PIM structures - hierarchies or tags

Hierarchies or tags 

I found this article at zoot forum http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/ZootForum/message/10195. There are some interesting points made about information management. I will first copy part of this post. I will then explain how Biblioscape is designed to meet the challenge.

Benefits of Hierarchical Structure

  • People like hierarchical structures (items within files within folders) because they give information a sense of location and sequence.
  • Hierarchies tend to work best when tailored to an individual's personal needs.

Problems with Hierachies

  • Complex hierarchies are hard to construct (takes time and thought), and are dependent on purpose.
  • The appropriateness of hierarchies and sequence of items can both matter (year/month/day and Sunday, Monday, ...)
  • They break down semantically as they grow more complex.
  • Different people use different terms for similar things (Tasks, Actions, and ToDos; Notes, Memos, Items).
  • Hierarchies tend to grow messy, with too many layers and folders, too many "random" or "misc" folders, and too many items stuffed into folders that poorly match the item.
  • Difficult to quickly reorganize for an ad hoc purpose (takes lots of time)
  • Require placing items into appropriate locations (takes time)
  • Rigidity of the parent/child model (many items could usefully go more than one folder)

Benefits of Tags (Categories, Keywords, Attributes, Facets)

  • Tags allow searches to locate items anywhere in the database
  • Tags allow searches to group items together quickly based on the tags.

Problems with Tags (Categories, Keywords, Attributes, Facets)

  • By themselves tags provide little sense of location or sequence relative to the larger pool of data. (The databases feel chaotic.)
  • Tags have to be added if not inherent in the data (takes time).
  • Data thrown into a non-hierarchical structure with tags omitted is like throwing items into a giant bin. You forget what's in there, and, unless you get lucky with search terms, you never see it again unless you go through the bin item by item (which takes time, especially if useless items are in the bin). So ideally, tags should be added to the item early on, such as when the item is placed in the database (takes time).
  • Hard to create good tags (issues of consistency, synonyms, etc., so takes thought)
  • Tags multiple and become chaotic.

An ideal PIM might:

  • Allow both a hierarchical structure and ways of tagging individual items.
  • Allow items to be assigned (linked, cloned) to multiple folders in a hierarchy.
  • Allow items found in a search to easily be assigned (linked, cloned) to a new folder.
  • Allow for the automation of certain tasks, such as folder assignments and keyword indexing.

Biblioscape is designed to do both

From my personal experience, a sense of location is very important in information management. I guess this comes from our real world experiences. Every physical thing around us all belong to some place. When I use an information manager that uses tagging system alone, I quickly feel lost. A piece of information I put into the system no longer has an anchor and I start to have a hard time remember it and find it. I have one big problem with hierarchies, that is the need to organize items for a different purpose. Sometimes, a piece of information is valuable in more than one situations. For example, I collected an article about president Bush's visit to New Orleans after the hurricane. I put it under a folder called "Katrina". But later, I start to work on another project about Louisiana politics and this article mentions corruption in New Orleans. Obviously, we find the limitation of folders because an item can only be in one folder. It is the time to use categories. You can create a category called "Louisiana politics" and drag that item to this category. In Biblioscape, categories are organizaed in hierarchies too. So you get the benefit of both methods. When there is a need to organize existing pieces of information in another dimension, you can do it by creating new categories.

It all depends on the amount of information you need to handle

For most people, folders alone are good enough to handle their collections. When you have only a few hundred records, you pretty much remember their places. Flexibility produces confusion and learning curve for new users. That's why I recommend new users just stick with folders and not be bothered with categories. When your database becomes large with thousands of records, or you start to have the needs to organize items in more than one way, you should then look into the categories module.