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TEAMS Channels: SPO Library vs Folders...why folders?

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Lisa Stebbins
Contributor

I'm wondering if anyone can explain why TEAMS was designed using folders instead of libraries to organize the files in the associated SPO site. It seems to me, with all the historical best practices saying "Don't use folders, use metadata" that having the channels created libraries instead of folders within one library would offer additional security, the segregation that many have requested regarding 'private channels' etc.

 

I have always promoted the concept of no folders in SPO libraries because it affects search, obscures files and creates confusing navigation and accidental security breaches when a file is placed in the wrong folder. I've compromised, when the user insists saying one layer of folders is acceptable. Now, with TEAMS and channels, we are seeing folders inside of folders insides of folders.... and I am not able to recommend not to do that like I used to. The push back I get is 'Well Microsoft is using them, so why can't  I?"

 

Please explain the reason behind/benefits of using folders for channels instead of libraries to help me get on board with the current state.

 

Also, I'm curious, does anyone else have this same question/concern? If there are, maybe this is a suggestion for UserVoice?

26 Replies
I think Microsoft will tell you it's for collaboration and teams, and you should still use your metadata library for your documents to end up long term.

However, we are seeing a shift away from it with the SharePoint library experience replacing the files tab so you'll be able to use metadata inside of Teams, but I do agree having folders is odd and would have been nice if each channel used a column saying which channel the file is in instead, but folders was a cleaner approach.

As far as permissions, you can apply the same permissions on a folder that you can a library so having a ton of libraries wouldn't exactly be ideal, although with the new SharePoint UI integration coming I could see where having each channel be a library could open up metadata per channel etc. much easier.

This kind of comes down to giving us choice IMO. And that hasn't been the case for us lately. It's kind of our way or the highway approach sometimes. If we could setup a Team and pick folders, or metadata, or point to custom library in the future that would nice.
Yes, this discussion has been on the table a few times :) I agree with your thinking about folder structures in SP and about the search and so on!
On this I guess teams purpose all the way from the start, was to simplify! Creating multiple libraries, one for each channel would be overconsuming and daunting thinking about how many channels is supported! Also with administering permissions and so on! Teams was built so common users could be handed a team and further enhance it themselves!
And if you think about it from a teams perspective, there is no folders visible! Each files tab in every channel starts from the root folder in that channel folder in SP! In here you do t need to use folders!
Over time MS has discovered that we want more integration with sharepoint and to be used both ways! I understand this raises the question once again..but still, the purpose remains.

Adam

It's just not adding up for me to be an advantage or even logical. I'm sure MS could make individual libraries as 'invisible' as they do folders and, if people can figure out perms on folders, which is more complex (many perm sets/groups in one library instead of 1 set of groups for the whole library), then they can learn both. And, if MS can make the folder creation seamless they can import the seamless library making process from SP into TEAMS, too.

 

As for users not needing to use folders since the channels set then up for them: not my experience. They just start creating folders in the Files for the channels...folders in folders, etc. and it becomes a real confusing nightmare in the end in TEAMS in the same way it does in SP.

 

I realize this is my opinion; it just seems like a no-brainer to me so it's been hard to wrap my head around all these folders. And I don't much enjoy 'spinning' my way out of the corner my users put me in when they see that MS is using folders when I said not to. :| I'm thinking I'm not alone but maybe I am.

 

Thanks for your quick response.

You're asking a lot of the SharePoint / Teams integration when still today, over two years later we cannot rename a channel and get the underlying folder name to change with it :P.
:) true!
It’s rather complex how it is behind the scenes already with folders :) It’s not really meant to have a permission structure also! It’s a team and collaboration is the main goal with it

The Documents library appears natively within the navigation of a Team Site, if you had 20 document libraries in the navigation it wouldn't be very easy to use when you experience it through SharePoint. Also imagine wanting to use OneDrive to sync all those document libraries would be a right pain.

 

I don't really think the war was ever won to define that people shouldn't use folders, I think it's now time to just walk away and say 'fine, use folders then'.

