For years, we’ve been organizing all of our stuff by putting it into folders – alphabetically, topically, or chronologically-sorted folders.  It’s been our method for organizing all of our paperwork and then by default it became the method for organizing all of our digital data.

But is the traditional system of folders organized in a hierarchical structure really the best way to manage and ultimately to find information in today’s digital age?

When we were creating Arkkeo we evaluated all the practices out there for organizing, managing and searching massive amounts of information and what we found is that the traditional folder system is far from optimal.

Folders clearly have their limitations. For example, we all have documents that belong to several areas of life but when we file documents into traditional folders we are forced to place each document into a folder that represents only one area of life… or we have to start making duplicate copies to place in other folders. Automobile insurance is a good example. Logic might say that the auto insurance papers would be filed under ‘insurance’ but perhaps you also want to keep them in a file where all your other car documents are kept, then you have to make duplicates. And what if you have multiple cars under the same policy? Well you can see the hassle. As soon you start duplicating items you create extra work, along with the possible confusion of trying to keep multiple copies of the same document, and you use unnecessary disk space by having these extra copies.   Furthermore, finding a document can be quite a time consuming task if you don’t remember the precise folder where you placed the document originally and what the name of the document is. Most of us have felt the pain more than once when thinking a document was placed in one location only to search and search and never find it.

This is where categories and tags come in.

Categories are used to describe your documents in broad terms whereas tags are the little extra labels that describe your document content in a bit more detail. Probably the most widely-known examples of the use of categories and tags are from the blogs we read every day. Or from Facebook’s photo tags — where bits of information accompany a photo and describe what, or who, is in the photo.

By applying categories and tags to documents, you can have a single document (or groups of documents) existing in multiple places simultaneously without making any duplicate copies. So you auto insurance policy could exist under ‘Insurance’ and ‘Auto’ and also could be tagged with VW and Ford if the policy were for these two different vehicles. One document. Multiple locations. No duplication required.

Additionally, when it comes time to finding your documents later you no longer need to remember in which folder you might have put something (which is usually a nightmare) but instead you only need to think of some aspect of the document that you would have used in a tag. When you search on a tag, all the matching documents associated with that tag will be displayed. Documents can be found through multiple thought threads as they do not belong to one single “physical” location, but rather they live in a multi-dimensional database where they can be located in many places simultaneously.

So even if you have a document entitled FINReport_080713.pdf (not very descriptive), you can always find it later based on the tags you have used.

Let’s have a look at how categories and tags work in Arkkeo.

To help get you started, Arkkeo has twelve pre-set categories for you to choose from: Car, Family, Finances, Health, Hobbies, Home, Identity, Insurance, Memories, Purchases, Travel and Work. The pre-set categories represent areas of your life where important documents are frequently accumulated and need to be saved and also used later. Of course you can create your own categories but the pre-set categories give you a good base.

When you put documents into Arkkeo you should think first about the appropriate category (or categories) that a document could live in. For example, a hotel receipt for a holiday to New York City could be placed in Travel (since it’s related to Travel), Purchases (since it’s a purchase receipt) and perhaps you might also categorize it as Memories (if it was a special trip for which you’d like to remember the hotel details). You can categorize a document with as many categories as you see as relevant.

Because tags represent information about information, they are sometimes called “metadata” (data about data). They’re used to give clues to anyone searching for a specific piece of information inside a file, photo, map or whatever.

Tags can generally be arbitrary bits of text, making it possible to provide a virtually limitless number of groups, and you can tag a document with as many different keywords as you desire. We recommend that you get started by adding tags such as:

  • subject = the person and/or subject that the document is about  (eg, vacation)
  • when = the year, the month (ex.  2013, July)
  • where = the place where the document is from (ex. retailer name, healthcare provider name, town name, etc)
  • what = the document type (ex. receipt, contract, report, invoice, warranty, floor plans, drawing, photo,  etc)

So going back to the hotel receipt example, you might tag the receipt document with the following descriptors = Holiday, May, 2013, Receipt, Hotel.

If at some point in time you want to look back at all of your holidays, then you can search by category = Memories. And by tag = holiday. The result would be that Arkkeo would find all the documents that have been labeled in this way – including the receipt for your New York City hotel stay.

Let’s take a different scenario. Let’s say you want to assess all of your spending for May 2013. Again it’s really easy. You can search by the broad category = Purchases and also the more specific tags = receipts, invoices, May, 2013. Arkkeo would then pull up all the relevant information for you. And again the hotel receipt for your New York City holiday would be found.

Attempting to extract the same information from a traditional and hierarchical folder system would be impossible.

Using categories and tags (versus folders) means that it’s easy to search and find documents as they are not locked to a physical location but rather they exist in a multi-dimensional database. It’s possible to quickly sort and organize large or small amounts of information based on what the documents are about. No longer do you have to worry about duplication of files and the hassle and confusion that can bring. The result = easier, faster, better document management.