When someone first shows me how they’re using SharePoint I look for a sure sign whether they understand and have implemented the SharePoint paradigm to document managementâ€”I look for a folder. Granted using an occasional folder here and there is not the end of the world and doesn’t prove someone doesn’t know how to use SharePoint effectively. But if folders are used in a similar fashion to one’s hard drive it is indicative in a lack of understanding.
This isn’t entirely the fault of the end users mind you. Often they are simply thrown SharePoint without a thorough understanding of how to leverage it effectively. The end user simply starts uploading and managing documents they way they’ve known on the file share and/or their local hard drives. The solution to the problem is found in proper and complete training.
Let’s take a look at the major reasons to avoid folders in document libraries.
If you’ve ever tried to traverse someone else’s folder structure looking for a document you know what a terrible experience it is. We often end up frustrated and still without what we set out to find. Often folder titles take on something meaningful to the original user, but even when using a standard template to folders it still becomes difficult to find documents.
Using a single Documents library that comes out of a new SharePoint site does little to explain the information contained therein. Users then look at this single document folder as the root to an endless array of folders. The better approach would be to separate out your documents into multiple document libraries with titles more indicative of their contents. It also provides a better solution for your quick launch navigation in finding the information.
Content Type Effectiveness
Content Types are the backbone of categorizing and rolling up data in SharePoint. Content Types are limited to applying only to an entire document library so if you wanted to limit a content type to appear or not appear on a folder level isn’t easy nor is in intended to do so. Content Types are made for the document library and should be a representation of the data within the library. Remember that a folder is also a SharePoint content type, and putting documents within folders limits their ability to be surface through methods such as the Content Query Web Part (as you wouldn’t query all documents inside of the folder Content Type).
The Reasons for Views
Views in SharePoint provide the alternative to viewing data within a library without the use of folders. They are based largely on metadata set on the documents from (usually) the Content Types. When adding folders it renders views in SharePoint ineffective. Views provide powerful ways to view data and switch them quickly and easily. I wish more and more I had views and metadata instead of folders in my local computer.
Another big reason to not use folders is the way SharePoint handles security. You’ll notice that security is done on the list level. You can set permissions on a folder which seems like a good solution, but it’s only temporary. As your sites grow it turns into an administrative nightmare to manage all your disparate security settings. The best way is to use the groups for security on the list which inherit on up the site collection, and when you need to aberate you can do so in a cleaner fashion.
This is a small sampling of why folders aren’t the best method in SharePoint document libraries. While not exhaustive it provides a basis for using the powerful paradigm presented in SharePoint to collaborate and share documents inside of SharePoint.