Forget Folders, Think Smart Folders

Lee Gomes, in his column today in the Wall Street Journal says that the death of the folders is highly exaggerated. Google wants to do away with the whole concept of folders, and subfolders (Gmail for example!). Others believe that the rise of TAGS could be the death knell for folders, since the difference between our desktops and online presence is not very different. Gomes thinks folders are the way to go when looking for information. I agree. Except, I think folders (as we know them) are dead, long live the Smart Folders. If you have been using Apple Mail in Tiger, you know what I am talking about – smart folders that can be created on the fly, and what Apple calls “organically organized.” Do a spotlight search and create a folder that groups all the files that match your search command.

Smart Folders contain files grouped together based on search criteria instead of physical location, so the same file can appear in multiple Smart Folders without moving from its original saved location on your system. No need to duplicate, shift or update files: Spotlight Smart Folders keep everything organized for you.

Clearly, Apple has applied new thinking to folders, but PC users don’t have to wait for them. Sure Microsoft has promised “smarts” in Longhorn, but Blinkx lets you create these smart folders even now. (You can actually share them with others, but I wouldn’t advise that!)

surangaSuranga Chandratillake, the uber smart founder of Blinkx explained to me via email that the top-down hierarchical folder (or directory) system was all right when we did not have many files. A few directories made a lot of sense. Now everyone has a few gigabytes of data. (I personally have a terabyte of data floating around my apartment!) There’s no way the average human brain can accurately deal with a 4000+ folder hierarchy by memory, Suranga argues.

Blinkx’s Smart Folders use a feature of common operating systems – Unix for a long time and Windows/DOS more recently – ‘soft-links’ … which really means that a file really exists only in one place, but can ‘exist’ as a ‘soft-link’ in other directories. You can use it anywhere, edit it, change it, or even delete and the softlinks are updated on the fly. Blinkx, takes it one step further by look at the very content of the files as well. In other words, what they do with their search online, they do on the desktop as well. “I can do what I want with my email (even just leave all of it in my inbox), it’ll automatically get put in the right folder for me … and, if the email ought to be in more than one place at a time, it’ll automatically go into all the right places,” Suranga writes. Try it out guys – I am not much of a Windows user, but the newest version of blinkx is worth a download, for nothing else then just for creating smart folders.

PS: Given that how quickly others copy Blinkx features – video search, blog search, desktop search, it is only a matter of time before “smart folders” become common place.

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