Dropbox Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love My Documents
I've noticed that the wonderful tool Dropbox has received very little attention at Hatrack, and with the permission of the esteemed Kathleen Dalton Woodbury I would like to give you a brief overview and let you know how it can help further your writing goals.
In it's essence Dropbox is cloud computing file hosting service. You sign up for a free account on the website and receive a 2gb folder. Of course you can use this to backup your data and not have to worry about flash drives, but Dropbox goes way beyond simple file storage and access. You can install your dropbox folder on any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer or even on an iPhone or Android phone. You can create shared folders to ease collaborations or just send out photos of your kids.
So why am I here shilling for this service? The 2gb free account is great, but if you use Dropbox with any regularity you'll find that amount of storage limiting. There are two ways to increase your space: paying for a pro account or referring others to sign up for a free Dropbox account. If anyone here decides to try out Dropbox and uses the referral link below, I will receive 250mb of storage on my account. (500mb if you have an .edu email address) All I ask is that if you feel that Dropbox is something you'd like to try, please consider using my link.
Thanks for your time! I will update this topic every few days with other tips and tricks for getting the most out of Dropbox, including how to use it as a free webhost, how to email files directly to your account, syncing IM chat logs, password management, and how to launch applications remotely.
Yeah, Dropbox rules. I use it for all KINDS of stuff. It's invaluable for writing, because no matter where I am, it's easy to open up my stories and work on 'em for 10 minutes without worrying about syncing everything back up again.
As long as you're clear it's not a strictly, uncrackably secure storage, it's spectacular.
Just don't store your credit card numbers in there.
+1 for these types of services. Being a programmer, I use Bitbucket, as it allows me to track changes to my writing projects, compare between revisions, and keep my multiple-project writing folders tidy. It's very nerdy and a bit complicated at first.
But whatever the tool, having an online backup that's easy to stash data into is great. For me it means:
- Security. My laptop got stolen or broken? I'm backed up! Yay! :) Even if I can't afford another one! :(
- Portability. I'm at home and using the desktop machine. At work and want to email someone my latest draft. At the cafe with the laptop, yada yada...
My only concern with these is how well these services are secured in practice (ie, disregarding the provider's promises - what if they are bought out by someone tomorrow, or a disgruntled employee compromises the certificate?). So I think users should look to employ some level of security on top of the provider's service - it may just help when hackers get their hands on your drafts one day.
However convenient cloud storage may be, NEVER EVER NOT EVER entrust your only copy of a file to storage you don't control. Free file hosts have a distressing history of going tits-up without warning. And it's not just the small or obscure or new... anyone else remember when ftp.cdrom.com was THE place for the music and game mod communities to host their files? It was the largest public archive in the world. Shortly after Digital River bought it, they nuked the archive with no advance notice. We don't even KNOW what all was lost, other than by comparing personal archives and partial mirrors... when they can be found.
You can accomplish the same "accessible from anywhere", and have more control, by paying for a minimal web hosting account with a real hosting service (NOT one of the freebies)... which start at about $3/mo. for 10GB or so. I pay $6/mo. for 150GB, including unlimited traffic, 1200 mailboxes, 2 domain names, and an FTP account with individual login control.
I'm curious Amator, are you a salesman for Dropbox? I'm all for having a conversation on cloud based storage, but your post here has the sheen of a copy writer for an ad agency. (Which tends to come with a slight whiff of snake oil.)
My point is: while this is a good place to discuss various products that help us as writers it is not a place to get some free advertising or building your google profile. If you want an ad on Mr. Card's site I suggest you pay for it.
Or perhaps you are here to just get referral kick-backs. Either way I don't think this is the place for it. Write up your blog post, link us to it and then lets have a real conversation on cloud-based storage.
PD, Amator made clear in his/her post that (a) kdw gave permission for this thread, and (b) he/she gets extra storage if people use the referral link in the original post to sign up after they check it out and decide whether it's something they want to use.
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Wordcaster, I did the "email myself files and links" process for a few years. I believe cloud storage is easier and more functional. But as Reziac said, don't ever put all your eggs in one basket. I personally keep important documents on my home computer, on Dropbox, and on a DVD-ROM locked at my work desk.
