Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Folders v.s. Tags
Flickr, and gmail use a concept called "tags" or "labels" to organize images, bookmarks and email respectively. Create tags as you go, items can have mulitple tags giving you a cross index. Not a new concept, but an "advanced" one, for the general public.

sipXconfig uses the classic Folders everyone understands, but there are a couple of limitations I hate. You create folders first then add items. Items can only be in one folder.

So in sipXconfig's situation, if a admin is trying to manage 10,000 users and their phones clearly they need two things above all else:
Organize items so even someone who didn't setup the system can find things (drill down)
Allow admins to share settings between the items.

The only customer in the thousand item range has done what most admins would do, create 100 folders in preparation for settings that may need to be different. Like single-heirarchy systems, it's relatively straightforward, if not cumbersome, to find items by drilling thru nested folders, but it's hard to change how settings are shared between folders without major restructuring. In addition, restructuring may be in conflict with goal to organize items so they're easy to find.

sipXconfig as Tags provides a lot of flexiblity when applying settings. An admin can add phones to the system and tag them with as many qualifiers that match their need at the time Example tags: "sales experimental" or "downstairs lobby 340-ata" or "engineering george". Physical location, models, user or users audience.

Million dollar questions: if search is good enough, do you have provide users the ability to "drill-down" through items and would it confuse them that items may show up in multiple places. Is this a user issue or a presentation issue? Also, I hesitate using the word "tag" and would like to use "folder" but this may be trying to pass an old dog as a new pony and confuse everyone.

Writing out load, do both. Use folders, first, as a organizational mechanism. Folder names are unique across the system, items can only be in one folder. If an admin wants to attach additional "tags" to an item, they can do that w/o affecting it's folder heirarchy. Kinda like ruby language, single inheritence but has mixins. Best of both worlds, but not clear how to convey this concept even to the advanced admins. Of course, in agile terms, sipXconfig could just support folders for now but design in a way to leave opportunity for "tags" if/when there's a demand.

Tags are the way to go. Folders are the 20th century remnants. Computers should be organizing your data - not you. Does anyone even remember that yahoo started as the web directory? How often do you use google search and how often do you use google directory?

I do see the problem with settings inheritance. Folders give you an easy way to change it. One can search by tag and execute global change, but that means that all settings are tracked per individual item and may cause some storage challanges for large sets of data. One can keep settings by tags, but if I am tagged both as "engineers" and "really cool people" which settings do I really inherit?

All the same - I vote for tag based approach.
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