Xerox first used the term “folder” to describe computer directories in 1958, and that metaphor has stuck ever since. The appeal is obvious: people like thinking about data in physical terms, and picturing files as digital papers inside a flap of digital cardboard is a simple, concrete image.
So if everyone likes folders so much, why would we tell organizations not to use them in SharePoint libraries?
There are a few reasons, namely:
But even if we accept that folders aren’t great for every situation, what’s the alternative? Well, in most cases that would be keeping all your files in a single location, then tagging them with metadata.
Yet, despite the advantages of metadata tags, over two-thirds of users express a preference for folders. Why?
Familiarity is one reason. Metadata tagging requires people to think in the abstract about the many different ways files might be categorized, versus the more comfortable, tangible “we keep these files in this folder…” metaphor.
The other reason is time. While metadata tagging, done right, helps people find files faster, tagging them in the first place requires more thought and effort than dumping files into a folder. For that reason, we encourage organizations to keep important files such as official reports and policies in a central, tagged library, while allowing people to keep their day-to-day working documents in personal or team libraries with folders and subfolders.
Finally, note that, by “metadata tagging” we mean a library with a fixed number of predefined metadata columns, each with a limited number of predefined tags. We are not talking about free-form tagging like you see in social media hashtags – while hashtags have their place, they’re not great for keeping things organized and consistent.