11.png Office 2010 2011-08-19-FoldersVsTags-11.png Excel folder it would automatically be tagged Vendor = Microsoft, Product Suite = Office 2010, and Product = Excel.


Enabling automatic tagging in a folder provides the best of both worlds to your users. Content contributors can quickly and easily store files in locations that are meaningful to them without having to worry about tagging their content. Content consumers can utilize the automatically generated tags to quickly and easily find the files without having to know what specific directory there are stored.

Note: There are 3rd party products which do the same thing. My goal here was to demonstrate an out-of-the box solution.