First, I raised the exact same question on Twitter recently. I agree with you that document libraries make more sense. Some people would argue that folders are a simpler option, but as soon as you start deleting and renaming channels on Teams you realize that the argument doesn't hold.

 

The best explanation I've overheard, some time ago, is that the initial plan with Teams was not to use SharePoint as backbone for document storage. A late strategy change led to pushing files to the infamous "Shared%20Documents" library.

 

As others have said, having multiple libraries would make the OneDrive sync more complicated. I would argue that the issue is more with the design of the sync tool than with libraries themselves.

 

Microsoft is working on channel level permissions, so maybe we'll see better use of SharePoint libraries when it happens. You could for example imagine to start a channel as folder, then spin it off as separate library if custom permissions are required.

 

As for metadata, I don't think they should be fighting against folders. There's room for both, use what makes sense in your collaborative environment.

I'm joining the same interrogation.

We discovered yesterday this question of folder into the channel and that is a real mess if you need to rename the channel (nothing change into the doclib).

 

That is really not so stable and the channel renaming is mandatory part of the evolution of that Channel life. That case confirmed us the solution is really not stable enough and the positioning for the basic end-user will be hard for us.

 

We will have a huge number of support case to cover, with the same observation you did:

  • Why it was explained to me to create dedicated Doclib instead folder and now the new tool is doing the inverse action

The second messy point will be the permission management, and do that at the folder level is probably the worst choice they can do.

 

Anyway, I hope that will change asap to limit the issue.

 

Fab

Why would renaming a document library work better than renaming a folder? I don't see the connection.

 

We know in the roadmap SharePoint will know when a folder is being used by a Team and will warn users not to change it, see https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Microsoft-SharePoint-Blog/SharePoint-powers-teamwork-in-Offic...

 

I would still argue that folders are entirely acceptable when you consider Teams with large number of Channels. If I had 50 channels it would be more sensible for their content to be in folders rather the separate document libraries. 

 

It all depends how you look at it as well! The purpose of teams has always been that you created a team for a group of people working together - meaning a simple way to gather information and know that all people in this team have easy access to everything! If you need to lock things down, with explicit permissions - it’s kinda not a real team anymore! Also team is not completely an replacement for the sharepoint UI! In some scenarios it’s better to create libraries in sharepoint with specific permission and either work from there, or just link them to appropriate teams!
Regarding the channel names, yes it’s a bit of a hazzle if you want to rename them but as said before, there will be a warnings! Of purpose of the channel is changed over time, create a new channel, move the files and for now enter the old channel the gain access to the conversations if needed

Adam

Thanks Adam and Steve for your comments,

 

But it depends really of the structure size we are talking about.

In an organization like mine (around 100'000 employees), if we start to create the teams like you are proposing, the number of teams will be just unmanageable.

 

We have to consider the training with comprehensible positioning, the supporting model and management model. To create the team different all the time is for sure the best theoric approach, but we can't do that today in practical.

 

For the question of DocLib, I don't understand why the folder/channel is better than doclib/channel (except for the annex question of offline client), from my side I had many sites with hundreds of doclib without any issue in term of management from the teamsite itself, and for sure without any issue from the "Files" tab in the channel screen. It's probably my old maner of work in the SharePoint world and mainly because i'm doing a part of the end user support.

 

Last point, the channel renaming point was specified to show the system is really not mature enough and a basic question (rename channel) shown by a standard user who want to have something clean in the "Shared Document" was quite impossible to explain:

 - Why the folder was all the time recreated with the old channel name?

 - Why if I rename the folder with the same new Channel name, another one was recreated with the old name?

 - …

 

And Explain the only solution was to recreate a new fresh channel with the wanted name and copy the files into the new folder was a little bit old old school from my side. (you will loose all the other channel feature data like the conversation part)

 

PS: I'm not alone into this question as you can see in the uservoice associated:

 - https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/16934143-rename-of-team-channe...

