Still the content pile herder…

Clearly the following images reveal that I have yet to fundamentally change my behavior when it comes to organizing and retaining content:

 Pile phase 0

Pile phase 1

Pile phase 2

This begs the question, “Why?” Why take the time to keep columns, paragraphs, articles, magazines, etc. in physical form?

The truth is that I prefer softcopy to hardcopy, if for no other reason than it’s much easier to find what I’m looking for…usually. I also prefer organization over clutter; electronic documents take up far less of my physical office desktop, too! :-)

However, I’m also a visual person who thrives on structure. This used to be true of my life in general and is less so, thanks to being married, having kids, and being older (if not wiser). It certainly still applies to knowledge, information, data, content, etc. While you may see a pile of unrelated pages, I see a stack of “thought bookmarks” and “work-in-progress favorites.” 

This bias toward structure can be both strength and weakness. As a source of strength, I’m often called upon to unearth an important decision or discussion from the past that has new found relevance. The opposite side of the same coin rears its ugly head whenever external events render the structure non-optimal or even inaccessible given this new context at hand.

The more detailed the folder hierarchy in question, the more tedious its restructuring becomes–and I’m fairly detailed when it comes to use of my file systems (e.g. I avoid flat lists of documents such as ‘My Documents’ in Windows). Change context enough, and “being structured” becomes more a liability as I have to engage in the tedious exercise of reorganizing folder hierarchies.

Obviously, I have other choices. For example, I could simplify my file system to become (just) date based (e.g. 2007, 2006, …). Above this rather flat hierarchy I could more regularly employ desktop search to realize transcient views above a particular set of content.

So, I return back to the question of “Why?” and wonder what exactly causes me to rely on manual work and essentially distrust more automated techniques.

Perhaps my behavior is predicated on past performance of desktop search. Perhaps I believe that I can drill into a folder hierarchy of my creation and find the document of interest faster than I can launch a desktop search for the same piece of content. Perhaps it’s more a matter of if it’s not broke (most of the time), don’t fix it; however, I sense that my content interests and therefore my content itself is becoming more dynamic like the rest of my life and certainly my work.

I see that Windows Vista promotes the notion of tags on folders and documents now. Perhaps a combination of tags, fewer folders and more frequent searches will become my new approach to content organization and retrieval. Sounds like I need to go on a “diet” here to see what results…

How do you organize your local content? How to you find what you need?

Update 1/24/2007 (via Scott Abel): Looks like I can make my virtual world just as cluttered now with BumpTop. :-)