My day job is what’s called a Knowledge Management Specialist. This means I have to know a lot about the different information sharing platforms such as SharePoint, Confluence, Igloo, WordPress, Google Docs, etc.

Another part of my job is to make sure things are easy to understand. Well, a teammate wrote an article about SharePoint Content Types, and I thought it could be a bit clearer.

So I re-wrote it. Cuz that’s how I roll. Yeah, I’m old and use old phrases to sound cool, and I’m ok with that.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

In the simplest terms, a SharePoint Content Type is all the content about the same type of stuff.

Let’s use Jay Leno’s garage as an example. See, Jay loves cars. He has many garages. Each garage has many cars. Jay has written articles about his cars. Taken pictures of them. Even has video clips, some of which have been on his or other tv shows. Then there’s the more mundane files … scans of the purchase invoice, repair bills, and so on.

Now let’s Jay wants to use SharePoint to store all of these files about his cars. He wants everything to be easy to find, so he puts everything in a single library, which is basically a giant folder with lots of extra features. One of those features is that your search automatically only looks in that library. Sure, you can change that later if you want to, which is another article we’ll write about later.

Another feature is folders. So Jay creates a folder for each car, and puts all the files about that car in that folder. Except that some of the files might have info about more than one car. What does he do with a picture that shows three cars and a bit of a fourth? Or a transport bill for a truck with six cars on it?

So he tries a different folder scheme. This time he has the files divided by what they are … invoices, pictures, videos, and so on. But then how does he quickly see everything about a specific car?

Sure, he can search, but that gets tedious because he has to type in wherever he’s looking for every time.

This is exactly the dilemma Content Types are designed to solve.

Now Jay doesn’t have any folders. What he has instead is a form about each file. The form includes the car(s) the file contains, the date, the event, etc.

Each field in the form is a column in the library. Now to find all the info about a specific car, he picks that car from the drop down of available values, just like columns in an spreadsheet.

And he can easily do this by any combination of values. He can quickly find all the information about the cars he purchased at Mecum auctions. Or at a specific auction. Or all the information about all his Bugattis. Or all the information about the cars stored in a specific garage.

Another cool thing about these columns is that they can narrow the results. Let’s say first he selects the purchase venue Mecum auction. Then he selects Bugatti as the make. Next he selects a specific garage. Now his file list shows all the information about all the Bugattis purchased through Mecum that are stored in that specific garage. He can even select a specific file format such videos to watch, or pictures to quickly take a peek.

Right about now you’re probably thinking two things. First, this is wicked cool. And second, it’d be a royal pain in the butt to enter all that metadata, I mean form field values, every time he adds a new file to the library.

This is where another handy library feature comes in — lookups. When he adds a new file, he can find the car and all the metadata plops right in. And for files such as a transport bill, he can add multiple cars to that invoice‘s metadata.

To recap, a SharePoint Content Type is a simplified way of capturing the same facets (form fields, aka, metadata) about all the files (content) about the same thing (type), to help you find the information you need in a few drop down clicks.

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