First let’s get Wikis out of the way, because least said and all that. We were supposed to learn wikis in school, never did. I was hoping we’d learn their use in my Internet Information class, mainly because there is no W in Hebrew (we use a V instead) and the instructor’s name is Viki. Yes, I’m easily amused. I’ve used wikis extensively, particularly in my fandom-oriented life, but also for projects such as Library Routes and Library Day in the Life. I can see the usefulness of wikis, particularly for collaboration when there is little chance of real-life interaction, but I’ve not had much chance to practice what I’m preaching.
And now on the tools of my everyday trade.
My love for Google Docs and for Dropbox — knows bounds.
I started using Google Docs for work. We had a project manager who had come to us from very corporate, very organized firms, and it was clear he longed for that security in place of our free-form, free-wheeling, free-application-using amorphousness. (He’s since gone back to corporate life, leaving the world of start-ups behind.) He tried to organize us while bearing in mind that we had no budget for a real enterprise system and that we were a staff of 5, with a few more freelance consultants; we could make do. For a month we tried Salesforce, but he’d misread the TOS and at the end of the trial, we lost access to everything we’d had on there.
In any case, Salesforce was rubbish when it came to storing documents, and understandably so. It was meant for customer relations management, not project management. So we turned to that citadel of freebie-ism, the G Machine, and uploaded our documents to Google Docs. Free, access for everyone on the team, available everywhere — what’s not to love?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Part, I have to admit from the start, was not Google’s fault. Our project manager tried to route our mail through Google’s APIs and messed things up so badly that there are still accounts — the accounts tied to Google Docs — that we can’t access, as it seems that there never were passwords associated with these accounts. Sharing ownership of files and folders became impossible, and the application balked every time we asked to share a file with a non-GMail address.
Part was Google’s fault. One of the things we liked, in theory, was the possibility of working collaboratively. We’d long been using TeamViewer for collaboration, alternating who had control of the cursor and keyboard, but Google Docs seemed to promise that we could all work on the same document at the same time without fighting for control. Yeah, right. It worked, as long as you didn’t mind lags long enough to go and make a coffee and sandwich.
Another problem is supposedly a feature — documents you open in GMail are saved in your Google Docs file list. For us, that way lay madness, with our file lists quickly becoming cluttered with junk we’d pruned from our email but had to spend time deleting from Google Docs as well.
The main thing I do love about Google Docs is that, since it’s so ubiquitous, there’s a tutorial out there which will teach you how to do just about anything with the service. (When I find the tut which will teach me how to get Google Docs to clean my house, I’ll be sure to share.) It’s been immensely helpful when I’ve been limited to using Google services to complete school assignments because of my program’s increasing Googlization.
There are vows that must be made
There are terms that can’t expire
There are words that must be said
And there are qualifiers
I’ll love you but I’ll count the ways
The things that I admire
–Tracy Chapman, “Conditional”
I had already been using Dropbox constantly. I work on two computers and my smartphone, and I don’t always have internet access. (My library school was notoriously bad about WiFi in the classrooms last year; they say it’ll be better this year. I’ll believe it when I see it.) I appreciate the convenience of having my work in the Cloud, but I appreciate more having it available to me on my local computer.
I know Dropbox has had its issues. There are questions about how secure it is. There are questions about whether Dropbox employees can decrypt files in your Dropbox and read them. And then there was the morning this summer when all you needed to access someone’s Dropbox contents was their email address, no password required. There’s the Dropbox TOS that allows them to publicly display your files to an extent “reasonably necessary to the Service.”
I recommended Dropbox to my colleagues, and they enthusiastically adopted it — too enthusiastically. I keep reminding them not to post confidential material using the service and they keep forgetting, so I have to keep harping at them. They forget that when you store files on Dropbox and then remove them, they’ll be removed permanently. (Yes, I know there’s 30 days grace. But that only helps if someone decides, within 30 days, to retrieve the files.) I do try to backup the work Dropbox folder to local storage every once in a while because if I know my workgroup, someday they’ll frantically search for some file they erased.
Would I change some things about Dropbox? Certainly. Is it my only on-line storage location? No. Is it my primary storage option? Until something better comes along, yes. I love Dropbox — conditionally.