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My Personal Information Management problem

I have gathered terabytes of data but it has became a habit to store files and folders to the same folder, that folder could be kind of seen as a Inbox where most files (non-installations) enter my system. This way I end up with a big collections of files that are hard to organize properly, I mostly end up making folders that match their file type but then I still have several gigabytes of data per folder which doesn't make it efficient such that I can productively use the folder.

I'd rather do a few clicks than having to search through the files, whether that's by some software product or by looking through the folder. Often the file names themselves are not proper so it would be easier to recognize them if there were few in a folder, rather than thousands of them.

Scaling in the structure of directory trees in a computer cluster summarizes this problem as following:

The processes of storing and retrieving information are rapidly gaining importance in science as well as society as a whole [1, 2, 3, 4]. A considerable effort is being undertaken, firstly to characterize and describe how publicly available information, for example in the world wide web, is actually organized, and secondly, to design efficient methods to access this information.

[1] R. M. Shiffrin and K. B¨orner, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 5183 (2004).
[2] S. Lawrence, C.L. Giles, Nature 400, 107–109 (1999).
[3] R.F.I. Cancho and R.V. Sol, Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. B 268, 2261 (2001).
[4] M. Sigman and G. A. Cecchi, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 99, 1742 (2002).

It goes further on explaining how the data is usually organized by taking general looks at it, but by looking at the abstract and conclusion it doesn't come with a conclusion or approach which results in a productive organization of a directory hierarchy. So, in essence, this is a problem for which I haven't found a solution yet; and I would love to see a scientific solution to this problem.

Looking for an empirical solution to this problem

Upon searching further, I don't seem to find anything useful or free papers that approach this problem so it might be that I'm looking in the wrong place. I've also noted that there are different ways to term this problem, which leads out to different results of papers. Perhaps a paper is out there, but I'm not just using the same terms as that paper uses? They often use more scientific terms.

I've once heard a story about an advocate with a laptop which has simply outperformed an advocate with had tons of papers, which shows how proper organization leads to productivity; but that story didn't share details on how the advocate used the laptop or how he had organized his data. But in any case, it was way more useful than how most of us organize our data these days...

Advice me how I should organize my data, I'm not looking for suggestions here. I would love to see statistics or scientific measurement approaches that help me confirm that it does help me reach my goal.

Search does not solve this problem

Search is not a solution to this because it disallows access to relevant files, which is often required as you are working in the context of a file (which often requires other files). This is why I mentioned before that bad file names are a mayor problem. And no, putting all directory names in the file name is not the right approach to this. Full text data search engine searches only work for textual files, and the directory names are often not within the file. That makes Search unreliable and uncertain when searching...

Also note that I am looking for structural organization/accessing, because semantic approaches (like "this is how I divide it and works for me and my friends" or "search works for me") are not applicable to everyone, while structural approaches are applicable to the majority of users that navigate their storage.

share|improve this question
Did you say there that a file search does not output the location of a file in the file system tree? Then I'm wondering what kind of search you are talking about, since that is one of the most basic functions of a search: Telling you the location. Same with "disallowing" the access to relevant files? What do you mean by that? Is the idea that every file has some information attached to it which files are related? – 0x6d64 Apr 9 '12 at 9:41
@0x6d64: For the file location or relevant files to be useful, it would require to be structured as well. Files that are related should be together, because when I am working on mathematical exercises in one file the chance is high I would need to write about my findings in a file that's very related to it. It would make sense for these two files to be in the same small directory, and not together in a very big directory or miles apart from each other. This is where the importance of structuring lies, as without a proper folder structure, file names and metadata any navigation is useless... – Tom Wijsman Apr 9 '12 at 9:47
Please note (as I mentioned in my answer) that I am looking for structural and not for semantical advice, which would include advice like "X items / folder, Y subfolders / folder and Z levels deep are optimal in terms of having relevant stuff together as well as access time" doing so prevents you from "having big folders", "having not enough or too much sub folders" and "having to click miles before you get to your content" but rather have your data "just right for every form of navigation". This not only improves pure navigation, but it also improves seeing the relevant files, search, ... – Tom Wijsman Apr 9 '12 at 9:53
good question - how did you solve your problem? – MostlyHarmless Aug 9 '12 at 16:03
@Martin: Unanswered til this point. Limiting the amount of directories / files per folder and the depth of folders is a good start, but it isn't perfect... – Tom Wijsman Aug 9 '12 at 16:05

If you are operating your system with Windows 7 you might try to tag your documents (pictures, office files, music files) with keywords. You can search for those keywords in Win7 as described here : Advanced Tips for searching in windows

Here is a how to for tagging files: Tag your files for easier searches in Windows

share|improve this answer
Has this been shown to improve productivity, or will this merely increase my procrastination by mindless tagging with a high cost instead of structural organizing with a high benefit? – Tom Wijsman Apr 11 '12 at 11:02
I'm a specialist in document management. Believe me, it's all abeout getting files together. No file structure will ever do this for you if files have properties (tags). Example: You get an email with an attachment. Possible tags for the attachment: email-attachment, the person who sent it, the issue it's about, the project you are working on, the document type (a schedule, a report, etc). ... – Korinna Apr 11 '12 at 11:11
...You tag the file with all this. In which folder would you store it? One folder for each tag? I store files by month YYYY/MM and tag them. If I want to find all files of the project, I search for the project. If I want all schedules, I search for schedule and so on. Or combined project and schedule. Be creative. The number of possible tags is may be infinite. – Korinna Apr 11 '12 at 11:12
Infinite tags really sound like a lot of work, but I would like to know the benefit behind all this cost. I am missing research here, can you link me to it? – Tom Wijsman Apr 11 '12 at 11:23
It's my personal research. So I can't link you to anything, sorry. – Korinna Apr 11 '12 at 11:35

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