Folders are evil and will get you in trouble soon, if not already

A long time ago folders where invented to organize computer files. Computer geeks thought up the idea which mimicked physical file folders, hey, works for office geeks why not for us. The idea was good for a while but it was not great. Let’s examine a scenario. You go on a business trip, go out to dinner, and have a receipt. You have two folders, one for the client you took out for dinner, the other for the project you are working on with that client. You need both folders because of different papers you need to organize. So where do you file the dinner receipt?

If you are like an executive assistant I recently met, you copy the receipt and put it in each folder. Solves the problem, correct? NOT! We just duplicated data. What happens when we get audited? What if the files get combined? Let take a look are what folders are doing for us.

People think folders are about organizing information, but they are not just organizing they are telling us ABOUT the contents of the folder. If we put a receipt in a folder for client X then then we know this receipt is for client X, if we put a receipt in client Y then the receipt is for client Y. The folder, indirectly, tells us about the client because the receipt is in the client’s folder. Moving the receipt from folder X to folder Y changes the implied (client) information about the receipt. In a physical file system copying the physical receipt may make sense if duplicates are okay, but in a computer system, duplicate files are bad.

Bad! Why?

Let’s look at SharePoint. In a document library people create folders to organize files, but if the file belongs in two folders what do you do? Copy the file? Which do you edit then?

The solution in SharePoint is to tag the file with all the information relevant to the receipt. So a single receipt will be tagged with client X and project Y. In document libraries tags are columns that you add. So when adding a file you have columns identifying the project, the client, and so on. In fancy terms we call this meta data (data about the content)

In document libraries you have the ability to build a filter (called a view) to view documents based on the tags in a Document library which allow you to say: “show the files for client X” or “show me the files for client Y” and the same file will show up for both scenarios without the need for a copy!

Let views, and meta data help manage your information and you will not get into trouble with folders.

Later I’ll tell you that file names should be random character. Stay tuned.

Gord Maric

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