 

Fab

Hi Fabrice, I recently came from an organisation with 83,000 users, size isn't really a defining factor but management approach is. If a central function (typically IT) is expected to keep hands-on governance of all locations then I would agree with you, and I would simply suggest you accept that Teams isn't built for that type of management.

 

Teams, Groups and most of the new Office 365 services are built to be user managed and created. The IT governance function is to define some standard and structure to allow this while maintaining the compliance requirements of your business. This might be self-service within controls e.g. naming policies, classifications and applied site designs or might be more managed through some human moderation of site creation. Ultimately in this model your users are responsible for their structure and content, yes there will be lots of sites, yes it could be more efficient, but IT's role would be to help and advise rather than govern.

 

When you've had lots of document libraries within one site, was this for your users' convenience or your management convenience? There is no simple 'all document libraries' view for a user to navigate. 

@Steven Collier libraries are usually for users' convenience while folders are usually for developers' convenience. As a user, I can easily set up alerts or build a flow on a specific library, without being bothered by files that don't concern me directly.

And how about creating OneDrive sync setup for each DL, or even presenting a navigation experience that is useable. I work for a company that has a site with about 80 document libraries, it's not a good experience.

 

 

I definitely agree about the OneDrive experience, and that's also something I mentioned earlier in this thread. I suspect the sync tool was not initially designed with SharePoint IA in mind either. Another common OneDrive issue I've seen in the past was subsites with the same name (not so much a concern today with hubs).

 

Ideally the sync should allow you to pick a site, and then check the libraries you want. Choosing not to have multiple libraries because of OneDrive is a workaround, I'd rather see the root cause addressed.

 

When doing Information Architecture, I usually see half a dozen to a dozen "buckets" for a team as the sweet spot (amount of libraries in a SharePoint site, or amount of channels in Teams). I am not saying 80 is a big no, however I would expect it to be the exception rather than the rule.

 

80 is going to be an issue anyway, whichever way you look at it. In Teams, it translates into... 80 channels! Hopefully a given user should not have to work with these 80 libraries or channels every week. With OneDrive I would expect that user to only sync half a dozen libraries. In Teams, I would expect him/her to favorite half a dozen channels.

With all due respect to the fans of metadata and info architecture (note: I have a Masters in Library and Information Science)... people I would call "normal human beings" understand folders 100%. And the concept of doc libraries or metadata..? Way way less than 100%.


@Christophe Humbert wrote:

Let's stop kidding ourselves and making excuses. As I already said, the people who built Teams didn't seem to know much about SharePoint, whether it's libraries, or views, or lists, or even Web Parts.


I don't look to flame people publicly but this is clearly not coming from any sort of place of informed opinion.  They knew plenty about SharePoint and worked closely with the SharePoint team at Microsoft.

 

I agree that it is not an informed opinion, and rather something I overheard as I stated earlier in this thread. I have removed this paragraph that was unnecessarily harsh without bringing much value anyway.
I can understand that advanced features were not part of the initial release, but I still can't accept how renaming or deleting a channel is not handled properly in SharePoint, if as you say they knew plenty about it.
I guess this is much about the adoption of it all! SharePoint don’t have a history of being a product of easyness and Microsoft wanted people to adopt to Teams as much and easy as possible! Throwing in to much sharepoint thinking in the product wouldn’t help the cause! Sure for some libraries would fit better, but mostly folders will do fine! Everyone can’t be happy :)

Well, in the same vein you could also say that "normal human beings" understand e-mails 100%, and the concept of conversations way less than 100%. Give up, or educate?

Well, yes , that’s true :)
But education is always necessary though, the key is how much?

Interesting topic... and an interesting comparison.

 

I'd like to add my 6c

 

from a user adoption perspective I haven't experienced equivalence in the comparison of Folders Vs Libraries and e-mail Vs Conversations/chat. 

