Users Bypass The File System in Day to Day Work

I noticed something interesting recently. Or rather I used to see this all the time when working with students and people around the office, but I never really understood what was going on. Now it finally clicked. Many users are confused about how the file system works, and bypass it completely in their day to day work.

Let me give you and example which I witnessed in person:

  1. User A gets an email from User B with a word attachment saying “please review this document”
  2. User A double-clicks on the document to open it with word and starts making changes
  3. When done, User A goes to File->Send To
  4. This opens Outlook window, and User A sends the revised document to User B
  5. If User C asks User A for the copy of the reviewed document sent to User B, User A simply goes to Sent Emails folder in Outlook and pulls it out from there.

This is fundamentally different from the way I work with documents. First thing I do when I get an attachment is to save it in my system under an appropriate folder structure. It might be redundant, but hey – redundancy is not always bad. Now take the same scenario, but instead of the file arriving via Email, imagine it being downloaded from an online portal. You can see where this type of behavior becomes a bit iffy and error prone.

And now the kicker – send User A bunch of files, and request that they send them back in a zip file. They end up very confused, but most of them learn to use My Documents as a temporary staging area. They save their files there, zip them, send the zip and then *gasp* delete everything. When I asked whey they deleted the stuff they answered that it was already in their email.

Very frightening thing is that this warped world view is quite common. For some inexplicable reason, many users seem to have confused the file system which is supposed to be used for permanent storage and cataloging of files, with their outlook PST file which has a maximum functional capacity of 1-2 GB after which parsing it becomes to slow for Outlook to remain responsive – and thus be used only for temporary storage.

Oh, and did I mention that users A, B and C all have access to set of network shares on a local server in the office, and that our POP3 server is hosted offsite? This means that every time a file is sent it travels across the internet to the server, and then back into office again.

And yet, most users here prefer to email very large files to each other instead of dropping them on the file share for everyone to use. We already trained them to store finished products on the shares so that they are accessible to everyone and included in nightly backups. But the day to day work documents are shipped from one cubicle to another via email, bypassing file systems and network shares whenever humanly possible. And whenever I try to improve the process by dropping files on the shares and trying to convince people to grab them from there, I usually get asked to “just email them”.

Have you noticed something similar? Or did I just happen to witness some kind of localized luser epidemic?

[tags]file system, email, emails, files, file management, work, working[/tags]

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10 Responses to Users Bypass The File System in Day to Day Work

  1. Matt Doar UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    It’s really just call-by-reference versus call-by-value. You’re comfortable with a greater level of indirection and know that technology has limits. Many people don’t want to look beneath the covers.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Heh, interesting way to look at it.

    Which would also explain why so many users completely do not care about backups – because they don’t really have a good grasp on how to manage a file system.

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  3. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    I’d agree 100% with your observations. I’d suggest it says something about backups too, not that users don’t do them because they don’t know how to or where the files are stored, but because they think if everything is in their email they’ll never lose it. Partially that is right I guess. Partially.

    One place where I ran across often this was the same with web based mail on public university computers. Users would “open” the file from their webmail, rather than download it, they’d spend along time editing it (even hitting save all along). They’d forget to email it again, or assume it was saved so they could come back, log off and leave.

    Unfortunately for them, the user profiles they logged in were temporary, except that “my docs” and their “desktop” folders were mapped to some network storage they all got. Since the document they’d edited wasn’t put in “my docs”, it stayed in that hidden temporary folder for IE (local settings\temporary internet files\content.ie5\WX56G\) and as such was never moved to their network storage.

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  4. hdw UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’ve noticed something very similar myself.

    The other thing I’ve found curious with Outlook users is that most of them don’t know the difference between e-mail saved on the Exchange server and e-mail in personal folders on the computer. When the server is down they don’t understand why they can’t access online e-mail, and when their computer crashes they can’t figure out why they lost e-mail they had refused to backup on their computer. It’s all apparently supposed to be managed magically.

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  5. Matt Doar UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    That’s because it is magic to them (Clarke’s Third Law). Just as you don’t think about how the monitor in front of you is actually displaying tiny dots of color.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I do! I even sometimes imagine the little electron gun in the back of my CRT shooting particles onto the screen in slow motion. :)

    But yes, Clarke’s Third Law stands nonetheless. Maybe this is why people insist on calling us “computer whiz” or “computer genius” – because we perform some incomprehensible arcane rituals to heal their magical blinkenlight boxes.

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  7. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    My mom is often the same way. She will never correctly save documents. She is also weird in her web browsing. To remember sites she will either:

    1) email the URL to herself and then just let it sit there in Thunderbird until she needs it again.
    2) Depend on the drop down history to find it- she panics when someone clears her history.

    For some reason she can never use bookmarks, even though I’ve explained them to her a number of times.

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Oh man! I noticed that history thing too. I’m like “go to” and the immediately go into the address box history and start scrolling around. Then they look up, and say “how do I go there?”


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