Metadata v. Folders

Illustration of a folder based system

Folders gave early PC users the comfort of a familiar system: the analogy of old fashioned filing cabinets. Like metal boxes with drawers and suspended folders these utilised none of the computing power available. Windows gives you no help with designing or managing the structure - you have to do it yourself. Or if someone has designed it for you then you may find it difficult to decide where files go. In any event, an archaic system leaves itself wide open to misfiling and duplication as you find it necessary, for example, to file a single document under customer, project and proposal folders. As soon as one is updated it is highly likely that the other copies will become out of step so the various copies are all different. In addition to these issues the hierarchy can grow like weeds or, if a fixed hierarchy is imposed it can result in many empty folders.

You don’t need to know where the file IS!

Who hasn’t struggled to find a particular document in this fixed environment, or when you have found it have the certainty that it is the most up to date version? It is amazing is that some vendors of document management systems persist with this outmoded system.

Metadata, on the other hand, utilises dynamic indexing and computing power to get you to your information quickly and can show you relationships on the fly. Take, for example, a common problem we all face from time to time – you know you dealt with a person but cannot remember their name or company, but you do know the subject matter was hypnosis. In the metadata driven environment you don’t need to know where the file is, you simply search for the word "hypnosis". From this youwill see all the documenst qualifying; you will also see the links to the supplier and to the contact person.

Illustration of a metadata based system

The computer builds the relationships dynamically and includes items only saved seconds ago. None of this is remotely possible with folders. As an analogy think of the concept of you only being six steps away from knowing anyone on the planet. With metadata this is possible to recreate: with folders there is no chance.