Folders use case

Hi all !
I read a lot about the disadvantages of folders, and I agree with the arguments.
I agree that using MOCs instead of folders adds flexibility and decreases friction.
But there is a specific case where I think folders are useful (other than the typical use of holding assets).

I’ll develop a concrete example here to follow.
For example, I will start learning Python.
That topic will have lots of permanent notes, like data types, object oriented parts of Python, and so on.
I think a folder named “Python” would be useful to drop all those notes in, because those notes “are part of” the main topic “Python”.
The folder also gives context to the notes about “Python”, like a namespace.
Otherwise if not using a folder, I would have to add “Python” somewhere in the title of every note about “Python”.
Not to say that some titles has potential title conflicts with notes for other programming languages (ie: data types, classes, etc).
And even worse, if I have to add “Python” to the title of every note, the links to that notes from the body of other notes will look ugly and redundant (specially from notes of the same “Python” topic).

But if the argument is that folders impose rigidity, anyway folders and links are not mutually exclusive.
I mean, I could have folders to group ‘topic notes’ and still have MOCs and links to notes about other topics.
And if someday I’d like to copy all my notes about “Python”, I’ll have them in a folder (it would be hard to copy all the files from a list of MOC links, backlinks or tags).

Well, I just wanted to share and know other opinions, or even if some of you are using this approach to organize notes.
Or maybe my approach is not correct since writing that way is like trying to reproduce the style of a text book, and that is not the idea of notes in the first place ?

As far as it works for you it is correct. :sweat_smile:

I also take notes around Java, JavaScript, and, Data Structures and Algorithms. I prefer dumping all notes in my root folder like “JavaScript - Promise API”, “LeetCode - XYZ problem”, “Binary Search”, etc. The linking part happens mostly naturally when I’m taking the note in my own words. If that doesn’t happen naturally I have a standard section in my “note” template at the end that allows me to link that note to any MOC topic(s).

I have MOC directory where I have created topics that I deal with in my routine like JavaScript, React.js, Angular, Node.js, Data Structures, etc.

All these MOC pages are created from the MOC template which contains dataview query to list out all notes related to the Note’s title.

There are times when some notes from one topic is generic and can be linked to multiple topics. For example, the “Component Oriented Architecture” in front-end frameworks is related to Angular and React.js both. Should I create another directory for it? That’s possible. However, I don’t prefer that.

It’s subjective so can’t say this is right and that’s wrong. :blush:

I’ve been doing something similar, since I have notes on a lot of topics that really aren’t related to each other at all. My notes with technical information about specific mechanical keyboard switches I own have nothing to do with my notes about trans representation in video games, and neither of those have anything to do with my notes about how to solve a Rubik’s cube, etc. etc. So when I had them all in the same folder, it felt very cluttered and confusing. And even though I mostly navigate my vault using hub notes or the quick switcher, on the rare occasion I did need to use the file explorer for some reason, it was extremely difficult to find anything. Plus I ran into the same issue you did where I kept having to include the topic in the title of notes to avoid naming conflicts, which felt unwieldy and redundant.

So instead now I have different folders like “Keyboards”, “Media Analysis”, and “Rubik’s Cube” to keep things separate, which feels a lot tidier and easier to work with. And it means I can have notes in the Rubik’s Cube folder called “beginner method” and “basic techniques” and not have to worry about them conflicting with notes about the beginner method and basic techniques for some other topic. It also means the different folders are largely self-contained, so if, say, a friend got a Rubik’s cube and wanted to see some of my notes on them, I could easily just upload that one folder somewhere, and not have to go gather all the notes and images from different parts of my vault.

A lot of the arguments I’ve seen against folders talk about them imposing artificial categories that don’t match how our brains actually work, or forcing notes to be in only one category and thus making it harder to see how they could connect to other categories. And I agree that sort of thing can happen, especially if you have a lot of notes about general concepts or ideas that are applicable to a variety of fields. And since notes can only go in one folder, you do have to be careful not to make your folders too fine-grained, or you’ll make it too difficult to decide where each new note should go.

But personally, a lot of my notes are very specific – they’re about a particular physical object, or a particular term or technique in a particular field, or a particular project I’m working on. They have an inherent context or scope, so to me representing that context by putting the note in a specific folder does feel natural, and what feels artificial is lumping everything together in one big folder and pretending it’s all related when it clearly isn’t.

