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Folders are for Losers


By: Lydia Bird

We all like to put things in neat little boxes. Our compulsion to organise and categorise is deep-rooted – our way of kidding ourselves we can bring order to a random, chaotic universe. It is why I have a special drawer in the kitchen where I keep my go-to mini ratchet screwdriver, tape measure, dog leads, old keys (I’ve forgotten what they open) and second-best headphones. It should be obvious to anyone that it is the right and proper place for those items if they need them too.

Folders are for losers

That same mindset translates into the digital world. Except instead of the kitchen drawer, we tend to stuff the cornucopia of files we need to maintain our work and personal life into a series of folders. It’s just about manageable, but what happens when we’re faced with hundreds, thousands or even millions of digital objects that we need to categorise, manage and find again in the future?

Let’s jump back to the invention of the graphical user interface by Xerox in 1979. It democratised computing and enabled everyday folk to engage in a digital life without undertaking a degree course in programming or memorising lines of DOS commands. It presented a simple metaphor for the real, physical world – there were ‘documents’ on your ‘desktop’ – and ‘folders’ to put them in. So far – so liberating.

Fast forward to 2021. Businesses of all sizes now have thousands/millions of digital files that need to be stored, classified and managed. For anyone who is tasked with managing digital objects at scale, the folder structure simply becomes untenable.

Humans just don’t have the capacity to remember where a file was stored when it’s surrounded by thousands of similar files three levels deep in nested folders. Especially when the ‘logical’ organising structure was put in place by the intern who left the company 4 years ago.  

Anticipating this problem with data management and retrieval at scale, along came Object Storage at the tail end of the 90s.  You simply threw all your files into one gigantic storage bucket – and as long as there was some metadata associated with the file, you could use a unique ID – or keyword search, to retrieve the file again using a graphical user interface – such as a search engine. In particular, the media industry were quick to pioneer the approach as the internet swelled with video content. When you look for something funny to watch on Netflix, you don’t go looking through a list of filenames in the comedy folder.

Except, the metaphor of the file and organising folder didn’t go away completely. Many businesses still attempt to organise their digital files according to that 20th Century metaphor. That means we’re still wasting enormous amounts of time searching across nested folders, scattered across multiple storage locations or applications. Put simply, folders are for losers – If you want to lose a file – put it in a folder.

We’ve highlighted some of these issues in a white paper which illustrates the problem for creative and marketing teams that just can’t find the files they need quickly enough to work efficiently.

So what to do? It’s time that we all accept that the only way through this swamp of data we all generate daily is to let the machines do the hard work. Artificial Intelligence can recognise everyday objects, actions and people in rich media files. It can transcribe the speech from an audio track and turn it into searchable text. There are also more mundane ways to let the computer manage and categorise our content for us. Such as extracting file name, date, the originating folder name as well as any embedded information in the file. It can index the content of a pdf or word file. All this metadata can be captured and made into searchable tags. That means you’re free of the burden of organisation – no need to put files in little boxes (or folders) so you can find them again. Just seek and ye shall find.

We’ve just launched Imagen Go. It’s an AI-enabled Digital Asset Management (DAM) platform that stores and organises all your video images and documents.  It automatically generates searchable tags which means your content is easy to find in future using a simple keyword search.

Those tags are the key to applying structure to your content without the need for folders. They provide all the categorisation you need. Your latest product hero images could all be tagged with Product Shots 2021. No need to put them in a folder – they are all grouped conceptually under that tag and can be found any time in the future using a simple keyword search. The filter controls even enable you to refine the search results so if you searched for Product you could easily isolate just the tagged content you need.


Now, that doesn’t mean to say that our human need to organise can be dismissed completely. Imagen Go lets you create Projects that enable teams to come together and work creatively in the same space. They can leave comments, add time-coded annotations in video, review, approve and more. Those Project spaces are not for categorising media – they are for organising people – so they can work collaboratively on a set of content. The brilliant thing about having your content tagged is that you can then use the same files across multiple Projects – no more duplicate uploads, no more version control issues.

Come on people it’s 2021. Folders are so last century. Let the machines handle the admin and spend more time being creative.

Sign up to Imagen Go for free – right now, here.

folders are for losers

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