I used my first desktop in the 80s, which makes me part of the generation that learned to manage content with files and folders organized by type - documents, photos, music, so on. Today, when I purchase a brand new computer, I will still find pre-populated folders for my content, organized by type. It’s then expected that I organize my list of files into these folders and sort them by its format, extension, size, and creation date. Managing my file system became an art. But this is 2013. The way I’m creating, consuming, and sharing content today is painting a completely different picture of content management. Now that I am moving towards using mostly smartphones and tablets, I’m experiencing a paradigm shift from what was ‘a file’ to what is simply– content.
Kids today who start out with iPads and iPhones will never or rarely be in touch with a file or a folder. They won’t care about the type of data created or consumed on their devices. Apps are used to generate and consume content such as photos, emails, and news. They are the new ‘folders’. To try to find a file extension on an app or mobile device is hard. The interface and experience deliberately takes away the need to know whether an image is a .jpg or .png because you don’t need to know. Even if the next generation still uses a desktop at home or at school, the iPad will shape their behavior. The next wave of consumers are using cloud-based services to consume content that isn’t file-based like Facebook, Spotify or Netflix. Content provided by these services no longer sits on a computer taking up valuable hard drive space or requires conscious awareness of the makeup of the file.
We’ve trained ourselves to think in a file system approach. Without the file hierarchy in front of us to click through, the right file and folder names are impossible to remember. In fact, while using the traditional file hierarchy approach, it’s easy to go overboard with file creation and create redundant information by having too many files and folders, regardless of how organized your file management system is. Especially with data creation and consumption predicted to double every two years, it’s now more efficient to use a search tool to locate content by its keywords.
The next generation wants to be able to access the content they want on their own terms without having to own or store it on their hard drives. Developing better metadata is the key to the future of content - data about data. For example metadata about a photo can include basics such as location, time, date of creation, size, to richer descriptive metadata such as people, colors, scenery and maybe emotions. Semantic metadata takes it to the next level by understanding what the content is and what it symbolizes. By creating homogenous access over heterogeneous information sources, metadata can enhance data quality, reduce redundancies, and aid in distribution of content. This will help apps automatically organize and index relevant information so that the interface’s search function can access and integrate content in a much smarter way, making the file and folder concept obsolete.
The frequency, ease and fluidity people expect while interacting with information and data will require everyone to change how content will be designed, produced and published. I can’t say exactly what will happen 10 years from now, but what can be expected is that people will continue choosing mobile devices over desktops. Younger generations will no longer think in a file system approach nor will they care about hierarchically organizing data and content. Semantic data properties and metadata will become more important as will the ease of finding and displaying content on any device. My generation is already operating in both the old and new worlds, and transitioning without even consciously realizing it. The truth is the file system will soon be obsolete; it’s a matter of time before the traditional desktop disappears and is replaced by one interface regardless of device that just operates on apps, metadata, and search.