So overall, I’ve found that the best approach for my vault so far is a mix. I have a bunch of folders that are basically buckets for grouping notes with the same context together, possibly with subfolders for different subcontexts within that context. (For example, a “Programming” folder that has notes about general topics like algorithms or data structures, but also has “Python” and “Javascript” subfolders with notes specifically about those languages.) I try to make the folders broad enough that it’s usually immediately obvious which one a note belongs in. Then I also have a bunch of “hub” notes on individual topics, which link to specific notes related to that topic. Most often, the hub note is in a particular folder and links to other notes in that same folder, but they can also easily link to notes in other folders if they’re relevant, or I can have a broader hub note in the root folder that links to notes from all over the place.

(The folder note plugin works really well with this; I use it to make a “landing page” for each major folder, so I can use the file explorer to navigate to a particular context, but then use the landing page to for navigating between notes within that context, or to other contexts that one is related to.)

So far this has been working quite well for me, though I do sometimes have to rearrange folders, or let notes hang out in the root folder for a while until a new category naturally presents itself.

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Good to know others feel about the same about this issues.
By the way, @KestrelNova thank you for letting me know about the folder note plugin, looks good :slight_smile:

If your a big “templater” user, you would want folders, to give you the automated templates per each.

Lots of plugins rely on, or can be easier to use with, folders. Hiding results from quick switcher, Database Folder, Spaced Repetition.

And sometimes you just want to select a bunch of files and “physically” drag them somewhere, not open each one and append tags or links.

Im not a dev, so dunno if this is technically correct, but Folders are the only invisible metadata you can apply to a note. Invisible meaning it’s not within the note, adding clutter to the text. I guess the filename is another, a lot of users prepend emojis etc to file names, but that’s also something you can’t do in bulk within obsidian.

Logically/philosophically, yes a folder is just a dumber/restricted version of a tag. But in practice they’re very useful.

I just discovered folder notes and it changed everything for me. Without it, I was missing the paradigm employed by Notion, where any note can act as a folder. Again, just being able to grab a bunch of notes and corral them, visually, is huge.

Hey @james1294 , by ‘folder notes’ you mean plugins like Folder Notes or also AidenLX’s Folder Notes plugins ?

Yes, AidenLX specifically

A couple more thoughts (if only for my future self searching this topic for the 30th time…)

communities tend to polarize by nature

  • if you go to any subreddit and look at the top posts, you will find some of the most “radical” positions on that communities qualities.
  • Obsidian is the king of the [[backlink]], and so, naturally, the heroes of its communities will be those who demonstrate just how much they can accomplish without tags, folders, etc.
  • They push the limits, great! That doesn’t actually mean it’s better.

“you think Google stores the internet in folders?!” or “Our neurons work in links, therefor…”

  • therefor nothing. That fact has no bearing on how we should organize data in our external world.
  • Im not trying to recreate Google. Im trying to keep a note about my lawnmower. The lawnmower exists in the tool shed. The lawnmower note goes in the Household Tools, Appliances folder.
  • People who win memorization competitions do it using mental maps of 3d spaces. We evolved to operate in a world where A cannot exist in place B and C simultaneously. Why fight the natural strengths/design of our mental space?

clean room analogy

  • following that last point re 3d spaces. How do you know when you are done cleaning your kitchen? You know when all the surfaces are clear. You don’t have to wonder if you lost some pots, because if they aren’t in the sink or on the counter / “desktop”, you know it’s because you put them in the place for pots.
  • how does a person with 5000 notes in a single folder know some aren’t lost? Where does he glance to see that everything is “put away”?
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Everyone organizes their information differently. One way is not better than any other way. If you want to use folders, go for it. If you want to use the full US Library of Congress file system, that’s also OK. If you only are comfortable with links, that’s also OK. Your system is personal and different from everyone else’s. And I understand this drives a lot of users crazy, and that OK too. Many use a mixture of many systems. It only needs to satisfy you :slight_smile:

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Just sharing my personal anecdotes. I find folder taxing when using obsidian for PKM. I subscribe to PARA method in almost all my files/emails organisation but for PKM its a bit more atomic so the decision propped up frequently (i already have 1000 md files). So i end up sticking to Projects (with the subfolder for each project), whereas Areas are more generic like Coding (where i dump all my python, r, js, html, css, and power query notes) or Engineering (for all notes related to that).

I also find linking (note to note, and MOC) works easier for me than organising folder. Folders is just there so that it isnt too messy (if i dump all into one folder).

So my take is to also consider will the need to decide which folder will become taxing for u or not. What if u r doing python notes but for running in rmarkdown (which is possible now) - is it r or python?. What about coding principles or best approach - will it have a different folder? So those are what sort of influence me to simplified my folder structure for obsidian/zettel/pkm.