If you’re anything like me you’re constantly looking for little snatches of time to write whenever and wherever you can find them. Since we can’t always be in our preferred writing space when time for writing presents itself, or even when inspiration strikes, we make due as we can. During her Harry Potter days, J.K. Rowling even once resorted to writing on the back of an air sickness bag!
While there are any number of ways to take notes on the go, for me the challenge has always been in how to effectively bringing everything back together later. Retyping handwritten notes can be time consuming, as can copying and pasting notes from one disconnected electronic location to another (email, text files, USB drive, etc.). For the most part, anything that isn’t about just getting the words on the page can feel a lot like wasted time. Time that would be better spent actually writing.
Enter . . . Dropbox!
Dropbox is a Web-based file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc. It utilizes cloud computing to enable users to backup, store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using file synchronization. Dropbox is a free service, however, paid subscriptions are also available for those with serious file storage/sharing needs.
(For more information about all the possibilities for Dropbox and its supported hardware platforms you can check out this excellent video tour made by the folks at Creative Commons.)
Rather than extolling all the virtues of Dropbox allow me to sum up the highlights specific to writers.
Files saved on your computer are automatically saved to your Dropbox (cloud) account in real time as you save them. That means they’re backed up almost instantly. No more need to burn copies of everything each night to CD/DVD or to create redundant fire safe flash drives, couriered off-site or hidden nightly in the bomb safe bunker beneath your house. And you can also stop emailing those files to yourself each night as a way to back them up in case your computer decides to go on strike.
Ever saved over something you’ve worked on only to realize an instant too late what you’ve done? Ever deleted something by accident only to realize a week or more later, after you’ve cleared your Recycle Bin, that it’s missing? Dropbox has you covered here too. Dropbox keeps ALL the versions of any file in your account for 30 days. That’s A LOT of revision history. Unless you keep dated backup copies or dated file folders (both of which I’ve tried) you won’t have proper versions just making nightly copies.
There’s no need to worry that everything on your computer will be copied to your Dropbox account if you signup. You decide what parent folder you want Dropbox to monitor. You can use the default Dropbox folder recommended during installation or you can specify a different one as your Dropbox home. You can even move it later on.
You can also install Dropbox on as many computers or handheld devices as you like, regardless of the operating system, and then link them all to your Dropbox account. Because Dropbox resides in the “cloud” you can literally access your files from any location with an Internet connection (whether or not Dropbox is installed there); a friend’s house, a public library, your Grandma’s computer during a few stolen minutes on during those LONG holiday visits. (Okay, let’s pretend I didn’t suggest that last part.) In other words, with Dropbox you can rest assured you’ll always be able to get to your files. Anytime. Anywhere.
Dropbox can also making collaborating with others much simpler. You can either share your actual Dropbox account with someone else or you can securely share only specific files or folders with them. Plus, you always have the option to make anything in your Dropbo public to the world. Dropbox can even display an popup message in the taskbar when a document in your Dropbox is added or updated from another location. (I set up my 13YO daughter to keep her files in my Dropbox on my home computer. It always makes me smile when the filename of a document she’s working on, like her latest book, discreetly pops up on my screen.)
In my case, Dropbox not only connects files on my iPod Touch, it integrates directly with some of the writing apps I use almost every day. Specifically, I do most of my work in Microsoft Word (and Microsoft Excel) and so I use the Documents To Go iPhone app because it lets me edit files in both Office 2003 and Office 2007 while retaining all formatting and special features (more info here). What’s great about Documents To Go is that I can link it to my Dropbox too. From my iPod Touch I have access to all my writing documents and can edit them just as I would if I was sitting at my desk. I also don’t have to worry about losing formatting by switching between file editors when I work from different locations.
2GB of free space! Need I say more?
There’s so much more I could write about uses for Dropbox beyond simply writing (on-line photo album, video sharing, eBook archives, etc.) but I’ll limit myself just to writing in this post.
If you decide to start using Dropbox because of my recommendation, let me know what you think of it! I’d love to hear from you. I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.
Incidentally, if you DO decide to signup, consider using this referral link when you do. Using it will give you (and me too as it happens) an extra 250MB of extra space from the get go. I’ve been using Dropbox since its beta days and am only around 11% into my 2GB so I don’t need the space (yet). But since you can put whatever you want in there I thought you might appreciate the extra 250MB in addition to the whopping 2GB you’ll already get when you start.