In our digital world we have previously been forced to know the location of digital content. The obvious one being the local hard drive or a shared file server where sometimes extreme structures have emerged over time. Sometimes in a controlled manner, and sometimes not so controlled. We find the same pattern in navigation of a web site where Information Architects (like myself) spend hours and hours finding the correct ontology and structure of the site for our customer. All this effort is made to make a general, easy to understand navigation of the site with the obvious goal to let users find the content they need effectively.
Since 2007 with the increasing use of Smartphones, our users have learned other ways to find content – through the use of apps. There is an app for images (often not in folders) where users find what they need by metadata navigation and not digital location navigation. Users may find images based on when the photo was taken or where (physical location displayed on a map). They don’t know where (on the smartphone) the exact location, and can’t use the folder structure of the smartphone to find what they need. The only access is through apps who can display image files. This is true for the majority of users.
As our preferred search engines get better and better, users find content through search queries rather than navigation in a folder structure. This is valid not only on public and internal web sites, but also internally on a smartphone or desk top device where users find apps and content through searching (i.e. typing the name and given suggestions instantly).
At the same time we see a lot of users navigating through large structures on file shares, on web sites and in applications (ERP’s and other apps) to find what they need just because they’re used to this analogy. So it’s probably not a valid call to rip the folder structure thinking just yet, but will it ever disappear? Or do we want user to categorize content based on folders?
It all boils down to the question: Is the folder structure dying?