Dropbox on Dropbox: maximizing your document sharing system

Learn how Dropbox organizes its own files so teams can find what they need quickly and efficiently

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Filing cabinets, those universal workhorses and first true tool for document sharing, eventually force workers to decide which files should stay and which ones should get tossed due to their finite capacity.

But with the infinite storage space of the cloud, teams don’t need to get rid of five-year-old roadmaps or notes from last year’s retreat. However, if there’s no established way of organizing digitally shared resources, a company’s document sharing and knowledge management system can quickly go awry.

In other words, it could take you forever to find that file you needed, like, yesterday.

To find out how to keep folders clean, files searchable, and teams collaborating effectively, I sat down with Dropbox’s strategic customer success manager, Courtney Nolan, to unearth the cloud-based file storage platform’s secrets for keeping its own Dropbox organized and uncluttered.

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“As your company grows, and as your content grows, don’t be afraid to take a timeout and think about what you can change to improve efficiency.”

– Courtney Nolan, Dropbox's strategic customer success manager
Courtney Nolan
Dropbox's strategic customer success manager
Slack: As teams grow in size and complexity, how do you keep a company Dropbox “clean” and document sharing efficient? Do you archive things?</p> <p>

Courtney Nolan: I personally hate clutter. If I haven’t touched something in more than a year and a half, I’ll move it into a reference folder. I like to start fresh and know what content is most relevant. For me, if I have a clean space—whether it’s a clean space on my computer or physical space on my desk—I feel like I can think better and more efficiently.

As your company grows, and as your content grows, don’t be afraid to take a timeout and think about what you can change to improve efficiency. What information can be put into that reference folder? What can be deleted? How do I clean up my space at the end of the year so I can kick off (the next year) strong?

Slack: How does Dropbox onboard new hires without overwhelming them by the sheer volume of shared knowledge?

CN: When people join, they’re set into groups, and each group has certain Dropbox folders or files pre-shared with them. The other side of that is in Dropbox Paper, where we’ve actually built out our own internal wiki. (It) makes it really easy to get up and running.

We break (the wiki) out into our four Ps: people, products, playbook, and partners. “People” outlines who’s on the team, what our values are, team OKRs; “Products” outlines product knowledge within Dropbox, etc. And each section will direct you to the Dropbox folders where all those reference documents are held.

Slack: Apart from the wiki, are there certain ways you name files or organize them for document sharing purposes?</p> <p>

CN: Naming your files and folders should just make sense. You shouldn’t have to think about, you know, what does “a.1.xyz” mean?

Give context to your files more logically. Often we’ll find that people are more likely to remember the customer, or whom the pitch was given to, or the context of the pitch. That makes it easier to sort of backtrack and search for it.

Slack: Are there any file-naming conventions—for example, spaces or hyphens in file names—that would affect users’ availability to find them via search?

CN: I know hyphens and underscores are sort of an old-school way of naming files. For a lot of my customers who have very traditional file shares or file servers, that was the easiest way to search for content.

Dropbox’s search function is actually pretty smart, and it’s able to search across all your folders based on your search terms. It’ll even go a step deeper and search within your content for that term.

Slack: Is there an overarching philosophy used for folder structure and document sharing at Dropbox?</p> <p>

CN: It tends to differ from team to team. Particularly for a sales organization, or customer success where I am, where we’re working so closely with our customers and partners outside the organization, we’ll tend to have an internal folder structure versus an external folder structure so we know which documents are proprietary.

As people think about how they’d like to organize their data set, the most important thing to consider is workflow: How is this actually going to help improve my workflow? If it’s gonna take me 12 clicks to get to my most frequently visited documents, then something’s not working.

Examples of folder structures

Hierarchical

Pros: Familiar and clear structure, similar info grouped together.

Cons: Sub-folder structure can get too "deep," hindering findability. Hard to reorganize.

Example: Biological sciences

Dinosaurs / Cretaceous / Therapods / Tyrannosaurs / Tyrannosaurus Rex

Meta-category / Time period / Category / Type / Sub-type

Tag-based

Pros: Files can live in more than one location.

Cons: More likely to have duplicate names and overlapping categories. Harder to find specific files.

Example: Photo tagging

Photos / #dinosaurs / #cretaceous / #2018 / #LondonNHM

Meta-category / subcategory1 / timeperiod1 / timeperiod2 / location

Ideally, your file names should be:

  • Descriptive

  • Consistent

  • Unique

It’s helpful to include when the file was created. For version control, list the version at the end of the file, but try not to use a period as that can interfere with some programs reading the file type (e.g., Jan 2019 dino brainstorm session v2, not v.2)

Also consider creating a file template that can simply be copied and adapted by multiple teams.

Source: MIT Library

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