This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

Why I use Dropbox, and how it enables killer scrapbooking

4th December 2008

I think the chaps in the office reckon I’m on some sort of commission from Dropbox, so evangelical have I become about the web-based storage system recently. Well, I’m certainly not, nor has anyone asked me to write about it here today. I simply wanted to share with you why it has radically improved my efficiency, helped me manage files across two Macs, and also how I use it for killer “scrapbooking”.

What is Dropbox?

Basically, Dropbox allows you to manage files across several computers. Yes, various syncing tools have tried to do this in the past, but not successfully in my view. Dropbox creates a folder on each machine that you simply drag or copy/paste files and folder into, and then syncs these to their storage servers. You can instantly view syncing progress with the blue “in progress” icons on each file, or the green “synced successfully” icon. Instant access, and instant backups.

At the end of a day in the office, I’ll sync files I’ll be needing at home using my iMac, wait for them to successfully upload, and then when I open the laptop later at home, Dropbox will instantly sync them to that machine, ready for use. That’s a very basic overview. Below I’ll share a few more cool things such as sharing files, and how I use the photos folders for scrapbooking.

Account set-up

By default, you get 2gb of storage with a free account. I should be clear that I have upgraded to a 50gb storage account for $99 per year, now that I can clearly see how beneficial the service is to me. Using the Dropbox web interface I can check my quota usage at any time:

Dropbox quota

Figure 1: Dropbox quota.

I can also do that using the little menu bar icon:

Dropbox menu icon

Figure 2: Dropbox menu icon.

Its also easy to add and manage new computers at any time:

Dropbox manage computers

Figure 3: Manage your computers.

Once you’ve downloaded the Dropbox software to each machine, your Dropbox folder and alias will be set up, and the default Dropbox folders created for you. Its then a case of adding the files you will need on each machine as you go along.

Shared folders

I’m finding the sharing of Dropbox folders particularly useful. For example, I have a folder called “Colly and Greg”. Our Greg is also a Dropbox user, so I created a folder and then invited him to use it. Upon accepting, the folder was automatically created in his Dropbox alias. He and I can now share work, music and movies by dragging them to that folder. Here’s that folder as seen in the web interface:

Dropbox shared folder

Figure 4: Shared folders.

I can share a folder with anyone, simply by navigating to that folder, and bringing up the finder menu. You’ll see below that one of the Dropbox options is to “Share…” the folder. That will take me to the web interface where I can enter email addresses for anyone I’d like to have access for downloading, adding or deleting files.

Dropbox share using finder options

Figure 5: Share files using Finder.

My next plan is to get everyone using Dropbox, so that I can have a similar folder for each person. Its then a case of casually saying “Yeah, just drop it in our folder mate” and picking files up from there at any time, on any machine.

Sharing files with people who don’t use Dropbox

I also have a “Public” folder, and if I use the finder to bring up Dropbox options for anything in there, I get the option to “Copy public link”, which does exactly that, ready for me to paste that link into an email or whatever. Very tidy, and beats FTPing or DropSending any day.

Restoring deleted files

I’ve already recovered several vital folders or files thanks to this feature. When managing files in my Dropbox finder alias, I might drag stuff to the trash and empty it, as we all do. Then I might go into a massive panic, realising I need those files on the machine I’m working on. Disaster.

Well, no. All I need to do is go to the Dropbox web interface, and request to show all deleted files. From there, I can simply restore any deleted files, as they will still reside on the Dropbox servers:

Dropbox restore deleted files

Figure 6: Restore deleted files.

So above, I could restore the movie This Is England with one click and a short wait whilst it syncs back to my computer. Genius.

Storing images and photos

When you install Dropbox, it automatically creates a folder called “Photos”. Now, any folder you drag into there will become a gallery (named after the folder), and its contents will be browsable as usual via finder and good old Quicklook etc.

