Saturday, July 21, 2007

Outdated Metaphor or When Organizational Systems Collide

I don't know if other operating systems are out there that don't do this, but something occurred to me yesterday while trying to collaborate with a colleague on a project. I was sending her documents that I had created. I needed a way to quickly keep track of what I was sending her, as I was e-mailing each document as I finished.

I then went over to her house to work on some analysis. When I arrived, she asked me about my process, since she had created a single document, whereas I had a separate document for each event (we were doing interviews with various sub-entities in a larger organization). I explained that I was using filenames to trigger my memory, and to keep track of whether I'd finished something. (I had also been keeping a Google spreadsheet, which we share, but that was more for her benefit than for mine.) We could argue over whose process was superior (as my e-mail was being uncooperative, perhaps mine wasn't the greatest), but I think teasing out my operating theory, or the discrepancy between my organizational process and the abilities of my operating system to accomodate it, provides a more interesting case study.

As I described how I had been creating various folders that indicated the status of my documents (interviews, cleaned, sent), I realized that what I was doing was trying to incorporate the way I use del.icio.us into my operating system. Tags!

Because ultimately, the idea of folders is based on a metaphor for physical filing systems, which have NEVER worked for me. AT ALL. Because if I had to file things physically, exclusively, they would have to exist in several files at once, because having the information on hand, immediately, that happens to pertain to whatever I'm working on, would be a necessity. And one piece of information can have several available uses.

So I guess I'm saying that operating systems need to move to a tagging metaphor. I hadn't realized how deeply this had infiltrated my thinking until I had to explain my process to my colleague.

So. Does Windows Vista have tags? Or is this in any way a feature of Google Desktop Search? Because basically, I've been assimilated.

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