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Switch to Google Drive: A Free Guide

Posted by on Thursday, August 11, 2016

Determining the Optimal Drive Folder Structure

Start with a Root Folder

On a traditional file server, you’d typically see one or more volumes that behave as the “root” of one or more file shares. That’s just naturally the way file systems work- they have to start somewhere. Since Google Drive starts with the premise of each user having their individual “My Drive” volume as opposed to a shared company volume, you should start by creating your own “root folder” which will be the starting point for all of the organization’s shared resources.

One of the main reasons for creating a single root folder first rather than jumping right to creating individual shares is that having a root folder makes it super simple to deploy new shares to users. By enabling users to view all resources from a single starting point, organizations can eliminate the confusion associated from deploying many individual share points to employees.

Root Folder Best Practices

  • The root folder should be owned by a (non-human) super administrator account.  You may want to use an existing Google Apps non-human administrator account, or create a special account for this purpose. Only key IT administrators should have access to this account, as it will be highly privileged in terms of the resources the account can view and manage.  Using a non-human account for IT administration is always a helpful practice to reduce the possibility of human error by IT admins during day-to-day work.
  • Set up proper root folder permissions. Only the owner (super-admin) should be able to edit, but everybody in the organization should be able to view. This enables employees to easily find the root folder and add it to their “My Drive” for easier access (as explained later in the guide). You’re going to set up permissions in such a way that even though everybody sees the root folder, Drive is only going to allow them to see the individual shares that they have access to (a key distinction vs. the default behavior of Windows file servers).
  • Only the owner of the root folder should be able to change permissions on the folder. This is accomplished via the sharing dialog (often missed, it’s an option shown at the bottom of the dialog, when logged in as the folder owner). This is important to ensure that permissions on the root folder will not be changed by unauthorized users, keeping the core root folder permissions clean and intact.

Depending upon the size and structure of your organization, it may make sense to have multiple root folders for different business units, departments, etc, but strongly consider whether that’s necessary before doing so.

Creating Shares Within the Root Folder

Once there’s a root folder that will contain all of the resources that employees require, it’s time to consider the proper folder structure.

Flatten Folder Structures to Optimize for Search

As mentioned earlier, Google Drive supports a search-first, browse-later mentality. Best practices for dealing with traditional file servers call for deeper folder structures that rely on categorization to make browsing easier. When it comes to searching, however, flatter structures are the way to go.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 2.42.45 PM

Example of deeper (left) vs. flatter (right) folder structures.

This idea takes some getting used to, but when you consider the ramifications of folder and file names while searching, the benefits become more clear. When browsing to a file, the path you take lends context to the resources you’re looking at.  If I’m looking for sales reports, and I start by browsing to “Sales” first, then “Reports” as a subfolder. When I’m viewing the reports folder, I intrinsically understand where I am due to the path I browsed to get there.

From a search perspective however, it would be much more helpful to have a folder called “Sales-Reports” than just “Reports”, particularly if there are multiple other folders called “Reports” in Drive. For this reason, consider organizing resources in a flatter hierarchy to support the search-first methodology of Google Drive.

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