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12 reasons folders in SharePoint are a bad idea

Posted on February 8, 2014
SharePoint

I got an overwhelming response to my “Stay away from folders in SharePoint” article. While I am still working on the follow-up post on how to go completely “folder-less” using meta-data, I decided to list some compelling reasons on why folders in SharePoint should be avoided. The list is geared more towards end-users and folder proponents and could be used as a business case on why document library should be setup using meta-data. So here it goes:

1. Usability

Nested folder structure is only known to the person who created it. Also, too many sub-folders tend to “hide” things.

2. URL length limitation

SharePoint adds all folder and sub-folder names to URL. Overall URL length is limited to around 260 characters. You are out of luck if you create too many sub-folders.

3. File URL

Moving file from one folder to another means change of file URL.

4. Security

Maintaining Security by folders in SharePoint is an administrative nightmare. Don’t even think about doing it!

5. User experience

User Experience (navigation, finding the documents) just stinks with folders (it is so 1990’s!)

6. File duplication

With folders you can deposit multiple copies of same file into different locations – not a good thing when you try to organize documents and data in the first place!

7. 1 Lonely View

There is another reason NOT to use folders. With folders, you get one view: the folder view. Using metadata, you can create unlimited number of views by whatever properties you have setup (i.e. organize documents by date, by customer, by project, etc.) So the document browsing experience is much better-off.

8. Can’t Sort & Filter

Since your files are buried in the folders, you can’t really benefit from sorting and filtering capabilities of document library headers (unless of course you are just sorting and filtering in the particular folder).

9. Change is hard

It’s hard to change folder structure, while changing metadata is easy.

10. Lost documents

You can “lose” documents when placed in the wrong folder. Additionally, Also, too many sub-folders tend to hide things, making it impossible or too time-consuming for users to find a particular document.

11. Navigation

When you are in a particular sub-folder, there is no way to tell in which folder you are at any given time, and no easy way to navigate to the parent folder (there is no breadcrumb on folder navigation menu available)

12. Cost

If you are essentially recreating nested folders you had on file share, by using SharePoint, you have got yourself one expensive file share. Why not stay with folders on shared drive? Or go with the DropBox account?

So that is my list. Do you have any other ones that you think should be added? Will be happy to discuss this topic further via email or on Social Media. Email me at greg@sharepointmaven.com

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Updated February 20, 2014

I received well over 1,000 comments on LinkedIn groups regarding this post. Hot topic indeed! Lots of interesting opinions, both for and against folders. Many have also suggested other reasons for not using folders in SharePoint. So what I decided to do is list them in this post and mention the name of a person who contributed it. So now have more than 12 reasons for not using folders :). Consider it a freebie for your business case to management and end users! :)

Reason # 13: You can not see how many documents there are in a folder. It could be empty. While if you group documents [via meta tags], you will see how many docs are in the group, and if there are no docs in the group, you do not see the group. With folders, you spend time clicking on nested folders, just to arrive at an empty one (submitted by Ellen van Aken, Netherlands)

Reason # 14: Data Integrity. When you allow users to create own folders, you are prone to data integrity issues (i.e. same piece of information like “Company name” can be misspelled or spelled differently). This would cause duplication and loss of time and efficiency for an organization.

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Convinced that you need to get away from folders? Below please find a slide deck on how to setup Document Management without folders by using metadata