The cool thing here is that Dropbox will also create a set of galleries via it’s web interface too. So, I’ve archived loads of stuff old and new and have a smart menu of galleries at my disposal:

Dropbox photo galleries

Figure 7: Photo galleries with Dropbox.

I can then select any gallery to view it’s contents via the web interface, or of course using finder and Quicklook on any machine. All my photos in one place. Good.

Scrapbooking using Dropbox

As a designer, I like to collect screengrabs and random images, especially of good user interface design or inspirational ideas. I’m not alone in this, with many people using Flickr sets or iPhoto. Friends such as Jon Hicks have spoken about being a creative sponge by smartly using scrapbooking techniques, and Andy Clarke recognises the importance of collecting images in his Transcending CSS book.

With Dropbox, I’ve started by simply creating a new photos folder called “scrapbooking”. As I trawl the web finding interesting ideas or images I can easily drag them directly to that folder in my finder’s Dropbox alias. Or, I can screengrab an interesting idea and throw that in there too.

Dropbox scrapbooking folder

Figure 8: Scrapbooking folder.

This takes seconds, and encourages me to keep scrapbooking. The beauty is that my scrapbook will be synced to all the computers I use, so the stuff I collect at home is also in my finder at work:

Dropbox srapbook in finder

Figure 9: Scrapbooking with Finder.

Dropbox also allows me to share any photo folder, and provides the public link with each gallery I view. So, all my colleagues can, if I desire it, have access to my scrapbook and download any images I have collected whenever they wish.

Smart iPhone interface too

I almost forgot that Dropbox has one of the best iPhone sites currently available, meaning I can access most of my Dropboxed files on there too. I can’t download or view all file types of course, but images, PDFs and so on are all a touch away. As you can see below, I can access my scrapbook with ease:

Dropbox iPhone

Figure 10: iPhone version of Dropbox.

Dropbox have provided a neat little “home icon” if you save the site, so all in all its a very tidy solution. Good work.

To conclude

So, that is how I’m currently using Dropbox. To summarise, the key thing here is that all my important files are synced seamlessly across my computers. I’ve already stopped carrying around an external hard drive - I just don’t need it any more. I also feel more confident with my files, knowing that a deleted design iteration can be restored if I need it. Couple all of that with the smart use of photo folders, sharing stuff, and the intuitive options available via my finder, and I reckon its a pretty strong case.

Of course, Dropbox is quite new, and there are one or two minor things that bug me, but I’d say they’re more to do with using the web interface intuitively, or are purely aesthetic. Above all my data is not compromised and is safe. You might also quibble at paying $99 per year, but I wouldn’t.

I’m still learning the best ways to make use of Dropbox, so do share any ideas or tips you might have. Oh, and just to reiterate, nobody has asked me to write this overview. I simply wanted to share the ways in which I use it, and hopefully encourage my colleagues to all jump on the bandwagon so we can gorge ourselves in a super-easy inter-office syncing orgy. Or something like that.

Responses

# Simon Clayson responded on 4th December 2008 with...

It’s the best syncing and file sharing thingy ever. I’ve been using it for months and would cry if it was taken away. The main thing I have to watch for is the “copy it, don’t move it” as I think of it as a separate disk and not as a folder. Never thought of it as some scrapbook though. Mmmmm.

# Richard Bateman responded on 4th December 2008 with...

My colleague here in the office introduced me to Dropbox a few months ago and I have to say that it comes as no surprise that you’re singing its praises. It’s also very effective for us to have clients send us files this way, it’s one of those things that you wonder how you ever got by without it.

# David Hughes responded on 4th December 2008 with...

I agree completely, DropBox is quite simply superb; it’s everything that iDisk should have been.

I hadn’t really explored using the photo folder; I love the scrapbooking idea.

Sadly the biggest barrier to my using it more is that the IT Fun Police have blocked access to it at work. Never, ever work for a bank…

Cheers

David

# AJP responded on 4th December 2008 with...

I love me some dropbox as well.

