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How do YOU explain file management?

July 31, 2008

I’ve been in computer support a long time, and I think most geeks will agree with me that one of the toughest problems facing the non-geek user is “file management”.  You download a file, you save a file, you find a file, back up a file, delete a file, restore a file, all in folders on drives and network shares.  Files are of different types and have different extensions (not helped by default Windows settings that hide extensions). And don’t even get me started on jump drives in a networked environment, which Windows handles very haphazardly.  The problem is compounded when a web server is involved; users click on a button that says “Publish To Web” but they might as well be clicking on “δημοσιεύστε στον Ιστό” for all it means to them. Then there are picture and music management programs like iTunes and Picasa that add another interface layer to the file management puzzle.  The abstractions of file management aren’t that complicated but for some reason users block them out.

And yet I’m no better at explaining this important skill than I was at teaching MrsDoF to drive a stickshift.  (She figured it out herself, no thanks to me)  Most likely this is due to the fact that I’m not the sharpest graham cracker in the box myself but it’s still something I would like to teach more clearly.  If there were any single computer skill I would like to make more accessible to users, it would be an understanding of files and their various places to be and why.  What are your favorite ways of explaining file management?  Is there a favorite explanatory link to which you like to send users?  A particularly clear metaphor?  A parable?  A mystical retreat with candles and incense that results in file-management enlightenment?  I’d really like to know.

Categories: Geeky
  1. August 1, 2008 at 06:49 | #1

    I’ve never found “file management” to be particularly difficult, so I can’t help you. I guess it’s like trying to explain a sense of direction to somebody who doesn’t have it.

    Sometimes, if we are out driving to an unaccustomed destination, and we come to a place we could turn, or must, it amazes me how often my Honey picks the wrong direction (of course, I step in). As in, if you are going somewhere NW of where you are, and are going N (still short of its latitude) and come to a “T” intersection, it is obvious/automatic, you turn left or W. Not so with Honey, and, I am amazed to know, many others.

  2. james old guy
    August 1, 2008 at 10:33 | #2

    Neat people have neat files, sloppy people can’t be cured, I fall in the latter catagory.

  3. Jim
    August 1, 2008 at 18:56 | #3

    I try to explain this to people by using a filing cabinet with folders and how that is arranged. It is amazing to me that most people I have worked with can understand the filing cabinet analogy just fine, but completely lose the concept as soon as they sit down at a computer. I don’t know what else to try.

  4. August 1, 2008 at 19:13 | #4

    I’ve tried different things… like the filing cabinet, or when I worked with guys that did wiring, we talked about how important it was to keep the wiring straight and have it documented correctly… like putting files on a computer.  Grouping was the big thing.  I basically figured out how my audience grouped things in their work enviroment and tried to extrapolate it to computer files.  Being a visual person, I had a tendency to draw pictures.  Did it work?  I don’t know, I never checked their files a year after working with them.  Good luck!

  5. August 1, 2008 at 20:11 | #5

    James:  I think you have hit the nail on the head.  Whether that (neat vs. sloppy) is simply habit or neural wiring, I’m not sure.  I think it probably is a bit of either, perhaps even both in a single individual.

  6. August 1, 2008 at 20:13 | #6

    Tis a very tough job indeed. I have tried file cabinet analogy as well and some have picked up others have not. It really does almost seem like a dichotomy, some will pick it up others will not.

    I have told those I have worked with in the past that they need to keep working at it or they will lose it. And I have told others to spend the time to learn good habits now so that things are easier in the long run. The concept doesn’t take off very well. Even though plenty of the folks I work with practice good habits with their profession and other areas of life.

  7. August 1, 2008 at 23:12 | #7

    Neat people have neat files, sloppy people can’t be cured, I fall in the latter catagory.

    Well as Webs could tell you, I have no business telling anyone else to be neater.  My object here is just helping users understand kinds of files, kinds of drives, servers, searching, and what’s what so when they dive into the clutter they have a better chance of getting what they want.  And the Windows’ fixation on ‘drive letters’ does not help.

    There’s something in our culture that resists working toward understanding; we want procedures!  But procedures break.  In the long run they waste more mental effort than understanding will ever use.

  8. August 2, 2008 at 07:34 | #8

    How about this: It’s like a library, with a card catalog, shelves, and a bunch of books. And a recycle bin. And maybe an incinerator in the basement. You can write a book, fill out an index card (or cards) describing it, put the book on the shelf, etc.

  9. bdo
    August 3, 2008 at 19:57 | #9

    Consider this to explain file management:
    Your state capitol is the core of any OS. The capitol is the most likely place where the kernel hides. Next are the roads from the capitol to many cities.  The cities are other programs installed on the system.  The roads from one city to the other city are two programs working together. Your home, or house,is the residency of any personal files created.

  10. December 3, 2008 at 05:58 | #10

    File Management is complicated most of the time especially if you lots of files to organize everyday. I save most of my files in other hard drive and if I have an extra time I usually arrange them according to file type and extensions.

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