Organising, or rather the reason for organising - finding stuff - is the focus and raison d'être for much software development: From search - finding stuff in huge heaps of more stuff, accounting - organise by event, to collaboration software - keep stuff somewhere where all will find it and can work on it.
So give this a thought: It's barking up the wrong tree(structure), it's counterproductive.
Look around you where you are just now. I have my desk in a corner of our living room where there are two sofas, opposite each other, two very comfy chairs, paintings on the walls, books in bookshelves and a plethora of little things residing on countertops, tables and on the footstool.
Nothing is organised in rows or columns, nothing is labelled nor tagged - still it all makes perfect sense and I'm never in doubt where to find what I need when I need it.
The location of all the little and slightly bigger things have a meaning - they're where they are for a reason, not to follow a strict system, plainly how the things are used; where it's good to sit to watch the television, where one might find a quiet spot out of traffic with good light for a quiet moment of reading. Everything relates to something else because each thing is unique and have a purpose. Things have a meaning.
Now do a mind experiment. Say you brought in your three shoe boxes of pictures that never found their way into an album. Now empty the boxes onto the floor and see if you can find the picture of your son and yourself from summer 2003 when he was horse riding for the first time.
Not easy. Not a fluid search about to happen while you shuffle through the heap, turning over those which came face down in the kerfuffle.
What's the difference?
- The physical things around you are singular, unique and have a purpose as in relationship with some other physical thing or activity.
- Your pictures or documents are not singular, they each represent many objects, activities and situations. They're narrative in form and as such will have a whole range of meanings and relationships. And with that no natural place nor connection. They need organising. We think.
Every day we read about new ways, better ways sometimes, to organise such narrative objects - new and interesting search algorithms, newfangled taxonomies, semantic webs, artificial intelligence or efficient hierarchies. Not to forget tagging and other ways to add labels or meaning - all dependent on the system constructor's logic as well as the understanding of the user, in other words a clearly set system followed by well-trained users.
All well meant and seemingly important so we can make better use of knowledge amassed by others - a never ending quest for humanity.
But why this narrow focus on only one of the parameters of the equation?
Information Usefulness = ƒ(Information Format, Distribution)
and Distribution = ƒ(Capture, Availability, Assimilation)
And as we know - all focus is on "Availability" as in how to organise and find. If not organised search is the last resort. Add tags, categories and labels and some organising helps the last resort search. Add hierarchies and we reach the tipping point where training and understanding of the rules are required.
I do not really understand why this focus and complete blindness for the three other parameters. But of course, we've learned that "organising is the right and good way to manage life and it's components". A culture thing I suppose.
Forget that, unlearn that, think living room instead of shoe boxes full of pictures, think in "what" form we capture and keep information and how it can help the issues of Availability and Assimilation of knowledge.
Step 1: Instead of mashed up information bearers, cut them into singular representations all linked with meaningful relationships. Just like my sofa.
But hang on a sec, what about the "well almost" in the start you might ask.
Stories - on paper bound by cardboard, on newsprint or in electronic form, on canvas or sculpted from marble or etched into celluloid - those are not made for "cutting up into unique pieces bound by relationships". Or are they?
Are art galleries organised? Last time at the Guggenheim, were the paintings organised by size? By year painted? Not always so. Are the theatres grouped by what kind of plays they do?
In other words - information comes in two forms - narrative or direct representation; content of a good book or some data representing a widget in the warehouse.
What happens is that we're interested in the timeline as well as the actual facts, what happened to that widget. And when. The solution when we only had paper was "write a story" as the narrative delivers the timeline.
And there we are, factual data represented in narratives, the ubiquitous documents.
Step 2: Enable the information bearers, the unique representation of reality to capture and hold the timeline, the process, as well.
Then we're in control of the other parameters of the equation - a must if we want to create more value using less resources and in general better our life.
And we have to start with the first parameter: Format, then proceed with the second: Capture - then Availability and Assimilation will follow.
We just might have to learn that what we learned can be unlearned for even better results.