DAM: 3 ways FOLDERS are holding you back and how to move faster

David Vaassen - Monday, May 30, 2016

Cataloging and organising assets is never a favourite task, but there is a way you can make it easier and more enjoyable.

In Brandkit (and many other modern systems) we have abandoned the traditional notion that folders are the best way to store large collections of files. So they simply don't exist in Brandkit.

Here's why and then what we do instead.

1. Folders aren't a good way to search

Folders are the way most Operating Systems store files. This is OK for applications which are programmed to store certain files in hard-coded locations. If you know the application - you probably know where they save their files (although that's getting harder with Apps)

For files saved by human users though, locating a file requires a knowledge of where files should have been saved to or patience and luck as you "folder dive" (the process of opening folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders reading the filenames until you find what you need). In addition,  humans being humans we all have different ideas of how to structure our folders, where to save files, where to backup files, where to find them again.

Then you get the gatekeeper mentality, where a number of customers have told us that they purposely use an arcane structure so that other staff or team members have to come to them to find things. While that gives them a feeling of personal power and importance, it creates real roadblocks for an organisation.

But trust me, it happens all the time.  Then the gatekeeper leaves....

To get an idea of the scale of the problem just Google "folder structure best practices"    

Planning a folder hierarchy - arghhh

Image from article Developing a Sensible Folder Structure  . Groan.

Now, imagine having to save 1000 images into a series of folders and sub folders based on some established folder hierarchy. It's real pain.

The advent of better and better search technology means that today,  a folder hierarchy is an unnecessary evil. Consider how Apple has left the Finder out of the iOS operating system and how Spotlight has become front and center of how you locate files, apps, web content and more. The hierarchy and path to the content is becoming blurred, if not invisible. Think about how most of us find things these days, it's Google (or some other search engine) and there's not a folder hierarchy in site.

Search is now the way to access content and Search works best with Tags. Folders are an unnecessary complication.


2. Users don't understand your folder structure

One of the big problems with folders is that they are a reflection of how you (or your company) catalogue files.

I don't Understand image

You can think of this as your own personal taxonomy or your company's taxonomy. It might work for you but for outsiders, new staff, web users it's hopeless. They have no idea what, how or why you store your files in a certain way. They don't understand your hierarchy and at best must guess where you might store something. 

This might have been OK in the past where the number of files was more limited and where silos were the norm. But today we're dealing with a lot more files in a lot more places and flatter organisation structures. Folders and Taxonomies no longer works if you want to open up your content to search and share.


3. Folders are too rigid

In a folder based system a file or asset is saved in one location only, often a sub folder somewhere way down the folder tree. OK a Search Engine can index this and find it with having to folder dive. However that asset is still in that one place - it can't be in two places at once (unless the asset is duplicated - which is really bad idea).

Folder hierarchy image

Take the situation where a Hero image is used by Marketing and Sales teams, maybe across multiple product categories or even brands.

Where would you store that image? There's no obvious location and each department will argue for something that is convenient for them. What should be a simple process can devolve into an untidy mess with way too much time spent on it.  

So organisations have turned to formal taxonomies to ensure everyone complies to a standard. But Taxonomies typically grow in complexity over time, are inflexible and a huge time suck.


OK Folders suck - so now what.


Tags are the answer

Today the best way to catalogue and organise assets/files is with Tags (aka Keywords).

Benefits of Tags

  • All the files/assets are stored in one place making ingestion fast and easy.
  • Tags are used to categorise and organise assets
  • An Asset can have multiple tags (it's like being able to have a file in multiple folders)
  • Tags are flexible - an asset can be found in several places at once but everything still points back to one original file - no duplicates required
  • Tags typically use multiple plain language words and phrases that outsiders can understand or are likely to use.
  • Multiple Tagging styles and approaches can be supported at the same time - you can have your cake and eat it too.
  • You won't need (and shouldn't have) a formal taxonomy.


Brandkit fully embraces Tags

Brandkit uses Tags as it's primary organisational and search tool.


Tags are added by Admins plus Brandkit automatically adds tags based on other metadata you enter (such as location),  or that is extracted from the file on upload (e.g. 'Landscape' or 'Portrait' images are automatically tagged).

As an Admin/Editor - You can add or remove tags across one or a selection of assets easily with our Batch Editor or even by csv export/import.


Search then works by default on all these Tags.

When searching, end users start typing a search and a drop down type-ahead will auto suggest Tags to provide users with the perfect search result. Then we allow help users refine their search result further with additional related Tags and Filters.


Tag based search


Brandkit also automatically hides Tags for assets that are private - so end users don't see results that you don't want them to.

Guided pathways

Tags are also exposed in URL's (e.g. http://demo.brandkit.io/#/assets?tags=Gourmet) so that you can build your own Guided Pathways to selections of assets.

These URL's can then be used behind links, tiles, and widgets in your portal or even shared externally via email or social media.


Think of guided pathways as pseudo hierarchy without the limitations of hierarchy.

Missing your folder hierarchy?

Don't worry. We can also string multiple Tags together to echo the experience you might have had with bad old folders.

For example   ...assets?tags=products,stationery,pens looks similar to a folder path ...assets/products/stationery/pens. Only assets that have all three tags will be returned - so this is the same result as the folder structure.

Ok so what's the big deal with tags then, I hear you ask. 

Simple, in the example above a new search for ...assets?tags=pens will give you all the pens in ..assets/products/stationery/pens, plus all the other pens that may have previously been in other folders or sub-folders. (e.g. that might have been previously in a folder .../products/pens.)

In summary

You don't need folders anymore. Use Tags instead for more flexibility, power and openness.

Happy Branding :)

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