Friday, 22 May 2009

SharePoint Pie - Do you want Folders with that?

Life is full of questions. What are men’s nipples designed for? Why have the Villa stopped winning? How come there are so many Scottish people in the English Government when Scotland has its own Parliament? Then the SharePoint question all Officetalk Consultants are always asked “should we use folders in SharePoint or not?” People have grown up with folders since the early days of Windows and often find them very hard to give up. I do understand this because my idea of tidying up at home, or at work, really just involves hiding all my clutter in drawers or cupboards. It makes the place look so much neater. Ok if I do open the door to that cupboard under the stairs it is very unlikely I am going to be able to close it again and will probably suffer a serious injury from the fallout, but at least the hall looks tidy. Folders are like cupboards, although hopefully stored in a more structured way than my tidying up. The nightmare I always find is when somebody has structured their filing so well that they have subfolders with subfolders in with yet more subfolders in and so on. The chance of anybody finding the correct folder can be remote and there is a chance of a repetitive strain injury from the continual mouse clicking. So what is the SharePoint alternative? SharePoint encourages you to use Metadata (columns) to filter your data. The fact that SharePoint can quickly search every word in every document also helps instead of the need to plough through folders. You can choose pick lists that contain the metadata that can replace all your folder names. For example, instead of each member of the department having a folder for their Visit Reports you would add a Column with a dropdown list of each member’s name. So all the Visit Reports are stored together, but by creating views you can decide which Visit Reports each member can see. The manager might have a view that allows them to see everyone’s Visit Reports and individuals might only see their own, but it will all be in one list really. SharePoint Metadata works well and I personally am a fan, but still people want folders and Microsoft includes these in SharePoint. However, Microsoft have found a way around this because when you create, or modify, a SharePoint view you have a very useful option. Two up from the bottom you have a tab called ‘Folders’ if you expand this you have a choice to either ‘Show items inside folders’ or ‘Show all items without folders’. So you can please all the people. Let them have their folders but then have the view set so it doesn’t display them. One thing I would do though to stop the further increase of the number of folders is to set the ‘Advanced Setting’ on each Document Library for ‘Display “New Folder” command on New Menu’ to be ‘NO’. Maybe I haven’t really answered the big question of ‘Should I use folders in SharePoint?’ perhaps I should have stuck to the reason the Villa have stopped winning. Like many things in life it isn’t black or white so here are a few pros and cons. For Folders 1. Stops lists getting too long 2. Works well with ‘Explorer View’ when dragging files from network drives. 3. Unique Permissions can be assigned to folders. Against Folders 1. URLs get too long. 2. Extra mouse clicks required. 3. Cannot see what is in folders so more chance of duplication. 4. Not so easy to sort or filter data (unless you display them without folders). The third point about not being able to see what’s inside reminds me of an experience I had this week whilst holding a SharePoint Workshop at a school in Bristol. At lunchtime I had the joy of having a school dinner. Armed with one of those all-in-one plastic trays (with room for main dinner, pudding and drink) I studied the hot meals on offer. There was a type of stew, a pasta dish and a nice looking crusty pie. I asked for a portion of the pie that was next to the beans and potatoes. Unfortunately as it landed on my plastic tray to my horror I realised it was ‘apple’ and not ‘meat’ as I had expected. Oh well, it tasted nice, but a lesson that you never know what can lie below. Like the folders or my drawers (ooh-err missus) you never know what they might hide.


Anonymous said...

One major issue with not using folders is when a team upload multiple documents ... they work off-line a lot.

The problem with multiple uploads is that the special metadata is not able to be added, even when set as mandatory. Which renders the need to add metadata pointless if people don't do it.

So this particular team stuck with folders. The downside of this approach for me is that I cannot run an SPD workflow on a folder! You also cannot send an entire folder to archive out of the box.

Jon Lambert said...

Yes, folders are a pain but I have found them necessary purely to help those users that are transiting from shared drives to SharePoint. I deployed a SharePoint library for one user who was horrified that I had converted their folders into Meta data. I put the folders back and tried explaining that folders are just another way to view the same data but they would not buy the argument. Users ?????

Anonymous said...