Does Anyone Really Think This Is A Problem?

Oliver Reichenstein over at the iA has a strange post/article positing that nested directories are hard to understand. Reichenstein celebrates the iOS/Mountain Lion approach to file systems in which directories can be at most one level deep (and even that is too much, he believes). Leaving aside his misrepresentation of the actual situation in Mountain Lion, I'm really nonplussed by the idea that traditional file system architecture is somehow unnatural or hard to understand.

Reichenstein claims that multilevel directories are a geek invention that can only be understood by geeks and that even they don't really understand them. I'm confused because I've never had the slightest problem understanding the idea and neither have any of the non-technical people I know. To me, it seems like a natural way to organize data and really isn't any different, in principle, from an outline, something that we all learned to deal with in elementary school.

So my question, dear readers, is do you find nested directories hard to understand or unnatural? If you do, please leave a comment and let me know what the problem is.

Afterword: After writing this post I came across this post by Thom Holwerda over at OS News that expresses the same confusion over Reichenstein's article. Like me, he finds the traditional directory architecture natural and useful.

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  • Sam

    I was quite disheartened when 10.7 came out. My favourite OS was regressing instead of progressing. I was so displeased that I moved on to Debian Sid (which is rolling). Sometimes I need to use deeply nested directories, but I wish Emacs would allow me to deal with files in the same as Notmuch allows a user to pinpoint an email message or a thread. I know that I can use bookmarks (or breadcrumbs), but I wish it would be simpler to save a file. Let's say I am editing a new review: I open a new buffer, start typing, and later I have to save it. I wish I would just need to assign some tags (like in notmuch) to help pinpoint that file, instead of navigating through one of the deeper folder hierarchies in order to find the right place to save it.

  • binarycodes

    Interesting article, although I don't quite share the author's viewpoint on the nested directory architecture.

    I would not, of course, want to type in numerous level deep folders each time i want to save something,
    so I name my files properly and put them all in one directory. Then theres a cron job running that checks the file names of all files in the directory and moves them to my predefined directories based on some set rules. Simple really.

    I think over the years we all have come to understand the best way to work with/organise files that suits us. However, I have never quite found current unix/linux filesystems difficult to comprehend.

  • saataan

    My first thought: Is this an april fool's joke?
    Then, seeing the article is not dated April 1st, i thought "wtf" and read the complete article.
    "The folder system paradigm is a geeky concept." That sounds so wrong. The folder system is completely natural, it's the "divide and conquer" of file management.
    Whenever any human has a big task at hand, he breaks it down into smaller steps, down the task hierarchy. Even family relationships represent themselves as a tree structure. So if "We are just not smart enough to deal with notional pyramids", we'd be in big trouble.

    One possible enhancement of file management would be the use of tags. But even then i'd like to see a tree-like hierarchy, so i could sort my pictures i.e. by "location, date, camera used" in that order, without making that my hard-coded hierarchy.

  • i posted on g+ of similar sentiment few months ago.

    i haven't read the article you pointed to yet, just to keep my comment independent for the moment.

    here's some of my thought.

    one problem with hierarchical system for notes, writing, organization, directory, etc is that it's hard to manage. That is, when you edit or re-org, you constantly have to shift the levels.

    i've have a habit to painstakingly organizing my files ever since i used a computer. Even trivial files. But this year, i found tree system has too many problems.

    • inflexible. Say i have emacs tutorial. It could be under emacs folder. But, it also could be under “tutorial” folder, or it should be under a “programing” folder. Basically, it's fixed to one classification system. Fror many things, this just doesn't work. e.g. photos, online writings, notes, etc.

    • Often, a file or writing created on the spot, it's painful to have to think about where it belong. Over the years, i've many many files just ends up somewhere almost randomly anyway. I've also constantly re-organized my files in hierachy over the decades, and renaming, it's extremely time consuming, but i don't think i've really tasted much benefits it provides.

    • for website, nested folder is also a pain. When you want to move files, all relative links will have to be changed (and it is not trivial to write a script to automate this. I've done this recently. I though it's trivial, but the elisp scripts took me perhaps 1 week full-time, after 6 months on-and-off delay from frustration in coding) One'll also have name clash issues (e.g. you can't blindly move all files in a dir to another.). (ideally, it'd be great if all file names are unique, much like variables in programing.)

    • in org-mode, level is hard to manage. When a note is moved, all sub-levels needs to be too. Now i pretty much keep it flat with just 2 levels max. I use manual bullets (lists) instead for itemizing notes.

    i thought it's better to go with flat systems, then use keywords (atgs).

    seems things are moving in this direction in past decade.

    practically this means:

    • when using emacs org mode for notes, keep it flat.

    • don't organize your files into tree. e.g. photo collection.

    • when organizing photos, also, keep it flat.

    in general, this is similar to the idea of relational database. If you really want a tree, use tags to specify the relation. In a sense, a tree is a hard-coded format. Tags can be used to implement tree too. e.g. with a syntax that specifies it's node relation “photos→family→travel”.

    anyway, sorry for the long winded post. My 2 cents. Thanks for this interesting post!

  • PS sorry for lots typos and grammar errors! ugh.

  • rdm

    I would say that nested directories are not hard to use.

    However... I would also say that they are hard to organize well. They are not hard to organize, for one task, but when you start trying to map other concepts onto folder structures, they sometimes do not fit very well.

    In other words, they are particularly hard to organize if you are a system developer trying to make them represent new concepts.

    I remember, once, for example, trying to figure out how to represent tcp/ip connections as a part of the file system, and then trying to represent http and ftp that way. That started getting me into issues that were confusing.

    But for ordinary people doing things they already know how to do?

    Not confusing.