Folders are the predominant way of organizing files, but there is another way which has some compelling advantages over folders. This way has been championed by forward-thinking organizations like Google. The way is by using file attributes.
Attributes are properties of the file outside of the file contents. They are metadata for a file. The primary example is a file name. In modern, feature-rich document repositories, it is possible to define file attributes. The screenshot below shows a SharePoint document library with a file attribute called Tags:
This view displays all the files in Shared Documents, regardless of folder, and does not display any folders. Now, how do we find anything? Via the file attributes. In our case, we have this Tags attribute. If projects are tagged in meaningful ways, then we can use the filter box above the view (labeled “Tag(s):”) to find any files which match that tag (or those tags.) We also have the File filter box for searching on parts –or all – of a filename.
As Shared Documents currently is designed, Tags is free text. This is good in that it allows maximum flexibility for people to develop tags; this is bad in that typos or differing spelling conventions (eg. Using underscores versus dashes) can lead to not finding.
Organizing by attributes allows files to exist in two groupings at once – something not possible with folders. For example, we might want to see all files associated with Project X, or all files associated with documentation across all projects – Project X documentation would fall in both of those groupings.
Navigating through several levels of folders can be slow and leads to URL-too-long errors in SharePoint and elsewhere.
Still, folders are deeply entrenched and there is a clarity to them that people really like. The tagging approach might never overtake foldering, but it’s something to consider.
EDIT: On our project we have a SharePoint document library with a very deep folder hierarchy, and not surprisingly, i faced that URL-too-long error when trying to save an Excel file to one of the folders. Note the last bullet in the error message:
Tagsaesthetics Android android android-file-system data-structure Blackhole browser wars cloud CM6 conference crowdsourced-news db desktop-software digital-music doc-mgmt entrepreneurship file-mgmt files freeware google metadata microsoft MIT music mysql news office office-productivity optimism organization performance tuning presentation publication rom saas software structured-data web word-of-mouth