File Systems, Revit & Folder Hell

No to File Folders

It seems everyone is looking for a way to manage their Revit content. It’s just the latest reminder that File Folders suck.  I doubt I’m the first person to so emphatically call it out 🙂 Stated more eloquently, the Windows File System doesn’t do a very good job of helping to organize content or make it easy to find.


According to Wikipedia…

In computing, a file system (or filesystem) is used to control how data is stored and retrieved. Without a file system, information placed in a storage area would be one large body of data with no way to tell where one piece of information stops and the next begins. By separating the data into individual pieces, and giving each piece a name, the information is easily separated and identified. Taking its name from the way paper-based information systems are named, each group of data is called a “file“. The structure and logic rules used to manage the groups of information and their names is called a “file system”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past few months.  As many of you know, ArchVision has been working on a content management solution we call AVAIL.  It takes me a while for things to gel and be able to clearly articulate things but it finally dawned on me that what we’ve been trying to conquer are the inherent limitations of file systems.  Anybody working on a “content management” solution is taking some approach to overcoming the limitations of those file systems.  Despite a lot of energy expelled to solve this problem, we’ve remained in Folder Hell for the better part of 40 plus years!

Many providers of content management solutions take on both storage and retrieval. Their solutions require you to stuff your content into a new database, move it around your network into some new abstracted file folder system or as of late, ask you to store it “in the cloud”.  The team at ArchVision is taking a different approach.

I’ll claim that the Windows File System is a dandy storage solution, it just sucks when you have to find something!  And you weren’t crazy when you put files where you put them.  It just seems that way when you come back months later looking for them. You wouldn’t have put them where you put them if it didn’t make sense at the time. Have solice.  You haven’t lost your mind, the context changed.  In a previous blog post “Local vs Cloud – A Limited Argument” I suggested that separating the tasks of storage from retrieval was one way of beginning to isolate the real problem.  With AVAIL we’ve done just that.  AVAIL “virtualizes” the files on your network freeing you to retrieve files without regard to how or where they are stored.  Once those files have been “freed” you then become freed to think about organizing and accessing them in new ways.

I mentioned in another post (Context Matters) that after interviewing dozens of customers we kept hearing a common practice of digging back into old project files to get content.  The content you’re looking for is more likely to be referenced and permanently wired in your brain in the context of that project than it is with some abstract “standards” library system.  That’s the challenge with retrieving content.  There’s always some spark or memory that is prominent in your mind when you begin thinking about or looking for a file.  When you’re forced to map what you’re thinking into that standards library it’s enough to make your head hurt.  Context does matter and a good content management solution should recognize that.

AVAIL lets you present content in any number of different contexts.  The files stay in one place on your network but can be presented in any number of ways designed to match the context be it some well known standard, a project name or number, or some other logical grouping(s) that make sense to you and your team.

I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a perfect solution.  It is complicated.  AVAIL is a big swing at the problem. Register for updates here – AVAIL.



About Randall Stevens
Randall is a serial entrepreneur with more than 25 years of software development, sales and management experience. Randall founded ArchVision in 1991, co-founded Mersive Technologies in 2004, Punndit in 2010 and AVAIL in 2016. In 2015, Randall helped bring the new Building Content Summit (BCS) to life, an industry gathering of BIM content professionals representing AECO, Building Product Manufacturers and Software/Service Providers. Randall offers a unique combination of expertise in software and graphics technology, coupled with a background and degree in architecture. Randall is the owner of ArchVision, a software development firm specializing in 3D graphics and content management technology for the design industry. In the late nineties, he successfully led the company in the development of software based on the emerging field of Image-Based Rendering (IBR) and launched the software technology Rich Photorealistic Content (RPC) currently being used by customers in more than 100 countries. Through ArchVision, Randall built relationships with the industry's leading design visualization software companies including Autodesk and Bentley Systems. Randall received his B.A. from the University Of Kentucky College Of Architecture and served as an adjunct faculty member at the College of Design at the University of Kentucky from 1991-2007. He currently teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Kentucky College of Business. Randall serves on the Board of Directors for the University of Kentucky Innovation Network for Entrepreneurial Thinking (iNET) and the Kentucky Governor's School for Entrepreneurs. Randall owns and operates Base163 and Base110, co-working office space housing small tech and creative companies in Lexington, Kentucky. He is a frequent lecturer on technology and entrepreneurship.

2 Responses to File Systems, Revit & Folder Hell

  1. Imagine that: I log in to Linked In this morning and see a screenshot that came from one of my old content libraries, hehe. Nice! Just a few notes to clarify:

    1. Having an organized Content Library Structure does NOT inherently mean that the Folder Structure is the only vehicle that the material is presented to the users in (what you’ve termed Retrieval),but ANY system that includes Storage is going to have an organizational system for that Storage, whether its Folder hell or not. While Folder Hell isnt ideal, neither is Database Hell, or UI Hell where everything sites in one directory and REQUIRES metadata to access it.

    Im reminded of a day i watched an Architect fire up Adobe Bridge, to find a photo from a Site Visit, or a particular issue on a site: Since they didnt have an organized Structure, they COULDNT find their photo without Bridge (it was all fields of metadata). While that may be “more techie and cool” than keeping folders arranged by site visits, i would contend that architect gained nothing over ALSO having an organized structure, which could have eliminated time and effort to find items, where all they did was guarantee someone needed Bridge. By the way, i was involved in this discussion because someone ELSE needed the photo, who DIDNT HAVE BRIDGE. Thats a great story… If you are the one selling Bridge.

    2. Just to clarify, MANY of the Content Organization Tools out there do not rely on folder structure. Family Browser, CTC BIM List, Unifi: In all of them ive set content up independent of of the Folder Structure they are stored in.

    Opinions vary, on how content gets presented to people. Not even likes regimented structure, but i have found with good well thought out structure, curbing the *opening old projects to get content* is easier than a lot of firms think.

    • Hey Aaron – Good points. We agree hell is hell, whatever the form 🙂 I agree that you should have a good folder structure for organizing your content but where the content is isn’t as important as how you get to it. And what makes sense today is likely not going to make sense tomorrow. Windows Folders are a 1-dimensional database so for retrieval (multiple contexts) it is less than ideal. Your example of the photos is a good one. No reason you couldn’t have both, but assuming that many more people than the person who organized the photos to begin with need to access them the logic of the original file folder structure is likely to cause more frustration than anything.

      Talking over the past 2-3 years with hundreds of firms I’ve found most are still using Windows File Folders as their primary way of organizing and getting to their content. As that problem has exacerbated the hunt is on for better ways of managing it.

      Opening old projects for content works if you’re familiar with all of the old projects. Not so much if you’re not.


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