I’m finding myself relying on Google Docs and Dropbox more and more to get stuff done. When I say stuff, I mean almost anything: projects for work, personal projects, data storage and transfer, and file hosting.
As writers, we all know that inspiration can strike anywhere, anytime. The old school solution was to carry a notepad to jot down ideas, or else be stuck scribbling them on napkins, envelopes, or arms. Technology has improved the situation a bit: I’ve written myself emails and texts messages or ideas or lists in order to have something to refer to later.
In the past few months, Google Docs and Dropbox, two free “cloud-based” Internet applications, have replaced all of that and helped me increase productivity exponentially. I can access them from any computer, at home or at work, or on my Android smartphone.
With Google Docs, I can share projects with anyone, and can control who can edit or who can only look. This has been great for work projects, as it streamlines collaboration. You no longer have to worry if you’re working on the current version of the document, because it’s always being updated. And it’s integrated with Gmail, my email client of choice, so checking updates is as simple as checking my inbox.
With Dropbox, anything I’m working on can be stored and accessed anywhere through the browser-based application. On my home computers (a Windows desktop and an Ubuntu laptop) Dropbox can be installed as a folder on my desktop, making file transfers as simple as drag-and-drop. With the Dropbox app on my phone, anything I download on-the-go can be uploaded and accessed later, without needing to physically “sync” my phone with a computer. I can also download files from my Dropbox onto my phone if I want. Dropbox also allows you to share files publicly, check my signature file for an example of that.
With Dropbox, which gives you 2 GB for free, I’ve completely stopped carrying a USB memory stick, which used to be how I moved data from one machine to another. The problem I discovered the hard way is that a USB drive can also inadvertently move viruses, too. Unless I deliberately upload an infected file and then deliberately download it onto my home PC, there’s little risk of infection.
The only downside to using Google Docs and Dropbox is that the data is out there and not physically in my hands. I’m not paranoid by nature, but it does add another level of concern. What is the server crashes and a lose the project I was working on at work before I can back it up at home? What if someone hacks my account and changes my password, or deletes all my stuff?
For me, the benefits so far outweigh the concerns. I work on a college campus, but I don’t have an office of my own, so I’m always bouncing from one computer lab or classroom to another. It’s great to always have access to my stuff without having to worry where I left my USB stick. At home, I use two computers, so it’s convenient to move files quickly without running back and forth from room to room. As a Droid owner, it’s even more convenient to be able to upload or download files right from my phone. Even Google Docs can be edited on the fly with the Droid app.
However, I can understand why some people might have reservations about trusting the “cloud” with their data. How do the rest of you feel about it? Am I being naive or am I on to something here?