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11/05/2009 12:55 AM by
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One of the most significant problems we considered when Georgia went paperless was how to organize the sheer number of files produced over the course of a season.  How would we integrate backfiles and updates to already existing files through the course of the year?  It was hard enough to make sure everyone had the most recent Politics or Economy files when we could physically hand them a copy, and we thought it would be even harder when there were digital files being Dropboxed to multiple teams.  

As a web developer, I encounter similar problems with web applications that have to handle a large number of media files, whether they are text, video, photos, or audio.  Clients tend to name files that are similar in their minds using identical language.  The result is ten videos called "musicvideo.avi" or ten photos called "teamphoto.jpg".  Debaters, in my experience, do the same thing with evidence.  Maybe it is because the traditional file folders only have so much space to write a title, or because accordion indices require brevity to fit all the pocket titles on a single page.  Perhaps they do that part when they are finishing the file and are tired of looking at it so they cut corners.

This tendency is frustrating for people who design web or desktop applications because there is no file discipline.  Once you have more than ten or twenty files, it becomes increasingly difficult to find things quickly, especially if they are shared files that you didn't title yourself.  Most people have experienced some version of this problem, either on a shared drive at work or school, when looking through pictures raw from a camera (DSC0001, DSC0002, etc.), or looking through your own documents.  The older a document is, the more likely you are to forget your clever title.

To solve this problem, most development companies have a naming convention.  Your paperless debate team should have one, too.  Sooner or later, you'll have to make one, and if you set it now you won't have to spend the summer putting new titles on years worth of backfiles.

What is a Naming Convention?

A naming convention is a standardized format for file titles.  Naming conventions allow people to quickly determine important information, including the general content, date, or author of the file.  Good naming conventions do the following things:

  • They are as simple as humanly possible.  For paperless debate purposes, leave out any information that won't help the debaters find things in an actual debate.  Other information can be included in the metadata for the file, but the file title should include information regularly used by debaters.
  • They account for the way computers natively organize information.  The computer doesn't understand dates - it understands alphabetical and numerical order - so using "June" instead of "06" will cause files created in December to appear before June files.  Some file systems list uncapitalized letters before capitalized letters, so "Politics.doc" will be listed after "politicsNew.doc".
  • They take into account the current storage system for the files, and, when possible, account for future possible storage systems.  Right now, we're organizing files for desktop operating systems, but it is possible (probable, even) that in the near future we'll start databasing files for delivery through a web application.  Will special characters create a problem when moving to a new system?  Will spaces in the file titles create problems?  Ideally, we'll automate this transition, so we've designed our naming convention to correspond with future database fields so we don't have to do it manually.


What is Georgia's Naming Convention?

Based on those criteria, we developed the following system:

[ArgumentTitle]-[Side]-[SixDigitDate]-[Author].doc

For example,

ChineseModernization-Neg-091909-Sudarshan.doc

or

WarmingAnswers-Core-012009-Harrigan.doc

There are reasons for including all of this information, and those reasons are grounded in the way debaters look for evidence during debates while creating speeches.  The argument title is obvious, as is the side.  We use a six digit date so that files with similar titles will be ordered from oldest to newest automatically so the debaters don't have to think about which is newer.  This can save precious seconds during debates. We used a two digit month and day because if you don't, December 1st (12109 v. 120109) files have the same designation as January 21st (12109 v. 012109) files, and December 1st (12109 v. 120109) files read as newer than January 22nd (12209 v. 012209) files.

We also accounted for the common instances where a debater says, "No, I need the politics updates Casey did before Harvard" by including the author.  We try to keep one version of each file, incorporating updates  and redistributing a master version of the file, but the naming convention will keep things straight if this breaks down on elim day or if files have to be restored for some reason.

One issue we encountered is that each debater refers to particular arguments using different language.  A simple example is "China Modernization" versus "China Mod."  To resolve this, we have the initial batch of files run through the coaching staff before they were distributed and we purposefully retitled where necessary.  Once the initial batch of files was titled, we didn't have much trouble getting the debaters to stick to that nomenclature.

Notice that there are no special characters (&, @, *, etc.) or spaces that may foul up integration into a new system, and that capitalization is consistent at each stage.  Instead of a simple Aff or Neg side system, we incorporated a third side, Core, to help identify files and to allow more specific automated routing into a database at a later date.  We may add more "sides" in the future, like "Back" for backfiles or topic identifiers like "Nukes" or Treaty", but for now, we're just using the three.

This isn't the only naming convention, and it may not be the best one for you.  I urge you, however, to take a bit of time to think of one that works for you, and implement it as soon as possible.  I promise it will save you work in the future.  And remember, we don't call it file discipline for nothing.  Your naming convention is only as good as your willingness to follow it.

Published in: Paperless Debate