So I’m certainly not the first to mention this but I heard something a few weeks ago that bugged me a little bit at the time and has been gnawing away at me. Albeit a little provocatively, a colleague mentioned to some end-users something along the lines of:
Everybody who works with SharePoint will tell you that you shouldn’t use folders to manage your documents
Now I immediately had to jump in at this point as I think there are a couple of things that are a red flag with this statement.
- When it comes to the Information Worker space, or OOB use of SharePoint, very rarely is it wise to give a ‘thou shalt not’ instruction
- There’s nothing wrong with using folders! (in my opinion)
I can understand the motivation behind a comment like this. Using document libraries with structured metadata has seemingly many advantages over a simple folder-based structure. Tying in views, metadata driven navigation (new for SP2010) and other goodies such as aggregation make the use of metadata a really compelling proposition. However, it also has it’s downsides…
We can often negate the perceived issues around user-adoption of such a metadata-only document storage scenario through technical solutions such as default values, workflow or the new content organiser in SP2010. This is aside from good Information Architecture (please don’t go crazy with thirty content types with ten mandatory fields!). In fact technical solutions are often as far as people seem to get.
One thing that people overlook or don’t give enough credence to is simply how a user feels about folders. If a user says “I don’t like metadata” then we immediately try to convince them of the benefits over folders, such as those stated above. I’m not so sure we know where to go when a user says “I like folders!”
Ok, now in reality you’re probably not going to get that statement – but there’s something that is equally as powerful and that is that often a user is completely familiar with folders and how to work with them to categorise and organise their documents. Many users will have been doing this for 15+ years! To now put forward a solution which is unfamiliar results in a high risk of users not getting the most out of a solution.
There is obviously a task to understand the users you’re working with and find out what will work best for them in their particular situation. Oftentimes this may be an ongoing task to be handed-over to the users themselves through good education of the available options – and not building a solution that ties them in too far to one particular route.
As I started writing this post I looked around on the net and found an excellent post on Clever Workarounds by Paul Culmsee, which I definitely recommend reading as he discusses this subject and it’s wider implications much better than I can!
To summarise, however, with a quick list of reasons why folders are not evil:
- Users are familiar through longterm exposure
- Folders are one possible alternative to navigating document libraries with a high volume, rather than paging, view etc
- Views can still be utilised, and even have different views for different folders
- Permissions can be setup on a folder to security trim their contents (the whys and wherefores are a whole new post!)
- Do whatever’s necessary to get people happy and using the solution!
(Perhaps an only slightly controversial reply as to the statement don’t use folders in SharePoint!)