Instruction or Independence when organizing files?

Where should I put this? Did I name the file properly? How do I find x? Who can see these changes?

Ah yes, the inner monologue we’ve all faced when dealing with online content sharing. Long gone are the days of brick and mortar file cabinets and physical document libraries where you truly had to stop and think for a moment about where the document belonged. Instead, storing your organization’s content has become easier than ever, but where and how it’s organized and who has access to it are questions plaguing businesses today.

There are different schools of thought on the matter but agreement in the assertion that you must have some overriding philosophy guiding your approach to content management and storage. The two discussed here being 1) precise and formated, with rigid instructions and guidelines, or 2) more of a fluid, decentralized approach, such as a wiki.

Let’s take a look at these two opposing methodologies and their real life applications in the workplace.

The highly regulated approach to sharing and storing, proponents argue, ensures you know where everything is and how to find it. You’ve educated your employees, colleagues, and co-workers on your organization’s best practice for the matter. You have specific, formated, naming practices and folder structures. Your team knows how to name folders, where to put files, and how to find documents. Additionally, as a way to keep things in chronological order, you’ve instructed these various groups to include the date in every file name. Some of the noted benefits to this approach are:

  • Easy to find what you need
  • Clear instructions on naming files — i.e. no guessing games
  • Ability to share file privileges with certain users
  • Helpful chronological timeline

So what’s the catch?

Too much structure is burdensome and can create the impression that you don’t trust your people to do their best work. Additionally, having an answer and place for everything cuts down on your team members’ ability to creatively solve problems on their own. Some other detractors of this approach include:

  • You need 100% compliance 100% of the time
  • Potential for employees to feel micromanaged
  • Tendency to get caught up in the details and lose focus of the overall success of business and operations

The most notable and potentially hazardous con is the need for 100% compliance from your team members. Our concern here is that with such “clear” instructions within this very rigid system you’ve created to house your company’s knowledge and content, lack of compliance will cause important documents and information to be lost in a black hole of mis-named files forever. Intentional or not, as the company owner, team manager, or department head, you assume your clear, instructive system is being followed to tee, and you might not have an adequate backup plan for when that doesn’t happen. This is the real reason relying on a rigid file naming system can be detrimental to your organization’s biggest asset – it’s knowledge.

There is another way though, one which has it’s equally ardent supporters and proponents. A modality exemplified by its most successful and well-known iteration, the eponymous, Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the world’s largest encyclopedia and one of the most visited websites in the world. The name is perhaps more popular and well-know than the system behind it, a wiki.

Meaning “quick” in Hawaiian, the wiki was created by Ward Cunningham in 1995 as an alternative to the time-consuming and labor-intensive HTML code and tag editing previously required to edit a website’s text, Cunningham’s invention made it easy and quick (get it?). A wiki is essentially a website or application which allows its users to share information in a fluid and continuous way.. Any user can add to, link, and edit information. Wikis are powerful tools as they allow you to:

  • Easily share information and collate ideas
  • Provide a permanent and updated place to organize thoughts far superior to any email thread
  • Easily link out to other relevant content

It’s not a perfect system though, and the wiki’s most central feature – the ability to continuously create new pages and content, also makes it challenging to navigate. Some other cons of wikis include:

  • Overwhelming amount of content that doesn’t search well
  • Lack of agility; always creating new pages
  • Taxonomy of folders can be very confusing

Wikis can be great if you’re the one creating the new pages, adding content, and linking out. It’s no surprise that when you’re the one organizing the mess you know where everything is. But what about your other team members? Is there a systematic and deductive way to find what you’re looking for? If you’re using wikis are your organization’s knowledge sharing mainstay, our guess is probably not.

Furthermore, while the wiki approach allows businesses and team members to see changes in real-time, it lacks an efficient way to preserve information for the long haul and the tools necessary to sort through it. At the end of the day, wikis are outdated technology for the purposes modern-day businesses are seeking them. Yes, wikis work great when cross team collaboration is necessary but you know what else does? — Google drive.

Ultimately, in order to be successful you need a way to declutter, organize, and find. Neither a precise, detailed naming and sorting methodology OR a decentralized, free flow of ideas and collaboration is ideal for these purposes. A convergence of these systems in which you can add new information; articles, documents, folders; adjust permissions appropriately; and easily locate what you’re looking for is what organizations, educational institutions, and businesses alike need.