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Easy Storage and Sharing of Large Digital Files: Dropbox Does the Job

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Easy Storage and Sharing of Large Digital Files:

Dropbox Does the Job

February 2014

by Mary Shafer

Sharing, storage, and transfer of large digital files can create bottlenecks for publishers. Files such as those required in laying out covers and pages in composition software often contain very large graphics that bloat their sizes beyond the 5–10 MB limit that most email servers can handle without problems.

Editors and illustrators, among others, must also trade graphics files for vetting, approval, and revisions. And even if each file is small enough to work as an email attachment, sharing more than five or so is still an issue. It just becomes too cumbersome to have to create and send all those posts.

Large publishers usually have in-house, XML-tagged storage systems that all stakeholders can use to quickly and easily access the digital assets they need to complete their tasks. But what’s a small, indie publisher to do without the benefit of such a large, expensive online archive?

Count on the Cloud

Offsite or cloud-based file hosting services not only provide the ability to bypass email attachment limitations; they also offer the convenience of accessibility from anywhere with an Internet connection. (Cloud storage provides a remote backup, too, in case your hard drive goes kaput or you drop your phone in the sink, but I strongly recommend keeping at least one redundant backup on a separate drive in your office.)

Yes, there are some drawbacks, the main one being security; but you have to weigh the rather remote potential of hacking against the very real advantages of all required parties having immediate, easy access to critical files from anywhere.

Here’s a brief guide to cloud-based file sharing that explains how it works: searchcloudstorage.techtarget.com/feature/Everything-you-need-to-know-about-cloud-based-file-sharing. This overview is about understanding the functions, and it is mostly brand-agnostic.

Several freemium file hosting services let you upload, store, and share your too-large-for-email files free at entry level (fees are charged for premium levels). TechRepublic offers an overview of five of them here: techrepublic.com/blog/five-apps/five-cloud-apps-for-file-sharing.

Here’s another one, listed for Apple users but good for both major platforms: ibtimes.co.in/articles/528585/20131209/top-5-free-cloud-storage-apps-apple.htm. You may be familiar with Google Drive if you’re a Google user; it’s essentially the same thing.

Dropbox Just Works

Not surprisingly, both lists start with Dropbox (dropbox.com), which is my go-to cloud storage app. Dropbox offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and client software for your desktop, laptop, or mobile devices. It lets users create a folder on their computers, which is then synchronized across devices to appear as the same folder—with the same contents—regardless of which device accesses it.

Here’s a great introduction to it: youtube.com/watch?v=OFb0NaeRmdg.

One of the reasons I trust Dropbox is that it was a pioneer of cloud sharing and has had some time to work out the bugs and improve the service and the interface. And you can’t discount the importance of a reliable app that just works. I also like the fact that for every person you invite to join Dropbox who actually signs up, you get additional free storage space for your own account.

Dropbox has a paid version specifically for business, which starts with 1,000 GB and can expand as needed. It uses redundant synchronization technologies—Delta and LAN—which ensure fast syncing even over unreliable Internet connections. And it provides unlimited version history, so you can track changes and, if necessary, recover an older version of your work.

The business version is testing a beta version of a functionality that lets you remotely delete your Dropbox folder to keep your data safe in case someone on your team loses their laptop or leaves the company on bad terms.

Other useful elements of the business version:

● A sharing and activity audit log provides visibility into what’s happening on your account and what’s being shared. You can filter by specific actions and generate activity reports from the admin console.

● An access control function manages shared folders and links, letting you restrict sharing outside your team.

● Encryption and privacy features mean that files are stored with 256-bit encryption and data is shared over an SSL-protected “tunnel.”

The Dropbox Free version comes with 2 GB of storage space on the cloud server and includes the core features.

Dropbox Pro offers the core features plus priority email support for $99/year. It includes 100 GB of space, and you can add the enhanced security of unlimited file recovery and unlimited version history for $3.99/month each.

Dropbox for Business allows as much storage space as needed, includes the enhanced security features plus team management features and full phone and email support, plus dedicated deployment specialists assigned to your account. Pricing starts at $795/year for up to five users, plus an additional $125 per extra user per year.

