Dropbox, the amazingly simple file synchronization service, is quickly becoming a necessity to family researchers everywhere. It gives you the ability to make selected files available from anywhere you have Internet access. Here’s how it works.
First, you create a free account at Dropbox. This gives you 2GB of secure storage online at the Dropbox datastore. Then you download and install the Dropbox app [Win, Mac & Linux] on your computer. It sets up a virtual folder in your computer’s file system called Dropbox. You can copy/paste files into the folder, create sub-folders and even save files directly into it. Once a file is saved or copied into the Dropbox folder, it is automatically uploaded to your data area on the Dropbox server. To insure its security, the file is encrypted using military grade encryption both during the transfer and while it resides on the server. Now, it is available to you from any other computer or device that you have a Dropbox app installed. And, if you can’t install the app on a computer – like at the library – you can log in at the Dropbox site and download it from there.
There are Dropbox apps for iOS, Android and Blackberry devices which make it one of the easiest ways to move files – and ebooks – to your device.
If that’s all it did, it would be an impressive service. In reality, that’s just the beginning. It has some pretty cool collaboration features and other apps are beginning to build some interesting tools to take advantage of Dropbox’s services.
Once your Dropbox account is created, you’ll see there is a Public folder automatically created. When you save a file in the Public folder, Dropbox builds a unique link for that file. Right-click (CTRL + click for Mac) on the file to find the Copy Public Link command. That link can then be posted online or copied into text/email messages to share with others.
If you want to share, but just not with the entire universe, you can create a shared folder and identify who has access to this folder by adding their email addresses. You can also send them invitations to the folder via Dropbox.
If you are working with a team on a document project, have each team member install Dropbox on their computers then create a shared folder where the document(s) are saved. Each member can open and save the document within the shared folder and Dropbox maintains a history of all changes. And, you can use that history to roll back to a previous version of the document. It’s a collaboration dream come true!
Is there a family event coming up? Create a shared photo in the Photos folder and invite all the photographers in your family to post their photos of the event. Now add the other family members who want to enjoy the photos and you’ve created a delightful private photo album. Sub-folders set up under the shared folder maintain the shared permissions.
iPad users will find that in addition to making it easier to move ebooks and PDF documents between their computer and their iPad, Dropbox also makes it easy to share iWork projects between the device and the desktop. Dropbox offers the option to open Pages, Keynote or Numbers documents in the appropriate app on your iPad. Unfortunately, the apps don’t have a function to save it back to Dropbox. The apps will save to a WebDAV server so you can create a free account with dropDAV which will push the updated file back to its location at Dropbox. Life is good.
Another iPad-related app that puts Dropbox to good use is Printopia. Printopia is a Mac app which, when installed on your Mac desktop, will allow you to use AirPrint to print from your iPad. If you don’t have an AirPrint-compatible printer, this $10 app is a great printing solution. So, what does Dropbox have to do with Printopia? Using Printopia, you can “print” PDF and JPG files directly to your desktop’s Dropbox folder.
This quick look at Dropbox gives you some idea of its capabilities. Once you start working with the service you will see how useful it can be. This is definitely an essential addition to any researcher’s digital toolbox.