#1 What doesn't work with fileshares and e-mail?

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Instead of ‘What doesn’t work with fileshares and email’, actually the title could also be: What tools do we need to work together smarter on files?

File shares are not a good solution for effective collaboration. They have the following shortcomings:

  • Folder problem
  • Finding files
  • Version management
  • Email Trees

This article is one of a series:

1. What does not work with fileshares and e-mail?
2. Smarter collaboration on files with Office 365
3. Thinking about Fileshares with the Silverside Collaboration Framework

The folder problem

Typically, we share files on file shares in a complex structure of folders and sub folders. Logical, because once there was no other functionality available which could do it differently.

Thinking in folders is how we have archived data for centuries. Since the beginning of recorded history, we have written and saved text. Whether on papyrus scrolls stored in vases, documents in filing cabinets with drawers and hanging folders, or binders with tabs. A file belongs in a folder. That is the fixed idea.
So, when we started using computers, we applied the same concepts. Not because computers need this to be able to find data, but because it is a concept we understand when organizing and searching.
And is it a problem that we use folders and sub folders to organize our files? Well, it’s not always useful for sure. Folders are not really convenient for collaboration, and this is why:

Each file must be in a folder. And a file cannot be saved into more than one folder, without making copies. You can only view files per folder, a type of tunnel vision. There is no way to make a cross-section of files from different folders.

For example:

You have to design the structure of the folder. Do I first organize by date, then customers, and then projects. Or rather the other way around: first customers, then projects per year? Anyway, it will be impossible to show all files from client A of all years and project B.

Finding Files

File shares can consist of complex tree-like structures. There are only 2 ways to find a file: You know exactly which (sub) folder you saved it to and what the file is called. Or you search on Windows Explorer on a word, and all the files in which the word occurs are found in the name or in the text of the file itself. Both are not very extensive, and often finding the file that you need becomes a nightmare.

Version Management

With a file share you cannot manage versioning easily. To solve this, people have devised all sorts of solutions. For example, you often see added to the name of the file is:

  • date created (name_1502107.docx)
  • words like draft, or final (name_draft.docx, or name_def.docx)
  • version numbering (name_v1.docx)

There are two issues with this. Firstly, several copies have now been stored; different versions as a separate file with a different name. Secondly, you are never sure whether you are working on the latest file. Could there be another file, with a later date, or with v2? Is there only a draft, or even a final version? And then there are the changes to the final copy, which we then call ‘name_defdef.docx’!

E-mail Trees

It is quite rare for several people to work together on a file, without communicating about it. That conversation could consist of asking questions, proposing improvements, making suggestions, and discussing the context (client, project, etc.) of the file. This is usually done by email. Such a conversation naturally goes back and forth, sometimes with a reply to all, sometimes only a reply to the sender. Before you know it, you have a jumble of e-mails that you can make no sense of. We call these email trees.


The result is there are two systems where the information is stores: in emails and on file shares. Searching in either one or the other, will only show half of the story! In other words, there is no central place where everything related to the project proposal can be found, or the product presentation, etcetera.