A previous newsletter (“Organize Your Digital Life: Clean the Clutter!”) looked into the fact that our library of documents, pictures, music, etc. is growing at a steady pace; this is particularly true of document-based businesses that are required by law to keep client files archived for years. Organization is a key component for finding information when you exactly know what you are looking for; however, for other type of searches (by date, keyword, author, or file format, for example) another approach is required.
⇒ Can you, really, find anything in this digital stack?
Please keep reading to improve your odds…
CAN YOU FIND IT?
For many years, most operating systems include file-searching utilities that work up to certain level of success. Back in the “DOS-days”, where “C:\>”, the command prompt, reigned, third party applications like the Norton Utilities and PC-Tools filled the gap with a text-based graphical interface, which included a comprehensive file search module.
Norton Utilities – Norton Integrator (circa 1989)
PC-Tools 1 (circa 1988)
Document searching, from the user point of view, is a test of patience and luck. In addition to the growing document library, computer and hard disk speeds are always to blame for slow results. But, it does not have to be this way! Programs, like Norton Utilities and PC-Tools, were successful because they had a couple tricks under the hood; once installed, they became an extension of the operating system and found ways of indexing the files as the user created them. This indexing trick allowed very fast access to information about files saved in the local system; instead of traversing the whole disk to locate a particular file, it just queried an index for instant results.
Unfortunately for the consumer, in my humble opinion, Microsoft has been afflicted by late blooming episodes, particularly in regards of security and file management. It is a possibility that its woes as a monopolistic mammoth forced them to leave certain areas open to be filled by other companies like antivirus firms, system utilities, et al.
Seizing the opportunity in 2004, Google announces a new product called Google Desktop that brought powerful searching capabilities to the user’s computer. Complementing the standard file search capabilities (including content for most known formats), it extended its results to emails, chats and browsing history. It was not a novel idea, other products like Copernic Desktop Search (a success story from Canada) predate Y2K; however, Google expanded the simplicity of their web search experience to the local computer (Windows/Mac/Linux).
Currently, each operating system has its own search engine: Windows flags its Windows Search (or Windows Desktop Search), Macs have the brilliant Spotlight and Linux sports Beagle. Learning how to use them properly and understanding their limitations is most important for proper document management.
Desktop Search technology is based on the efficacy of the application indexing the information. Index files can grow into several gigabytes; however, their internal nature is ideal for fast access. Building the initial index can take considerable time as each file in the computer (or network) is analyzed; some times the process is not noticeable as it runs in the background when the computer is idle, sophisticated engines can even pause the scanning if the computer is running on batteries to conserve power.
There are three types of information collected by desktop search utilities about files:
- File name and directory path (folder) information
- File metadata that is embedded inside the file, which is common in word processing, PDFs, music and graphics: author, title, description, album, composer, lyrics, dates, geographic information, etc.
- File content. With special filters desktop search applications are able to collect and index the contents of word processing files, spreadsheets, presentations, emails, contacts, favourites/bookmarks, chat histories, PDF documents, help files, web pages, etc.
The suitability of desktop search technology in your office should be in agreement with the type of documents that are collected. Free solutions like Google Desktop or the one supplied with the operating system may fulfill most technology needs; however, there are many commercial products that offer a wider selection of filters or are tailored to particular industry sectors like Law firms, Architecture companies or publishing houses. Network search appliances are available for an easy implementation; these servers connect to the local network and through a web interface are configured to collect information from other computers/storage devices and install small local applets that can integrate into the local system for searching and indexing.
If your business depends on digital information, it is vital to collect as many details about the files as it is possible. The following are some suggestions that can improve the success rate of locating a file in the future:
- Use descriptive file names. Instead of “INVOICE004”, try “004-Invoice-ACME Technologies”
- Use date codes if it is likely you will look for documents by date. For example: “004-Invoice-ACME Technologies” can be made date sensitive by “20100531-004-Invoice-ACME Technologies”, where 2010 is the year, 05 is May, and 31 is the day. It can be argued that this is unnecessary because a search can be made based on the file date stamp; however, there are cases where by mistake, or intentionally, a file is saved in a future date which will affect search results. As an illustration, if I would like to look for invoices created in February 2010, I can make the search criteria: Look for file names that contain the words: “201002” and “Invoice”.
Complete and retain metadata information as much as possible.
For example, to access the document information section in all applications from Microsoft Office 2003 and earlier, select the “Properties” entry from the “File” menu. In Office 2007/2010 click on the Microsoft Office Button, select “Prepare” and then “Properties”.
Similarly, metadata information can be added to PDF files (using Adobe Acrobat or compatible software), images (by keeping/updating the EXIF/XMP information, EXIFTOOL is a good choice), music files (ID3 tags for MP3s) can be maintained by music applications like iTunes, Winamp, Audacity or dedicated programs.
Digital cameras save important information inside each image, configure image editing software to preserve EXIF information when saving the file. Consider expanding the file information by filling in the XMP tags, which can contain things like titles, author, location, people in the photo, copyright information, author contact information, license, dates, etc.
Through the analisys of metadata information is how a document can be traced back to its author. Next time you send an attachment by email remember that you may be disclosing more information than you think. Pictures of your backyard BBQ taken with your iPhone may contain GPS information. Be careful where and how you post your images!
Location of files
Keep files grouped in folders organized by function.
This principle may help you find files without the assistance of search utilities. There is no standard filing convention as it is based on the nature of your business.
To avoid surprises keep files under “My Documents” in Windows, “Documents” in Mac/Linux. This strategy helps, additionally, in backup and encryption policies.
Hopefully this document will help you spend more time working on your business and not looking for things…
Finding us cannot be easier, call us to discuss methods and procedures that will enhance your business!
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