Should I care where my digital files are stored?

With the strong search capabilities in computers these days, should I care where my digital files are stored? The short answer is yes.

Search facilities can purportedly find any document. Some people think that they don’t need to organize their files any more. Let’s look at when this might be true, and when organized file storage is still useful.

Where are files stored?

Many people think of their documents as being stored in the program that created them, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. These are not storage locations.

They may also think that the Recent list of documents is the best way to find what they are looking for. It may be if the document was accessed very recently, but otherwise it is not.

Like searching, these finding techniques all fall short except in very specific circumstances.

Searching for documents

Search capabilities have grown exponentially over the last few years. Documents can be found using a minimal amount of information, for example by part of a document’s name, or part of the content.

In this example, searching for the word Windows yields many different kinds of matches.

The search results include calendar entries, emails, and documents along with others.

This searching is very powerful. The technique works especially well when documents are named systematically according to their content. You also need to remember the terms that were used.

It doesn’t work as well when the terms yield too many results or the terms themselves are unknown.

When we start to add additional terms to hone in on our intended document, the search is less successful.

The top results here are web search terms. Only one item is a document. Because both terms are not in the title of any document, and the terms are not necessarily next to each other in other documents, the search is less successful.

This becomes even more difficult if the search terms are either not exactly in the document, or there are too many documents with those terms.

Filing documents

All computer systems, and all cloud systems, allow the creation of folders or labels for storing similar content.

The user is responsible for determining what the storage structure should be, and how deeply to nest the folders.

Searching can be performed within this structure or across the whole structure.

This allows the user to find documents using broader terms, since there are less documents in each group. This also allows the user to find documents that are related to the search, that might not have the exact terms in them, using the filing structure.

If there is a folder of documents that describe and compare operating systems, and also a series of photos of these differences, then locating a document comparing Windows and Macintosh using a search will also show the location of the photos of this same comparison. One benefit of filing documents systematically, is the ability to find things you didn’t know you were looking for.

Other storage media

The searching versus filing topic is relevant to all computer systems, email, Google Drive, Dropbox and other types of cloud storage.

Some storage systems, like Gmail, encourage users to retain all emails and rely on searching to find them. Anyone with a few hundred emails, not to mention a few thousand, knows how difficult it is to find a single email.

Using whatever filing system is available, at least in a simple way, goes a long way toward increasing the success of finding what you are looking for.

To get started with filing systems, check out Organizing File Folders on a Mac or Windows: Create a Folder.

If you would like help with this process, just call or email and we’ll be happy to assist you! If you have specific questions, or if our terminology isn’t clear, please use our contact form to send us a message. Thank you!

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