JohnColgrave, yes storing on an external harddrive or flash drive is a good solution, but don't make that the only place you store your files. I've had both of them fail me at inopportune times when my only copy of a file was on the HD or flash drive. If the data's important, it should be in at least three places.
Pure Dynasty, as Grayson said, I knew that this topic might potentially go against forum rules, so I emailed Kathleen first and asked if it would be okay. The only thing I'm gaining is a little more storage space if people sign up. Sorry if it reeked of snake-oil; I've worked at an advertising agency for the past four years (in the Accounting department) and I guess it's rubbing off on me. That said, I do think that services such as Dropbox are valuable for working writers and I do plan on adding more tips and such to help those who are interested get the most out of the service.
[This message has been edited by Amator (edited April 29, 2011).]
I had something similar (perhaps it was Dropbox, I don't remeber). I put some files on it and when I came back the account was deleted due to inactivity.
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Dropbox is cool, but practicing good digital hygiene is also important.
I use my cloud email as one backup method, usually only for the latest and/or when I know my auto backup isn't slated to run for a few hours. I have a desktop external drive, but I'm wary of it being all my eggs, because I've had the external drive go belly up before. I use a subscription-based EXTERNAL backup service (I use Mozy, but there are others.) I've had to tap that backup before, and it's really really useful when switching to a new computer (can just restore your backup to the new computer and voila!) Your house gets torched in a fire? Computer stolen? Toddler gets at your keyboard and types Format c:? Offsite/external backups are your savior.
I would never consider a thumb drive or portable drive my primary storage (my primary storage is my physical hard drive, which is large and conveniently attached to a large monitor and not likely to move from its spot in the family room except in cases of extreme burglary or natural disaster - in which case see aforementioned offsite backup...)
"In it's essence Dropbox is cloud computing file hosting service."
Cloud computing is the concept of storing your information on the internet instead of on your physical computer. A hosting service is exactly what it sounds like, a service either online or offline at a remote location that stores (or hosts) data.
Emailing something to yourself... you're right back where you started from. Webmail is only as reliable as the mail spool (you're in One Big File with millions of other emails, and they're subject to occasional corruption). As to POP3, when you download it the email is normally deleted from the server, and even if you've got it set not to delete, same caveat -- it's only as reliable as the mail spool.
I've occasionally had random bits of other people's mail show up in my mailbox, after the ISP had some sort of failure and restored from backup. Backup was corrupted. And of course if the backup is from a few days ago... whatever came between is lost.
The best backup for a writer is actually the oldest: the hardcopy printout. There's no digital medium that's anywhere near as reliable, durable, or relatively immune to disaster. A number of pro writers have learned the hard way -- at the end of the day, print your work. Retyping it is a lot easier than recreating it.
The next best is probably the flash drive as they're durable under stress (washing machines, being run over, one that was tested even survived having a nail driven through it!), but that presupposes a method of reading the file. I recently discovered with my camera, that if its flash drive (card, same thing) is full, the computer sees the flash drive as empty and refuses to read it at all. I had to delete a file on the camera to get access back.
I've also rescued a few documents for folks who'd lost access to their editing software or platform, or suffered from corrupted files... salvage is doable if the body is stored as plaintext, but otherwise it's a crapshoot. If you use Word in particular, I'd strongly recommend saving a second copy as plain text.
And NEVER EVER save from Word to an external drive; eventually this WILL corrupt the file. Always save, then copy the file manually. (Old Word bug that dates back to the DOS4 era.)
I think I posted on another thread about using Mercurial for version control with my WIPs. It's not scary for me since I'm a software guy, but it is free, and you can literally go back to any version of your work from the very first lines you checked in.
The fun thing about a system like Hg is that you can make as many backups of the repository as you like with a few keystrokes, and there are plenty of free online storage sites.
Just remember to save your file as .rtf, not .doc, or else you lose a lot of the benefits, such as being able to see the line by line (or in our case, paragraph by paragraph) changes with each commit.