Search. Not Sort. Steve Jobs and Outdated Folders Metaphors.

Systems have a way of taking on a life of their own in the world of metaphors.
For many years, the common metaphor for enterprise systems was the “sorting” of data buckets.  Outlook with its searchable folders is an example of the metaphor.  There are many more to be found in enterprise systems. Without resorting to finger pointing a specific purveyor, data management systems are hierarchical data buckets with an ability to sort the data therein. In consumer applications and operation systems, however, the idea of creating hierarchies and sorting them is considered old fashion and inefficient.

I recently read an older article in Wired magazine, Searching for the perfect OS.  Have a read and go back to the world of 2004.  Here’s my favorite passage:

It may sound idiotically simple, but according to technology’s leading seer, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, searching for information — not sorting it — is the wave of the future. At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, Jobs declared that searching for information on a hard drive, rather than sorting into files and folders, is the future of computing. In Jobs’ scheme, the hierarchy of files and folders is a dreary, outdated metaphor inspired by office filing. In today’s communications era, categorized by the daily barrage of new e-mails, websites, pictures and movies, who wants to file when you can simply search? What does it matter where a file is stored, as long as you can find it?

I found the article both insightful and remarkably up-to-date.  Especially so if one considers how product data is still ‘sorted’ into hierarchies in contemporary product data management systems such as EDM, PDM, PLM, and ERP.  Building these systems around the concept of “search” as a primary user experience could simplify the way people work and “manage” product data.  Don’t you think?  Imagine, for example, being able to find and access assembly information inside a CAD file using and underlying “search” metaphor:

Conclusion. At Inforbix, we believe the time has come to innovate and bring a consumer system user experience to the world of product data.  We are embarking on an interesting journey to change the way people interact and think of product data management.  We are looking for people and companies wishing to join us on this journey.  Contact us for more information if you and your company want to know more about the destination.

Best, Oleg