It's getting awfully overcast on the World Wide Web. More and more of everything we do is, or can be, stored in the cloud, accessed from the cloud and run from the cloud. Sure, using the cloud has its risks, as Jennifer Lawrence recently discovered, but if used carefully and knowledgeably those risks, in my view, are far outweighed by the benefits.
Recently, Dropbox Pro, the paid version of the service, has become an even more valuable tool with its (practically) unlimited 1 terabyte storage allowance and additional security features. I really don't need any other cloud service anymore†.
Here are five things I like about Dropbox, and that I think most writers would find useful about the service. Some of these aren't unique to Dropbox, though in my experience Dropbox implements them better than the others.
After you signup to Dropbox and install the accompanying app on your computer, a Dropbox folder appears on your computer. Add a file to that folder and that file will be replicated, instantly, on the Dropbox server. It will also be replicated on any other computer on which you have installed Dropbox. Change and save that file and a new version of it will be uploaded to Dropbox and synced everywhere else.
This has a particular benefit when using an application like Scrivener for your writing. Behind the scenes, Scrivener saves each sub-document as an individual (small) text file. It re-saves that file every time you stop typing – effectively every minute or so. If you keep your Scrivener project in your Dropbox folder (or in a folder linked to Dropbox), your precious project will be backed up virtually continuously. You'll never have to try and retype a written but subsequently lost page again.
An example. When travelling I like to have a copy of my passport. This used to be a paper photocopy. Now I store a PDF in Dropbox. It's accessible on my home computer, my iPhone and my iPad. It's also accessible on the web, so I can get to the file on any internet-connected computer in the world. In the worst case scenario of losing both my devices and my passport while travelling, I could still access that copy of my passport.
In the same way, by keeping my 'working' files in Dropbox I can work anywhere (if I want to).
You can 'invite' someone else to one of your Dropbox folders. They will need a Dropbox account, but once your invitation is accepted said folder – and any changes within it – will be replicated on their Dropbox account (and computer and devices) just as it is on yours.
This makes working with someone else a breeze. Create and share a folder for the project, then keep all your documents related to that project in that folder. Each of you has access to them at all times. No more files lost in convoluted email threads.
Linking to large files and folders
Sometimes you don't want to grant someone free access to a folder, but you want to share a file or files with them. And while email is better than it used to be at handling larger files, it is still not ideal. The Dropbox solution is to share a unique link to the file or folder. Your counterpart clicks that link and is taken to a page on the Dropbox site from which they can download the file, or access any file within a linked folder. (They don't need a Dropbox account for this one.)
A new feature of the Pro account is the ability to password-protect these links and/or add a self-destruct date ('expiration date') after which the link will no longer work.
Ever done that thing where you've accidentally saved a file over the top of an older version you wanted to keep? Dropbox has saved my bacon here more than once. When a file is stored in Dropbox, all versions of that file, going back 30 days, are kept in the background. (These don't consume any of your storage allowance.) Should you need to find an older version of a file, you just navigate to the file on the website, right click on it and choose 'Previous versions'. Your day is saved.
There are plenty of additional features to Dropbox, including some nifty new ones for storage of photos. There are also many apps that take advantage of the service. But beyond all else, the thing that has always been a winner for me is the simplicity of using Dropbox.
If you don't have a Dropbox account and want to try it, this link will give you an extra 500MB of data allowance. (It will give me extra too, not that I need it.)
† As an Apple user I do use their iCloud service, predominantly for syncing of various information between my devices. Rumour has it that this will become a more useful service with the introduction of iOS8, in which case it might share a more prominent place alongside Dropbox in the way I work.