Beyond Folders

The Economist writes: “Cheap hard disks and fast search software could change the way we store and find documents on our computers.”

The idea of establishing relationships between pieces of information, to allow connections to be made and results to be retrieved, is not new. Vannevar Bush, in his famously prognostic and influential essay in the Atlantic Monthly in July 1945, described how adding structured code words to associated microfilm pages in his imaginary Memex information-retrieval system would help researchers. It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails, Bush wrote.

Looking further ahead, the combination of databases, tagging and search will make it possible to navigate large numbers of documents in all kinds of radically new ways. David Gelernter, a computer scientist at Yale University, imagines searching using time and space axes: imagine picking New Haven, Connecticut, on a map and then zooming back to 1701 to see information about its founding. Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland has devised a new way to display search results in which data appear as concentrations of information in a tree-map: the colour, position and size of thousands of results can then be taken in at a glance. As folders fade away and search software evolves, it seems that we may, at last, be able to find what we’re looking for when we need it. With the death of the folder, perhaps we can finally get some work done.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.