The Return of the Great Filesystem Hierarchy

The problem: I have data of the same general ‘type’ spread across many web services and my personal files stored on my computer.  For example, I have PDFs of books in a ‘Books’ directory in my file system and books from Amazon in my kindle.  Or I have movies/videos on my computer, on the Play store, on Amazon, etc.    There is no one place where I can see/browse my entire movie, music, or book collection across these services.  I want a way to still be able to use certain  apps and services while still maintaining a high-level view of where all my stuff is.  For example, when I have a Kindle book, I want to still use the Amazon reader and all of its features, but for a PDF I may prefer to use OS X’s Preview or some other reader.   I want a way to reconcile the fact that, for example, a ‘book’ is the type of thing I really care about organizing with the fact that applications like Amazon’s cloud reader want your ‘thing’ to be your entire  library of books.

The file system is a solution:  Remember the days when all of your stuff was on a single file system organized hierarchically?   It’s not so convenient anymore to store all of your data in one place, and super awesome and useful cloud apps have contributed significantly to this.   However, by using your file system as your primary view, I’d argue that most of your ‘things’ across can be organized again.  One solution is to use file types that represent links.   For example, in OS X these are ‘.webloc‘ files (just drag a link from your browser to the Desktop and you will see how this looks).   You can double click on one of these and it will open up the link in a browser.   Between apps on my computer and cloud apps, using these links covers most of my cases (e.g. you can link to a specific book on Amazon or to an album on Google Play Music).  There’s even an app in Google Drive (by default using .glink extension) that properly handles .webloc files.

A natural extension to this approach is the ability to associate each thing with metadata (e.g. like a row in a database) allowing you to view  your data in multiple ways.

In any case, using files and links to web apps seems to be a good interim solution to this problem (which first appeared as a G+ post).

6 comments

  1. jiggy gaton · December 10, 2013

    I agree with the problem but not the solution. The situation is that we have extended the file system hierarchy into the cloud, and onto disconnected devices. to make matters worse, the average user may come across two or three file-based operating systems in a day, and then half-based ones as well, like Android and iOS. Trying to create links to files outside of individual realms is an exercise in futility. The real solution is for the industry to wake up and smell the coffee. We don’t want files at all. We want things like: books, movies, TV shows, pictures, appointments, messages, reminders, projects, etc. We have also been waiting a long time for these things to manifest correctly and seamlessly across all the devices that we use (syncing), but for most, it’s such a hassle it’s not even done. So the “solution” is still Star Trek, “Computer, what is the nature of the universe?” But don’t expect Google / Apple / Microsoft and others to collaborate on that anytime soon.

  2. Geet · December 11, 2013

    Hi Jiggy. Your point is exactly why I proposed this solution in the first place. In the absence of collaborative solutions to share books/etc across companies (something that I have no control over), I propose using the URL: an open standard *link* that a lot of cloud services use to take us to a particular ‘thing’ of interest to help me stay organized to some degree.

  3. Pingback: Automating Organization via Sticky Items (Follow-Up to Last Post) | Geet Duggal's Blog
  4. Pingback: Automating Organization and ‘Sticky Items’ | Geet Duggal's Blog
  5. Jiggy Gaton · December 12, 2013

    Yes, I see what you are suggesting. I just don’t know how a normal person would be able to create links to all their content spread out to various cloud sites / repositories across devices without help from an app or an OS. Could be a good idea for an app actually, call it “All My Things” – that scans everything everywhere and creates the appropriate links automagically. The app could then offer up an “Apple-like spotlight search” that groups results into all your “Things” categories. Something like that🙂 In this way, the file hierarchy is immaterial to the end-user.

  6. Geet · December 12, 2013

    Hi Jiggy. I agree!

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