Last month I have created a survey among the readers of OrganizePictures.com. The question was very simple: Do you use folders or tags? The answers were pretty much split in the middle. Half of those who answered responded that they use only folders for organizing their pictures, while half of them were using a combination of folders and tags for organizing their pictures. Only two people said they’re only using tags for organizing their pictures. One of the conclusions of this survey is that image organization just with folders is very popular. I was not surprised by this conclusion because of several reasons.
A while back I have written a popular article that compares image tags and folders as the two most common methods for organizing pictures (Read Tags vs. Folders). Today I will only take out the very essential reason why I believe that organizing pictures in folders will remain very popular regardless of the advances in software.
Organizing your pictures with folders is simple and efficient
Using folders for organizing pictures is simple
Many times we choose methods to use simply because we find another similar method that we understand. When computers started becoming popular in the 1980s, the file system was based on folders, just like it is today. When operating systems were conceived in the 1970s, they have used the file folder analogy of filing cabinets. They needed something in real life that would help users understand how to organize the files on their computers. So there it was: files and folders. The analogy was perfect, even though the objects being manipulated were very different. It was a lot more important for users to understand what they’re doing than to come up with complicated technical names. That was brilliant !
Today we’re in 2009, computers have been around for a long time. Everyone owns a computer these days and almost everyone using a computer understands the files and folders concept simply because they have something they can compare it with. Sometimes I teach kids about computers and once I bring real paper folders they understand the concept of computer files right away.
Well, pictures are just another type of file on the computer. That’s why it is only natural to start organizing your pictures in folders. There is pretty much nothing to learn, anyone can start doing it. The only problem arises when you have way too many folders. That’s when a little thinking and organization principles help a lot (Read Organize your pictures in 5 easy steps). Once a folder naming convention is understood, this will pretty much be enough for many, many photographers. Why? Because it’s simple and intuitive. This is the main reason why folders will remain the most popular method for organizing pictures.
But, but…tags are so much more powerful
Yes, I agree, image tags are more powerful than folders. However, very few people need this power when it comes to organizing their pictures on their computer. Personally, even though I understand its benefits, I rarely use its power. I have nothing agains using tags (just read the tags section of this site), but my argument is that most people who use a digital camera will never need that power.
I read about many different scenarios about how using tags for image organization can make finding pictures so much easier, but in real life I never find myself in those scenarios. A scenario that I keep seeing as an example of the power of image tags would be: “What if I want a picture of my aunt on her birthday five years ago with her sons in the picture?” Yes, it’s a reasonable scenario no doubt, but how often does it happen to you to actually look for such a picture? For me, it never happens (I guess I should never say never). The most likely scenario for me is to look at recent pictures shot at recent events. Sometimes, I go back to specific events, to remember the sights and feelings…but I usually know the year and the place I want to look for..so I just open the appropriate folder.
Granted, tags are very powerful, but they are powerful for people that actually need that power. If you don’t need the power, then all the time spent to create the necessary infrastructure (carefully constructed image tags, carefully selected software, carefully created backup strategy) will not add much value to you. Well…at least that’s my opinion.