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Problem

I always have problems logically organizing my important data in folders. My goal is to organize such that I am able to find what I want even after a long time, say, 10 years. Or even better, I want it to be organized such that any one else can easily find whatever is required.

Example

Consider a section of my ebooks folder - Computers. It includes ebooks on Programming Languages, Databases, High Performance Computation, Linux. (There are more such folders inside each of these, and so on.) Moreover, the ebooks inside these folders are not actually specific to only that folder. For example, inside Programming Languages folder, I have ebooks on Python, inside which, one of the ebooks is on MySQL, MySQL for Python.pdf. Now, this book could have also been inside the Databases folder too, but for some reason, I don't know, I kept it inside the Python folder (inside Programming Languages folder). Perhaps, its not a good choice.

Suppose, now I have a problem in MySQL and I wish to solve it (using any interface - commandline or using a Programming Langauge). So, I would first crawl into the Databases folder. Suppose, unfortunately, I don't find an ebook useful to my problem. Now, there are few dozen folders in my Programming languages folders, like C, Java, Python, etc. and it is really painful to crawl through every one of these and find a book on MySQL. (Ofcourse, I can run a search in my Programming Languages for MySQL, but there are some practical difficulties; for example, I cannot compare books on MySQL with those on PostgreSQL if I am doing a search, although both are on Databases. However, if they are all in the same folder, I can easily do that.)

So, if there was some better logical organization, I could have easily got the ebook Python for MySQL.pdf. One possible solution I thought is to use links (so, for above example, a link to MySQL for Python.pdf in my Databses folder could have saved a lot of my time.) But the problem with this is that if I rename or move a folder, then all links pointing to folders inside it are dead (atleast on Ubuntu, Linux).

Question

The above example is one such problem. There are a few more. So, I wish to know if there is some standard way defined for organizing commonly used data into folders. Perhaps something like Filesystem Hierarchy Standards.

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I started recently using Calibre and it is a beautiful application. Earlier I used to have organisation like you and it was very painful to keep the books organised and very time intensive. Now I don't bother. Just put all (import) all the books in calibre and make a copy on an external hdd. This way I can have it at home as well as office. –  Natwar Lath Mar 25 '12 at 16:17
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6 Answers

As long as one book belongs to more than one categories that cannot be ordered hierarchically, you will always have problems with folders.

I think tags might help you here.

You can use A-Z folders and sort the books according to author name (and naming the files author_year.pdf (or author_author_year.pdf if there are two, etc., last name only). Then you tag the files with the categories you mentioned, e.g., Python, SQL, etc. The same ebook file can be tagged with more than one categories, avoiding the sorting problem if you use smart lists to display the files, not folders. You can use a smart list for "Phython", showing you all your python-books, "SQL" for all books tagged with SQL, etc. If a book is tagged with both, it will appear in both lists. You can also create smart lists for combinations (SQL and Python) or lists that exclude tags (e.g., SQL but not Python).

Tags work very well for images and I applied it to my research literature.

Personally, I use DEVONthink (on Mac, see my blog entry here), I do not know which programs run on Ubuntu that support tags, or whether the OS does it natively and will still be available in 10 years. A few things would work in almost any OS:

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You might consider the use of an ebook management program such as Calibre (available on Windows, Mac and Linux), which gets past the problems you have by having a multiple-tagging mechanism.

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Organizing the ebook files was only an example of the over-arching problem the OP is describing. Calibre is only for ebooks. –  Kyle Hayes Mar 28 '12 at 2:19
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I read an interesting article a couple of months ago from Lifehacker that described a more automated yet I believe, effective method.

The author recommends a backup, documents, documents archive, long term storage, and scripts folder. In addition, he recommends file automation tools to help keep things tidy.

Ditch Hard Drive Clutter with an Organized, Automated Home Folder

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Perhaps try a combination of different techniques to organize you books.

I started off with a same "logical folder structure" approach as you have and ran into the same problems you have. ;-)

Logical folder structure

If you want to stick to your current system, try to get a clear mental model first. For example in your head, all database related books should go in the mental folder "databases". Then make your physical folder structure the same as your mental folder structure. Meaning: everytime you think about MySQL or MS SQL Server or Oracle you should by default go to the "database" folder, not to the "programming languages" or the "SQL" or the "set theory" folder.

And try not to make to many nested folders. It's to tedious to go through them to finds things.

Tags

As Daniel Wessel mentioned, if you want to have the same book in multiple "folders", then perhaps a logical folder structure is the wrong way to go. Try tagging your books. That requires you to use some sort of tooling. As Natwar Lath mentions in his comment, Calibre might be a good tool for that because it supports tagging books. Here is a blog post about Calibre's tagging feature.

Fulltext search

Or maybe you can stick to your logical folder structure and use full text search to find the information. Maybe you can make your operating system create an index not only of your folder structure, but also of the content of all your books.

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I use evernote (the paid version) for that purpose, you can upload any document to evernote, or send it per email, or use a desktop client or a mobile client. You can put the documents in a two-level folder hierarchy and also tag them. But the most important feature is that everything is indexed and you can just search in your whole document base (even text in picture is recognized)...

I think the free version supports only pdf documents.

Here is a post about it which also references other interesting posts.

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IIRC, In Linux, only symbolic links exhibit the problems you mention.

If you make a hard link (without the -s option), then renaming/moving directories or even renaming the original filename will not matter.

Shortcuts in Windows (at least in Windows 7) are slightly different but you can still rename or move things around and the shortcut will still work.

These solutions however don't work across filesystems, but it doesn't sound like that is problem in your scenario.

Another solution is to simply duplicate the files--space is cheap.

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Another problem with duplication is that of consistency of names between the 2 files at 2 diff locations. I frequently rename the files. –  Guanidene Mar 23 '12 at 16:39
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