 

I'd suspect that there is a small minority of end-users , and this is those who use (and as we all know "Love") SharePoint.. that will have an appreciation for Libraries in comparison to Folders. The acceptance of folders has been embedded so deeply in the average Gen X information worker and I suspect many places never had anyone to guide these people how to correctly use Libraries and metadata and/or it (SharePoint IA) was just too hard for them. Then of course we have SharePoint being used as File Shares , causing our users to "love" SharePoint etc..

 

Extend that to people who haven't used SharePoint before .. and potentially Teams is their first engagement with SharePoint. I would be surprised if they didn't understand the folders metaphor.

 

Folders and Libraries have similarities. The obvious difference within SharePoint IA is where we extend the libraries metaphor to include Metadata , list columns , content types etc. Perhaps as a previous poster advised.. this is where the "war was lost". if we consider the war to be to get the typical end-user to think about using content types and metadata rather than creating a folder.

 

tldr; I believe that the difference between the people that understand email and understand conversations/chat is "way less" than the difference between end users who understand folders and understand libraries/metadata/Content types..

 

i think our answer will be provided in the difference between the adoption of Teams Vs the adoption of SharePoint sites for any net new collaboration scenarios.

 

though on a contradictory side note:  one of my main peeves in how people have adopted teams (and the UI doesn't help them in this regard) is that at least 50% start a new conversation in a channel when they should have been replying inline to a existing conversation..

 

 

I've heard that private channels will actually create separate site collections and that the reason behind this is because it matches/simulates Slack.

 

Well, that just sounds like it's going to be a big mess. To me, every TEAM represents a private Slack channel. Think about it: there is only 1 Slack so, therefore, they have to have private channels. But, in O365 and TEAMS, each TEAMS "workspace" is a separate Slack because each has the potential to be private. And thinking of it that way, TEAMS has way for functionality per 'Slack' channel (i.e. TEAM) that Slack could every have. To create a separate site collection for each TEAM's channel completely defeats the purpose of collaboration, teamwork and TEAMS as a whole.

 

So, for me, TEAMS channels as libraries still makes sense. I have no need to create individual perms for each library: it's a team after all. So no worries or concerns about users managing the perms. Each should work just like the current setup with the Members group members being give access to the SP Members group automatically.  The real value (and pain point for the current foldering approach) is the loss of being able to set up metadata that is unique for each channel, the nesting foldering that is occuring, and the diminished search accuracy that is caused by it. Libraries, not folders or site collections, would solve this.

 

My observations are that users get metadata vs. folders once educated. Search is important enough to them that when they realized they are compromising their search capabilities and refinement with the use of folders, they are motivated to use columns and views instead.

@Lisa Stebbins Microsoft and the good people here in Tech Community spent a good year and a half trying to explain to people that they really had all they needed already, creating multiple Teams to create permission boundaries. However it just didn't click for people, the requests we see on UserVoice are huge, and a similar volume of requests through enterprise customers forced Microsoft to divert. It's very much the new Microsoft style to be enormously customer driven.

I would think about it this way, if every Team had just one channel and we could nest them together in the UI, isn't that just about the same as this idea floated that Private Channels might be their own site collection? Being realistic it's kind of the only way it could work, sure you could have different permissions per library or folder in SharePoint, but what about Planner, PowerBI, Stream and all the other services that use the Universal Group as their permission boundary.

The decision that each group-connected SharePoint site should have one Document Library is deep in the architecture too, if you look at the graph API there's a concept of accessing a sites /drive object, that map to the default library. Lots of apps are now built on that concept.

 

Just curious about where you heard this?

@Steven Collierand Good People,

I am not assuming separate perms for libraries for channels hence I'm on a different page. No inheritance break. I just want to be able to use metadata and have strong search. If I need that kind of privacy, I’ll create a new TEAM, which is a site collection, and has its own Planner, etc. and I don’t have to worry about multiple privacy permissions within one TEAM. When I talk to others I experience about a 60/40 ratio of opinions about folders as channels, however, I don't ask much about the privacy part since it seems overkill and off-topic...to me.

 

I think it’s time to stop trying to mimic Slack. TEAMS has so much more to offer than Slack. But that's my humble opinion. 

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