I have my dedicated iMac at the office, and then my fiance and I switch off who has which laptop for a given day, depending on who needs it for what. It’s so flipping awesome that I can just “know” that all my files are on any of those computers at any time as well.

Who knows, maybe I’ll add my windows box as well.

# Mark responded on 4th December 2008 with...

important point I was searching waiting for in the article, is it just for macs?
A quick visit to the site and answer is NO, PC, MAC, UNIX sync them all together.
I have started using it, at the office I have a PC at home a mac.
So cool.

# Scott Anderson responded on 4th December 2008 with...

Dropbox has changed the way we do business as well.  Two more useful ideas that have helped syncing my files between computers:

1.  Journler:  Without current syncing capabilities, I’ve dragged my Journler folder into my Dropbox folder and use it from both computers, never having to copies files again. 

2.  Together:  I employ the same concept here with Together for all of my “scrapbooking” needs.  Although, Colly, I like the idea of using Dropbox as the actual scrapbooking agent and may test that out.

# Andy McCulloch responded on 4th December 2008 with...

Cheers Colly,

I’ve been looking for something simple to manage file sharing between multiple users and computers - this looks to be just the ticket.

Andy

# Michael Grinstead responded on 4th December 2008 with...

I was lucky enough to have been using it since the early beta days, and its just been getting better & better. The file recovery has been a godsend on many occasions!

The iPhone interface is a nice touch and easy to navigate, came in handy when I bumped into a client recently and they were eager to see their design.

It’s one of my top used App’s, all I need now is a script to automatically sync a folder locally to Dropbox.

# Prisca responded on 4th December 2008 with...

Great write up, Simon - and I love DropBox too… Amazingly useful, easy to use - and fantastic for teamwork ;-)

# brandon responded on 4th December 2008 with...

Sadly I’m not allowed to use Dropbox where I work, something to do with breach of intellectual property blah blah blah.

# AppBeacon responded on 4th December 2008 with...

I love DropBox too.  Like Michael Grinstead, I’d really like to automatically sync a folder to DropBox. 

I don’t want this to be a separate program.  I want this ability built-in to DropBox. 

Here’s my issue.  I have a password program (KeePass) on my work pc.  Sometimes, I need access to that password database on my Mac.  If I’ve forgotten to copy the most recent version, I might be out of luck. 

Why not just keep the password database on DropBox?  I store my TMobile, AT&T;, etc Wifi passwords in it.  So, if I don’t have a local copy when working remotely, I’m SOL!

Any suggestions?

Thanks,
Justin Noel
AppBeacon.com

# Manuel responded on 4th December 2008 with...

If you work in a graphic design studio or in a small business office Dropbox looks really interesting and easy to use.

Instead if you work in a web design/development studios chances are that you’re already using Subversion or similar tools. Please notice that SVN is free and there are many cool gui interfaces for every platform; moreover SVN has every Dropbox feature and many others.

Why a web designer/developer should ditch SVN and adopt Dropbox?

# Zak M responded on 4th December 2008 with...

Sweet! I have been hoping that there was a tool like this! Thanks for the heads up and sharing your uses of it as i can see the benefits now.

Cheers

# tina responded on 4th December 2008 with...

AHa. now something that makes is lot easy for the biz mom. thanks for sharing

# Eystein Alnaes responded on 5th December 2008 with...

Another thank you. I’ve tried various cloud filesharing apps, but this must have been the easiest one so far. Including MobileMe. Set up a shared folder and invited my fiance to it. Didn’t take 5 mins before we had use for it. Great stuff.

# Stephen McIver responded on 7th December 2008 with...

Hi Simon,

Thanks for the write-up and heads-up about this service!

I’ve been wanting to use a service like this for a while (certainly beats FTP’ing files!) but never got around to testing any, so I’ll just jump straight in and give this one a go as it looks great.

