Lost files anyone?

By July 6, 2019Technology

I was mulling over a directory on a server the other day, trying to make heads or tails out of where I should put stuff. The directory was completely shambolic and the file I was compiling could have been put in several locations, any of which could have been argued to be relevant and ‘logical’. What happens in organisations is that these directories seem to grow by iterations which are often based on the desires of some of the people using them. These desires are often transient, and with that, will change over time. As a consequence, you can end up with a shambolic directory structure like that I encountered today, about as organised as putting all the files in a 44-gallon drum.

As anyone who comes along later will tell you, trying to find things in such a shambolic system can be soul-destroying; as difficult as trying to find empathy among a bunch of conservatives. If you have ever spent a relatively large amount of time attempting to find a particular file among a drum of other files, then you will understand the reason it is worth having a sensible hierarchical directory structure1.

The two end-members of such a hierarchical structure include at one end, having all your files in one directory, while at the other end having each file in its own directory. Each of these is probably equally ridiculous. You need the right balance between breadth and depth, such that each item can logically only go in one place. That means you need to avoid overlapping categories. For instance, ‘Photos’ might have subfolders of ‘Fred’ for photographs of Fred, and ‘Charlie’ for photographs of Charlie. What do you do if you have a photograph of both Fred and Charlie? This indicates that your file structure has a problem. You also need to avoid letting your folders get too big. If you have the folder ‘Photos’, it is not sensible to have 20,000 images in that directory alone2.

Short of having duplicates in the Charlie folder and the Fred folder for photos containing both Charlie and Fred, you should have a system which allows you to find files the properties of which you know, yet the name of which you have forgotten. That system exists and it is a system which allows you to add ‘tags’ to a file. These tags act like keywords and are searchable. In the case of the photo showing both Fred and Charlie, you can add those names as tags to the file, separating them by a semicolon3. I must go back to the people who set up this directory system and berate them for their lack of foresight! Either that, or fix it for them.


  1. https://www.filecenterdms.com/info-folder-structure.html
  2. https://libraries.mit.edu/data-management/files/2014/05/FileOrg_20160121.pdf
  3. https://www.thewindowsclub.com/tags-files-windows

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