Folders vs Metadata – Round 2

Folders vs Metadata – Round 2

By Tom Robbins

As promised, “Round 2” in my series where we discuss the advantages of using metadata over folders in SharePoint. I found a good example of why metadata is valuable in document classification. I’d like to share that:

Although a great deal of information is (and opinions are) available on the web, most of them favoring the use of metadata instead of folders, I’d like to add some samples that I use in my daily work. Please notice the quotes, intentionally put there to stress that using SharePoint instead of file shares is much more than just a migration: it’s a whole new way of work! However, that’s a bit out of scope for this article so let’s stick to metadata versus folders.

We love to structure our data…

… And that’s actually not a bad habit. A common scenario at customers is a file share for project teams that structure their data based on some properties of their projects, like the following example:

Division a

Department b

Project c

Stage d

Document 1

Document 2

People have worked like this for ages and seem generally satisfied with this solution.

Not so structured after all?  Continue reading

Folders vs Metadata – Round 1

Folders vs Metadata – Round 1

By Tom Robbins

I want to demystify the confusion and lead the SharePoint faithful away from an antiquated thinking around how to classify and categorize information. With almost all students and customers I work with, I always see the use of Folders in SharePoint and there is always some seemingly perfect explanation for why Folders must be used. It is a common struggle for teams within organizations to break the decades old habit of creating large and complex nesting structures of Folders to classify and categorize information. We are all experts at putting things into containers so that we can find things more quickly. While this seems like the correct way of thinking, we more often than not, quickly find that this complex structure has only added complexity to our ability to find things. In our kitchens, everything is in its proper container. Silverware is in drawers, pots and pans have their cabinet, and dishes and bowls even have their nook. But we are people, not computers. Computers don’t need containers to locate things. Computers use data.

Think of it this way. What if you wanted to quickly see everything in your kitchen that was a gift from your wedding anniversary? Because the gifts can range from dishes to gravy boats, you have no way of quickly finding these items without opening every cabinet and drawer and closet in the kitchen and doing a manual inspection. Or, what if you wanted to find anything of value that cost over $100. Again, start opening the cabinets and drawers and start making your assessment. One option, and this option is a preview of great things to come, might be to put a green post-it note on everything that was a gift from your in-laws. At least then, you could easily open all of your cabinets and quickly get a glance at the items that need “Thank You” notes. This same complexity in finding items stored in containers is also found when items are stored in complex folder structure. You must open every folder to look for what you are trying to find. And what if you have buried similar documents, like expense reports, across years of folder structure. Take this example. Let’s say you have a great folder structure, because after all there is no other way to classify and categorize information. You have a folder for each division within a company. In each of those folders you have a folder for each year. In those folders you have a folder for each quarter. In those folders you have a folder for each project you worked on within each quarter. And then finally within each project you have expense reports related to those projects. 100’s of folders and 100’s of expense report later, you have created what you think is the perfect system of classification… UNTIL! What if you need to see all Expense reports over $500 for the 4th quarter of every year for each division for a particular employee? Your first problem is that you have no way of knowing from your folder structure what the amount of the expense report was, or who submitted it. You would have to begin digging into folders for hours to open each expense report to find what you are looking for. So certainly from an archiving perspective, you may have a good system. This system, by the way, was the natural progression from the old file cabinet days of information storage. We just transferred it to computers. Many issues arise from this system of classification, both from a usability and an administrative standpoint. With computers, we can quickly find what we are looking for, but we need a different mechanism for the classification. And that mechanism is certainly NOT folders.Continue reading