Last month, Apple made another bold design move by disallowing folders within folders in its Mountain Lion OS X operating system for Macs. You can put files in a folder, but you can’t put a folder inside another folder. This unconventional choice is in direct opposition to its primary competition, Microsoft Windows, which will let you put folders within folders within folders to infinity. Many writers and bloggers have applauded Apple’s choice, saying that this demonstrates once more that Apple is on the cutting edge in the tech industry. But we’ve been using a similar one folder level architecture in Scan123 since we built it in 2004.
Here’s why a single folder level makes sense:
It’s how folders work in the real world. Most of our new customers have only ever filed paper and are entirely new to scanning documents and electronic document management. In the real world, you put files and documents inside folders, not other folders. Putting folders inside other folders is not only confusing, it can get bulky and unmanageable. Scan123’s structure was intentionally modeled after the way businesses file paper. We even use similar terminology: cabinets, folders, files. This continuity helps business owners wrap their minds around the new concepts of electronic document management and eases the transition.
It’s simpler and easier. Below is an excerpt from a blog post by iA about the new Mountain Lion file system. They wrote exactly what we wanted to say about this:
Classic folder systems don’t perform too well. One reason is that organizing folders is engaging in the tiring discipline of information architecture. Information architecture is hard brain work. Just like a chess problem, it seems obvious once done, but takes considerable mental energy to figure out a clear and simple information architecture. And mainly, you just don’t want to do it all the time … Folders-in-folders are hard to deal with. Just as physical folders-in-folders are prone to creating a mess, digital folders-in-folders represent a steep mental hurdle for most of us. Most people don’t want to bother with folder structures. They get confused when they’re forced to deal with settings in a text editing application. People expect things to just work.
Besides the fact that it’s a challenge to create and maintain an intuitive, easy-to-navigate folder structure, the ability to electronically search for files has almost made it unnecessary. The whole purpose of a folder hierarchy is to help you find files quickly. But now searching for a file is often faster than navigating to it, especially if you aren’t sure exactly where the file is. This makes anything more than the minimal organizing of files a waste of time and mental energy. In the 8 years that we’ve been using, selling, and supporting Scan123, we have not regretted our decision to allow only files inside folders. Have we been questioned and challenged on this? Sure. But hundreds of happy businesses across the United States using Scan123 indicate that this works and works well. This move by Apple further vindicates our decision.