“A filer is a person who organizes information using a rigid structure, and a piler is someone who maintains a mostly unstructured information organization.” [From Surviving the Information Explosion: How People Find Their Electronic Information (pdf)]
Google Docs & Spreadsheets now offer folders for those people who want to explicitly organize their online files rather than relying on search. Duncan Riley of TechCrunch calls for Gmail to include folders too. He’s a filer.
Simplified, filers rely on folders to find things they want while pilers rely on search. Actually, according to the study referenced above, people of both types often use an “orienteering” strategy to find what they need, using little bits of context and what they remember about where the desired information is to guide them step by step towards their target.
As I’ve gotten better at using search and as search has itself gotten better, I find myself relying less and less on folders or on Gmail’s labels. Filing just takes too much thought and work without a payoff later for me. Besides, it seems a holdover from our physical desktops. Maybe we won’t need folders once our computers do a better job of keeping track of what we’ve done, sorting out what’s relevant from what’s not, and paying attention to what sort of things we look for.
So I’m turning into a piler as search gets better and as I get better at using it. What about you?