Three Ring Binder

<CYNICISM> ThreeRingBinders are documentation from hell. Writing them is no fun, and reading them is usually only useful if you're planning an attack on/defense for someone's career. They are generally written by someone "higher up" who seems to think they know more about your local problem than you could ever, even if the binder was written a long time ago in a galaxy far away. It is possible the quality of the binders are affected by the lack of oxygen "higher up." Legend has it they are written by monks believing in WaterFall methodology that live in high crystal office towers. Sometimes you can use a stack of ThreeRingBinders to BuildAbetterCubicle?. </CYNICISM>

[Signed to take responsibility: SunirShah. I used to use my father's ThreeRingBinders for school when I was a youngen. We had hundreds.]
We're talking about 2 different things on this page. (Perhaps we need to split it into 2 pages ?)


This looks like an AmericanCulturalAssumption.
 Can someone please explain the following:
  1. What is significant about the "Three" in ThreeRingBinders? Would two- or four- ring binders be as bad?

"It's a Lord of the Rings reference. One ring to rule them all, one ring to yadda them, one ring to yadda yadda them all, and in darkness bind them"
  1. Why does a simple storage method for paperwork evoke such negative feelings.

The 3 isn't important. The rings aren't important. The binders probably are. My guess is the negative feelings come from some notion that the staff are supposed to sit down, read, digest, and enact the contents. That is a frightening and boring prospect to many.

Essentially most binders in the U.S. are three-ring. The only major exception is calendar planners, which tend to have 5 or 6 rings, to help keep the pages from ripping out with constant use. -- JohnBrewer

The three ring binder became more culturally significant after an unfortunate incident at a very large industrial company which produced business machines, and later made the unfortunate choice of designing a personal computer with the 8088.

Apparently the original office supplies included ThreeRingBinders and filler paper to go in them. However, management (see PointyHairedBoss) noticed that in the fall, as school was beginning for kids, large quantities of paper would disappear from the supply cabinets. Distributing memos far and wide banning this practice (this is back in the days before email), would just use up even more paper, and probably be ignored anyway.

A solution was found. The company would switch to FourRingBinders? and matching paper so that employees would not be taking home company supplies of paper for their kids existing ThreeRingBinders. After much planning, the new system was rolled out.

The next fall, the employees - realizing that the new paper would not fit in the old ThreeRingBinders - simply took home both paper and binders.

The company quickly switched back to ThreeRingBinders.

Helpful Hint: When I get useful information in a 3-ring binder, I remove it from the binder and take it to Kinkos and have them tape bind it. Tape bound documents fit easily in a bookshelf, whereas 3-ring bound documents do not. -- JohnBrewer

Depends on how full the binder is. The few I have left (mass binder deaths recently) are sectioned and quite full. But then I'm an academic, and I need something to hold large numbers of papers. Binders are ShortTermCheaper? than a filing cabinet. -- JasonRiedy

I file such pages using PaperPorting.

On a completely different note :)

In his book SnowCrash, NealStephenson describes the ThreeRingBinder as being the "DNA" of franchises. If you've ever walked into a Pizza Hut (an American fast food franchise chain) and looked on the shelf above the Pizza boxes, you'll see what he means. In fact, in Eddie Murphy's movie "ComingToAmerica?" there was a great scene of a restaurateur "sneaking" a look at the McDonalds ThreeRingBinder to steal ideas.

My wife and I have started using this in everyday conversation. Our favorite Pizza Hut is the one that "follows the ThreeRingBinder", e.g. their quality is consistently high because they follow the instructions sent from corporate. In fact, my brother used to work for Pizza Hut's corporate office to "save" restaurants by going in and teaching the employees to do just that - read and follow the instructions...

-- KyleBrown

It's the application of ScientificManagement to service franchises, pioneered by McDonalds of course.

It's interesting how many software developers think they can develop software like Pizza Hut makes pizzas. -- JohnBrewer

That's why I hate the software construction metaphor. It is a lie. -- MichaelFeathers

And you think you can follow XP without reading its ThreeRingBinders? I predict there will be a market for XPerts to visit and "save" projects by going in and teaching the development team to read and follow the instructions (repetition of Kyle's words intentional). -- AlistairCockburn

I've been on a project that was "audited" in that way, though not from a specifically XP perspective. I thought it was useful, though a little bruising: many projects could benefit from having the opinion of an experienced, neutral and skeptical person with the authority to get honest answers. -- MartinPool

ProgrammersStone, for example, argues that this is a fallacious. You can apply a process to making pizza, but you cannot apply a process to making code. Making pizza requires no thought, insight, intuition, or integration of ideas (unless you're creating a new kind of pizza, as a chef rather than a cook). Making code requires all of the above, which no process can generate.

Also see ProgrammingAintManufacturing.

