Having worked with SharePoint 2007 for several years now, there are few things I have noticed about both the environment and the organizational structure of data in SharePoint. One of these is the use of Folders. I know it is a logical way of thinking to simply move existing data into SharePoint using folders. We have been working with folders since the inception of computers, so why would I want to change that now? Well, hopefully I can shed some light on this for you. If you think about the purpose of folders what you will discover is that you are trying to categorize your data. This categorization is important simply due to the mass quantities of data we now store. So folders give us some type of understanding of how to group like data together, primarily so you can locate it later.
Although you can move your content into SharePoint following this same concept, it is not how SharePoint naturally wants to store the data. Instead SharePoint offers more flexible options to categorizing the data using metadata (through columns). When you implement a folder structure you are creating a static container for your data. Once you have the structure setup it cannot be easily changed. If you wanted to reorganize or recategorize your data it would require a lot of rework. Using columns and views in SharePoint allow us to create dynamic views of our data which ultimately makes it much easier to find what we are looking for.
Below is an example of how a static folder structure looks when using Windows Explorer.
Next is an example of the same data using columns and views using SharePoint. What SharePoint allows you to do is attach more than one category (metadata) to each document or item. This first example is a simple library with two custom columns called Client and Document Type. It defaults to the all documents view which will show every document in the library. It can be sorted or filtered once the documents are uploaded and the metadata is attached to the documents.
This next example is a view I created that groups by the Client. It is defaulted to a collapsed view, which makes it look more like folders.
The figure below shows the same view in an expanded view.
I can then modify this view to also group by Document Type.
The next figure shows a view called Grouped by Document Type. So instead of having to look for documents based on the client I can locate documents based on the document type first.
The final view I created was a Group by Document Type then by Client.
Hopefully this will give you an idea of the ways in which you can dynamically organize your data using SharePoint 2007 and will help you understand the importance of using metadata within SharePoint to categorize and find data. You can disable the use of folders in each list or library by going to the Settings, Document Library Settings, Advanced Settings.