A Look Inside My Dropbox

On my Macbook Pro (and maybe also on Windows-based computers), the Dropbox symbol sits up in the menu bar along the top of the desktop window, immediately accessible at any time without going through a Web browser, as long as you’re currently logged in. You can set that to automatically happen at startup through the Preferences panel of the app.

What you see below is a screen grab from inside my own Dropbox folder. Along the left side, you’ll see several link buttons.

Files: Showing everything you have in your box. This is the home window, and what you’re looking at right now.

Photos: Just a different view, showing only your photos, whether in the main folder or shared folders and added from all devices. You can share individual images or selections from within this view, via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Sharing: This view lets you see all the folders in your Dropbox that are being shared. It tells you who has access to each folder and when each was last modified. You can create a new shared folder from within this view. It also shows you old shared folders you have recently removed, but they’re grayed out so you can’t access them anymore.

Links: A view that shows you all the subfolders and files with links that you created. It has a tab view you can click to see links to other Dropbox users’ folders that have been shared with you. And it indicates latest modification dates.

Events: Everything you do (or anyone else does that’s connected to your folder) is recorded and dated and shows up here, so you can monitor your folder’s activity.

Get Started: This area serves basically to get you familiar with your Dropbox account. It also serves as an incentive to really get familiar with it, since you are rewarded with 250 MB of additional free storage when you complete its seven steps.

Along with the link buttons, you can see a few of the subfolders and files I have sitting in my Dropbox account. That file at top is the backup file from my Time Machine (which I wish I’d had during my last crash; it’s there permanently now so I don’t have to suffer that loss again). And I have a Course Material folder containing presentations and handouts in case I need them when I’m on the road.

You can also see my Files for Caryn folder, which contains all the content I share with my Web developer and graphic designer. As the link symbol next to it shows, it was being shared with her when I grabbed this screenshot. Beneath that is our For Production folder, containing all assets for current projects in all stages. That disk image is for Filemaker Pro, which I downloaded originally and once found myself needing to use again after a crash. When I downloaded it the second time after a bit of a hassle, I decided to not to risk having to do that yet again; now I keep the disk image safely ensconced on Dropbox.

One folder you can’t see here is the one I use to share PDF handouts with attendees at my presentations. Instead of bothering with the hassle and expense of printing out my handouts and hauling them with me to a conference, I just upload them to a Dropbox folder, copy the link, and paste it into the last slide of my presentation deck. Attendees can copy it down or type it directly into their mobile devices at the event to download the handout. It’s a great feature.

Every once in a while, I do clean out old files I’m no longer using. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is to let anyone with whom you’re currently sharing files have a chance to download anything they need before you delete things. Otherwise you have to recreate the folder or file, and it’s a pain, as is the “freakout factor” on the part of your colleague.

The Easy First Steps

The best thing about Dropbox, in my mind, is its ease of installation and use. To get started, simply go to Dropbox.com and click the Learn More link at the bottom of the page. Once you decide you want to get it, click the Download button on the page and you will automatically get the version that’s right for whatever device you’re accessing on. (Mobile users will probably want to go through their app store instead and can do that with the Web-based interface.)

Once the download completes, install it and follow the prompts to set it up on your computer or mobile device. This will include registering with the service, which establishes your account on its server. Then, you’re ready to use Dropbox—that’s all!

It will walk you through a little tutorial, or you can go online to watch a tutorial video such as youtube.com/watch?v=44FKANN1DKY, which has you create your account first before downloading; either way works.

You’ll quickly become a pro at working with Dropbox, and will likely find your own special uses for it. Here’s a video from CNET that gives you some great tips on extensions and tricks to use with it: youtube.com/watch?v=CYdwDXMUTXw.

I almost guarantee you’ll come to wonder how you ever functioned without Dropbox, either personally or professionally. It’s truly a valuable tool that will help you become a more efficient indie publisher, at no charge to get started.


Mary Shafer is an independent publisher, an award-winning author, and a marketing consultant with more than 20 years in the industry. Formerly president of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, she provides guidance for authors considering self-publishing, and for indie publishers seeking greater success, at IndieNavigator.com.

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