David Johnson at BNet wrote today about his use of “metadata” and Windows Vista search to find his documents. They are all stored in ONE folder. I knew this was coming but I didn’t realize it was already here. And I’m just not ready to do it.
In the past, computer users were taught to file things in folders and sub-folders to keep everything organized, much like you would in a file cabinet. Organizational specialists told you to file things based on your first reaction to where it should go so you could easily find them again. Many people embrace this organizational structure but just as many file everything on their desktop (scary – I know).
Several years ago I implemented a content management system that used metadata to store and retrieve records. We struggled for a long time as to what would be assigned to each record until the vendor asked the magic question – what is the minimum information you would accept to find a document? Suddenly we had a context. If someone came to the counter and wanted a document, what was the bare minimum information they had to have to get what they wanted. Example – they couldn’t ask for “some student who was female and graduated in 1992” (this was a student records program on a campus) but they could ask for “Kathy Breitenbucher, graduated in 1992”. If the peson requesting had the student’s social security number that was enough, etc. And so began my discussions of metadata.
Shortly thereafter operating systems started talking about metadata. The idea is you create a document and then assign the metadata to it. Then, when you need the file, you just run a search and there’s your document. We’re all used to searching the Internet for stuff so what’s the difference? Well for me, it is changing everything about the way I work. I considered using the “find file” feature a failing of my organizational structure. I mean, if I put it somewhere, I should know where, right? So now I’m suppose to do away with all of that and always search. Hard to get used too.
I know David is right and this is the smart way to manage data. It is more efficient, leaves less room for error or misfiling and in the long run should save time. But giving up my folders? I’m just not there yet.