tagging vs folders;

October 17, 2006

Just like black was the new orange a few years back, it seems as though TAGS have become the new FOLDERS.

 when you place a file in a folder on your computer, you are limited to a hierarchical structure of data storage…. allow me to elaborate;

lets say that you have a folder on your computer which is found at C:\Fruit\Citrus\Oranges\

so you can see, the folder ORANGES is within the folder CITRUS, which is within the folder FRUIT which is finally within the “folder” (well, actually, the C drive). Further suppose that you have a file in the ORANGE folder called seeds.doc all about the germination of orange seeds. Now imagine that there was another folder on your computer in the following location:


now imagine you were doing an assignment on the germination of orange seeds…. do you move all of your ‘orange seed’ information over to this folder, or make a copy of it and store it here, or use a SHORTCUT in this folder that will take you to the C:\fruit\citrus\oranges\ folder? well, if you were to make a copy of the files in the ORANGE folder and place that copy in the ASSIGNMENTS folder, you would have 2 copies of the same file… the problem is that you can only work on one of the files at one time, so when you would begin working on one of the sets of files, the other set would fall out of sync, ergo, you would have 2 different versions of the same file. this is bad.

if you used a shortcut, you would technically have access to the files in both locations, however, the file would still only exist in the one location, you would just be shuffling yourself to the ORANGES folder when you were wanting to work on the seeds.doc file in the assignments folder… essentialy, you are living a lie 😛 thinking you are working in the assignments folder when you are actually in the ORANGES folder.

if you physically moved all of the data from the ORANGES folder to the ASSIGNMENTS Folder, then your ORANGES folder would be empty…. and you would have all of that content pertaining to ORANGES existing only  in the assignments folder… bad also…

so… what is someone to do? well, TAG THE FILE! you could tag the seeds.doc file with both ORANGES and ASSIGNMENTS and then the file could retain both classifications of ORANGES and ASSIGNMENTS simultaneously. this removes the geographical requirement for files to have to sit within the folder for which they ‘belong’, and allows you to transcend the limits of the folder hierarchy structure.

 this scares a lot of people; imagine: instead of having a ‘logical’ hierarchical folder structure, you have just a C drive FILLED with files, here and there. Imagine our seeds.doc file being tagged with both ORANGES and ASSIGNMENTS residing in this mishmash of files… a quick search for the tags ORANGES and/or ASSIGNMENTS would show us this file (and any other files sharing the same ORANGES and/or ASSIGNMENTS tags).

 newer operating systems and social software programs are moving towards this method of storing files…. these systems are using backend databases to store files which allows for relational file storage; for example, the new and upcoming version of windows file system, WINfs is meant based on this concept. The same is true for Microsoft’s Sharepoint services: Files in sharepoint are stored in a SQL database and are searchable by ‘metadata’ (fancy word for tag). [see the post by daniel larson on this page about sharepoint’s file system]. the same is also true for XYTHOS, a collaboration/file storage system {more}

 tags aren’t just for del.icio.us anymore: they will soon be how we all navigate the files on our computers as well.