Out of interest, at Erskine, do you use this in addition to a network/server storage? I love the way everything is backed up online for really good disaster recovery.

Thanks,

Stephen

# Scott responded on 9th December 2008 with...

I think it’s really useful servive. So I’m using on. It works to share files each other or one’s several computer. We’ve been using this service for official works. Mostly people well evaluated it.

# Sally Carson responded on 9th December 2008 with...

I second Scott Anderson’s idea about using DropBox to keep another app’s library in sync across computers.

For example, I’ve been using Things to keep track of my client work, to-do’s, etc. It’s a GTD style productivity application. Problem was there was no feature to sync it across computers. To fake this functionality:

1. When you first launch Things, hold down the Option key on your Mac.

2. In the menu that comes up select Create Library… and then be sure to select a location to within your DropBox somewhere.

3. On your secondary machine (which is presumably running DropBox) go through the same process, but now select Choose Library… and navigate to the location that you had previously selected within your DropBox.

Voila! Rinse and repeat for similar applications.

# Tim Print responded on 9th December 2008 with...

Couldn’t agree more. I love Dropbox.

I’ve got a folder on there for all the little bits of code and stuff that come in usefull. Photoshop documents with different size grids, EE plugins and extensions. Basically anything that you use regularly but you’re never quite sure when you are going to need it.

After trying to synchronise between home and work with memory sticks, portable drives and emailing myself nightly! It’s a breeze.

# Stephen McIver responded on 11th December 2008 with...

Just a quick follow-up - been using Dropbox for 4 days now and been loving it.

It’s so handy for saving files in work and then having them available at home, and vice versa.

It was particularly useful the other day when I was creating an Adobe InDesign publication with linked image files etc, as it meant that I didn’t have to mess about zipping the files up to keep the folder hierarchy etc, unzip them at home, etc, but could just use the Dropbox instead.

I hope they offer some larger limits in the future as I now want to use it for ALL my home file storage, to double up as a good source of disaster recovery, as well as having anything available to me anywhere (I’d need about 200gb for this).

You should be on a commission for this article! ;)

# Richh responded on 20th December 2008 with...

I installed it a while back, sort of a throwaway install with an “I’ll try it later, I’m busy doing stuff right now” attitude - and I completely forgot about it. Reading this post has definitely prompted me to take a look at what looks like a very useful addition to anyones desktop.

# Jerry responded on 21st December 2008 with...

I had not heard of Dropbox before reading this post.  I’ll have to check it out; it sounds like just the kind of thing my boss would love to get for us to use.  Thanks for the post!

# Amber responded on 24th December 2008 with...

I am in the boat where my work hasn’t quite caught onto dropbox but would take it away in a flash. Unfortunately foldershare, which is really just unfriendly is probably what our heads would introduce (not a clue) I use foldershare for everything. It is everything cloud computing should be. great post!

# Leandro responded on 31st December 2008 with...

I’ve been using dropbox for a few weeks now, so I’m familiar with some of its functionality. I have to say, however, your post made me aware of things I had no idea I could do. Thanks for sharing!

# Kevin Crawford responded on 31st December 2008 with...

I absolutely love DropBox! I’ve been using it for a while now, I had the early 5gb free account and purchased the 50gb as soon as it was available.

I simply save all my project files and work out of my DropBox. I work on 3 different computers: a macbook pro, a windows XP desktop, and an iMac. Everything is beautifully seamless.

I have two jobs; at one, we have no NAS and we use DropBox instead. It’s okay, but it takes a little while before files propagate to each other’s computers.

At the other job, we have a NAS. It works okay but there is some lag time working with files. The perfect solution would be a DropBox that saved files to our local NAS server instead of Amazon’s S3 storage. How I wish DropBox sold their server software!

SVN has its place and is probably better for team environments, but on many of my freelance projects I have to say that I prefer using DropBox.

If there are any students in your life, please tell them about DropBox! They will appreciate very much the auto-backup of their schoolwork and photos.

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