In a folder tree, for example, I either organize by subject and client within subject or client, and subject within client. When I consult with a client on enterprise technical architecture management, files either go into the Clients/DeepPocketsCorporation/ETAM folder or the ConsultingServices/ETAM/DeepPocketsCorporation folder, depending on how I've decided to organize them.
Now, imagine using metadata to simulate folder trees: When you "file" a document into a "folder," the user interface is fooling you. It looks just like you're filing the document, but what you're really doing is adding a keyword tag from multiple administered outlines. And because "outline" sounds like something you learned in middle school, the industry calls it a "taxonomy" instead.
In effect, so far as I know from the user interface, I'll stash these documents in both the Clients/DeepPocketsCorporation and ConsultingServices/ETAM folders. When the time comes to find them again, if I look in Clients/DeepPocketsCorporation, I'll find everything related to that client; if I look in ConsultingServices/ETAM, I'll find everything related to enterprise technical architecture management. If I check both locations at once, I find only the ETAM-related documents created for DeepPocketsCorporation.
The key to keywords
For individual users on individual desktop, laptop, or tablet computers, an administered keyword taxonomy would look and feel just like how they create a folder/subfolder taxonomy, except they'd be able to create more than one. Navigating them to find a file would be just like navigating a folder tree, again except that there would be more than one, and under the covers, unbeknownst to them, what would be happening is a keyword search.
On an enterprise level, IT (or the chief knowledge officer if you like that sort of thing) would provide administered taxonomies as part of the company content management system. Users would (I hope) still be free to develop their own private taxonomies, for use whenever the centrally administered ones don't do the job. Beyond this, they'd also be free to add ad hoc keyword tags to documents should that be more convenient. Whenever a user tags a document with an administered keyword, the document in question would be replicated in the content management system and automagically kept synchronized. This just makes sense: If a document fits an administered tag, by definition it's part of the company's fund of accumulated knowledge.
Who will sell this to us?
The sad fact is the odds of our getting this sort of capability any time soon are minimal. Apple is actively against it; Windows 8 will provide Windows-style folder trees and that's about it; and nobody in the Android space has shown any imagination at all.
The only possibility I can see is a company like Dropbox heading in this direction. In fact, if Apple ever turns iCloud Documents & Data into something more than a joke, this might be the only way for Dropbox and its competitors to stay in business.
This story, "In search of a silver bullet for iPad file management," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.