Maybe ThreeRingBinders could be a useful metaphor. Seems that it was the hard copy version of an intranet for the enterprise, agency or institution that it served. Good ThreeRingBinders permitted forward evolution more so than the typical intranet does today. That is, ThreeRingBinders had certain Wiki-like qualities.

However, in lieu of page linking, the binder permitted easy addition of pages to the appropriate section and in the appropriate place within the section. What Wiki does is replace the sectional organization and the page sequence with an open, three dimensional hyperlinking page scheme.

One could ink or pencil in comments and cross references and, more recently append, sticky notes to the pages in the binder. Unlike the binder that may have been assigned to an individual or a work group, Wiki permits these comments to be shared with all.

What made the binders special, beyond writing on a page, was that whole pages could be added. Even better, the binders permitted a bit of the Wiki anarchy in that user could add their own pages (memos from above, below and contemporaries as well as oneself within the organization). Perhaps that is the core of some of the resistance to Wiki that is described on WhyDontOthersGetWiki . -- JohnDeBruyn (January 17, 2000)

Perhaps I worship too much at the Church-Of-The-High-Crystal-Office-Tower, but ThreeRingBinders have saved my project and my posterior more times than I can count. Let me give some examples:

-- TomStambaugh
documentation vs. hardware: clarification

I should have been clearer. The point is not the fact that ThreeRingBinders are or are not efficient information carriers, but the information they mythically contain. The myth being that they contain non-negotiable solutions to small local problems that can only be efficiently (if at all) solved by your own brain and not by that damned monk.

In the case of API descriptions, I've been known to have the LEADTools API binder sitting open on the floor around my chair at all times despite having (badly indexed) HTML man pages available. But in the case of coding standards, I chucked it out of nausea (even if it came in a MSWord document and not a binder per se). While CodingStandards are good (cf SelfDocumentingCode), C standards for large telecom systems don't apply to rapid medium-sized C++ development written by <10 people.

So, a ThreeRingBinder isn't necessarily contained in a binder; and a binder doesn't necessarily contain a ThreeRingBinder. Nifty! -- SunirShah P.S. MassiveFunctionHeaders are evil, no matter how you slice it.
Ah, but the conversation took off in typically wiki-ish unpredictable ways.

What an interesting criss-crossing of emotional links we have to these things. Personally, I have Sunir's emotional attachment to them. I like neither to read nor produce them. But I don't spend my time in certain situations... -- AlistairCockburn

I truly hate the things, and this has nothing to do with their emotional connotations and everything to do with my inability to keep pages from tearing out. I've used hole protectors; you just get that entire section of the page coming off, hole & all. I am now addicted to spiral bindings for anything I want to keep together; looks better, takes up less room, and doesn't shred itself all the time. Of course, you sacrifice the easy `add and delete pages' bit. -- GrahamHughes


You can do what some of my friends do with their binders; they buy some boxes of plastic page protectors, the type generally used with transparencies, and place each paper page in one. This protects against rips, spills, and lets them make non-destructive notes. Of course, this is usually for their hobbies; I can't imagine doing this on a regular basis for work. -- EricJablow

Yep, and what about when the damned thing bites you, takes a nice chunk out of that soft part right below the thumb? Oooh, damn, that's gonna hurt, probably give a blood blister, too.

Plastic comb binders are a good compromise. They have nearly as many holes as spiral bindings, and it is possible to stick the thing back in the binding machine, re-open it, and insert/remove pages. Slightly less convenient than 3-ring bindings but much better than spirals. -- JoiEllis

Here's an idea: Why not make your own binder, therefore releasing the dogmatic assumption (see above) that higher ups create these so called binders... or why not just have loose leaf (is this much better?) papers flying around so that people "accidentally" read them... but then isn't someone higher up then as well since they think other people will want/need to read their loose leaf? -- BeccaCampbell?

My particular choice are difficult to describe (wiki pictures?) and unfortunately hard to find. They are like hardbound books, but the spine is like a giant bulldog clip. They fit on a shelf nicely, take a stack of laser printout up to about an inch and a half thick. -- Sean.

Sean: you can include a picture from another site on any Wiki page. See Text Formatting Rules for more info, then delete this comment when you put your picture in. (One of the on-line office-supplies retailers might have a photo handy.)
Something strange happens in Brazil. It is very difficult to find a Three Ring Binder here in street shops. Much more difficult is to find Three Hole Paper. A lot of students use the much more common Four Ring Binder. However, many courses or seminars distribute material in a Three Ring Binder. Why? Maybe to avoid people throwing out most of the Binders, or using them for something other than the original documents.

Why doesn't someone invent something that allows you to store the damn things in a bookshelf!!?!? That is what I was looking for when I came across this wiki. I mean, these things are made to archive, yet they do not allow for stacking. Are we supposed to just keep one of these things around? What happens when you want two? Or, perhaps we are suppose to alternate binder in/binder out. That kinda sucks... can't read it. These things really are instruments of the devil.
External Links:
Category Documentation

View edit of November 12, 2010 or FindPage with title or text search