Sub-folders vs Metadata – a Story About Resistance and Changing Jobs

There is always resistance by end users to go the metadata route instead of using sub-folders in their document libraries.  Their arguments for staying with sub-folders have some validity when it comes to resistance to change though.   People don’t like to change.  Changing from sub-folders to metadata is like changing jobs.

When you’ve been with a company for a long time, you get used to them; you get comfortable with them, (file shares with sub-folders). You don’t even realize how they have completely shaped the way you think and act.   It doesn’t matter that you aren’t even seen as a person anymore, you know how to buck the system and you have your own private systems in place (can’t find a sub-folder, just make your own).  No-one really watches what you do anymore, no-one really cares.  You’re inside the company walls (got access to file shares), the fact there is utter chaos on the floors is immaterial, (you can never find anything first time); they’re making money anyway.

But because you’ve been with your company for 10 or 20 or 30 years – you don’t know any different.  You’ve never been taught a new way of thinking, you’ve never been encouraged to think for yourself or innovatively – you’re a sheep, institutionalized.  (I am generalizing of course, but I’ve seen this happen often).    You have no idea what’s going on ‘out there’ and don’t know that you have options.  You stay where you are because it’s ‘safe’, you don’t have to think.  It’s done for you.

So one day you decide to be brave and get a new job, (metadata).  It’s terrifying, you don’t know anybody, you don’t know anything.  Everyone is running around with energy and thinking out of the box (creating views).  Even more scary is how everyone seems to be smiling a lot and cheerful – that’s because they have found a new and exciting way to work more efficiently.  Work has become play, SharePoint has transformed their world.

After a week the new company’s strange ways are still completely alien to you and you think you’ve made a mistake, you must immediately run back to your sub-folders.  But you haven’t even given it a chance.  You’re sure they’re all barking mad and insist that sub-folders are the way to go.  They in turn look at you like you are barking mad and gently sit you down to explain how it works and show you how to do it.

You go back to your desk and tentatively try your newly acquired skill.  You’re still not convinced and you don’t have time to teach anyone anything, you’re too busy.  But suddenly the penny drops and you find a way to apply your new skill yourself.  A big grin appears on your face and you have to admit that while it may not solve every case every time, this time it’s pretty darn cool.

So you start to relax a little, you learn to smile too.  You make a new friend (SharePoint) at the company and you’ve found like-minded people that are only too happy to help, so you decide to give it a chance.  You still have a use for your old company (file shares), you made many friends there (sub-folders) and it gave you a base from which to grow.  You just archive that information for now. Your time there gave you the opportunity to learn about business and with your newly acquired SharePoint skills, you’re ready to conquer your new world.

As your skills grow, you think of new ways to work with your information and before you know it, you’re using wikis and custom lists to replace single documents in sub-folders as well as using metadata!  Your team love you because your enthusiasm is rubbing off on them and you’re encouraging them to think for themselves.  Your boss loves you because you getting your job done quicker and more efficiently.  Everybody wins, life is good and your naturally innovative personality is thriving!

The point is, it is scary and I’m not saying it’s easy – but just give it a chance, there are lots of people ready to help you.  You don’t know what you’re missing.  The choice is still ultimately yours and you can go back to sub-folders any time you want.

Read a discussion on LinkedIn for more info on the pros and cons of sub-folders.


  1. I guess you can accomodate all by simply using views (show files outside of folders).

    This way you (A) get the users to fill in the metadata using the content types and (B) still allow them to have their comfort with the folder structure.

    As the files are tagged the ECM strategists will be happy as they can aggregate, plan for retention etc and the people afraid of change can happily put the documents in their folders.

    Badaboomtish. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.