Foldering vs. Search

There's an argument that says: Keeping information in the right folders is too much work. Plus, you always want to look at the same information in other ways, and having it kept in folders makes it harder to find. So don't bother foldering. Instead, expect to use a search engine. Put another way: Don't bother to categorize electronically stored information; let search engines do that work for you.

This argument does seem to apply to a lot of electronically stored information. However, sometimes it doesn't. For example, sometimes it just takes too much time to run the search engine and fiddle with search criteria until you find what you want. Sometimes folders and categorization/tagging just feel like a far better solution.

One common approach is to automatically categorize email. However, this is often rather inaccurate.

Recommind's Decisiv Email is a useful tool that helps categorize email. Foldering is done manually, but is machine-assisted:

  • It suggests suitable places you can file email, based on TO, FROM, CC, Subject, Content, and your past filing preferences.
  • It displays a ranking/confidence level for each suggestion.
  • Multiple categories/folders are possible, but only a copy of the original is kept.
  • You can see what's been filed, and what hasn't been.
  • Users can easily browse the various folders.
  • Users can define their folder structure.
  • Emails are filed into Recommind's own repository, facilitating search and sharing.
  • Access controls apply to messages, so privacy is maintained.
  • It works via an Outlook plugin.

When manual categorization is required, machine assistance is clearly the way to go.

... David Ferris

One Comment

  1. Posted July 26, 2008 at 9:27 PM | Permalink

    Hi David,

    I’ve thought about this one a lot. You are right that it’s not an either-or situation.

    This is also probably a generational thing, since the folder metaphor comes from the time of filing cabinets and plain manilla. My gut feeling is that long-term, with the number of messages individuals will be receiving and sending every day (not just email), foldering will become unscalable. For me, I’ve already abandoned it (see more at

    But I do agree that decision comes with trade-offs.


  2. Posted July 28, 2008 at 1:06 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful input Nick.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. To comment, first join our community.