Searching….

Having recently spent time wading through my accumulated documents to find something I wrote aeons ago, I wondered about what is going to happen with all this information. Just how are we going to keep using it? Are we going to keep using it? Most people have been using PCs for some time to create their personal documents, even more create a multitude of documents at work. Let’s say you only create one new document a week, that’s still 52 documents a year, 156 over three years, 260 after five years, 520 after just 10 years.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t use a naming convention, and I don’t make use of the 255 character limit that can be used for filenames these days (probably because I come from an era when I was only allowed 8). I usually use a brief one or two word description of the contents. That usually suffices short-term, but what about over the longer-term? Are you going to remember that work1.doc is your application form, work2.doc your holiday request and work3.doc your resignation letter a year or more after writing them? I certainly don’t.

My highly developed and refined search process usually means a series of questions to help me narrow the search. When I am likely to have created the file? is a good one and can help me zero in fast depending on a) if I remember the date and b) how well I remember the date. I may know it was created last year, in April, or between certain dates, all of these help to massively reduce the field. I can’t always do this though. Either way, I can then narrow by other categories. For example, if I’m looking for something I wrote myself, chances are it’s in Word format (though I have now moved to StarOffice, which adds complications), if it’s a presentation, I’m probably looking for a PowerPoint file, etc, etc. Then I start trawling through the names, hoping that I named it appropriately and that the name is still appropriate and means something to me.

Now I probably create, on average, about three documents a day, over a 1000 a year. I have documents on my system dating back to 1996. So, potentially, there could be up to 8000 documents lurking about on my system, spread out in numerous directories, multiple copies of them, and multiple versions. Everyday this number grows, everyday the old document names make less sense. Now add to this pile things like my email, my address book, my calendar, and some of the other features in PIM products (Notes and Tasks are two I can think of) and the number of items to search becomes enormous.

Finding specific documents is rapidly becoming difficult, and the standard search functions within the OS are fairly limited. None of the standard search facilities allows you to search all of the items listed above. There are alternatives available though. Products such as ISYS and Copernic offer a more powerful search of your system, trawling not only the web, but your desktop and entire network. I can see a bigger and bigger demand for these sorts of products. To help them I think people will begin to use the meta data properties in much of the software we currently use, even simple things like title attributes can help speed up your searches, and software will obviously have to trawl through the document content too. This will mean more software supporting more meta data, and may lead to more support for standards designed for exactly this sort of thing, for example, XML.

With this in mind, I think search software is a growing industry, and it becomes obvious why Microsoft are eager to take a chunk of the search marketplace, no doubt they are developing better search features for a their new version of windows anyhow, so it makes sense to spend a little more time, money and effort and have a commercially viable product at the end of.

Hopefully, with all these new services competing, I’ll eventually be able to find the documents I want without having to trawl through piles of them each time, or worse still, actually do some electronic house-keeping.

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