Google Docs & Dropbox: Do You Trust The Cloud?

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?

Yeah I’m not yet ready for the cloud. I think it’s whatever impulse that also pushes me to hoard my books (physical, paper, heavy, books) like they’re my babies also makes me loath to relinquish control over my documents (like um, my doctoral thesis) to an amorphous cloud.

In some things I’m an early adopter, but with this, I’m still waiting to see how its develops before I jump on board. That said, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with using cloud services (though I wouldn’t for music because of things like what Audra mentioned in a 'cast a few weeks back), I just don’t think that my anxiety levels are OK with me using it.

Syncing is a tough thing to do, especially b/t more than two devices. Having a designated master is probably the easiest ‘solution.’ The cloud is the obvious place for it, but I’m very cautious to this approach right now.

I feel you on this one. I’m opposed to the whole “e-reader” trend for the same reason.

However, I would have loved to have had Dropbox as a grad student and would have used it quite a bit. As it was, I always had my USB stick in my pocket with drafts of my papers and PDFs of articles and such. The nice thing about the cloud is it can’t go through the washing machine! :slight_smile:

I think it’s good to be cautious. I have started small with the cloud. I don’t store any sensitive information there and I always back it up on hard disk later. Dropbox and Google Docs offer HTTPS by default, so that’s reassuring. However, I’m finding that the convenience factor is so strong that I’m using it more and more.

With Google Docs, it’s just so convenient to have access to what I’m working on at any computer, without having to worry, “Okay, now what version of MS Word is this?” As a personal project, I’ve been doing all of my work for FSL via the cloud. I do the writing with the word processor on Google Docs, which has almost all of the features of MS Word. Once a finish an entry, I can save it as a PDF and host it with Dropbox.

Here’s the link to my Second FSL 3.0 Entry. If you sign in with Google, you can get an email every time I edit something, or comment on my draft via the “discussion” menu. Once I see your comment, I can mark it as “resolved,” or we can discuss it further in the comment thread.

All in all, this seems like a fun way of doing things. I’m all for increasing collaborative potential. This would be a great way to do a “round-robin” style writing exercise.

As a school district we moved to Gmail in April. All staff and students have gmail and we all are using Google Docs (in fact all school/teacher websites are google). I’m still learning the ins and outs, but my personal email is still hotmail and an Apple account. I imagine that I’ll end up opening a gmail for myself. For teachers and students Google docs is great, the sharing feature especially.

All that said, I am not ready to write my next novel this way. Word is still the word IYKWIM. I am in agreement about not depending on cloud coverage. I also believe that this will end up being the next item we’re charged for. Remember how cell phone bills used to be about minutes? Now it’s all about the data plan.

I back up to an external HD daily and weekly to Apple’s iDisk service that’s part of my mobile me account. I do like the idea of having a outside backup because if I’m ever robbed or my Mac & HD are damaged (they’re right next to each other) I have the data safely elsewhere.

Until I open a personal gmail account, I’m not playing around with my own writing in my work one. I can’t imagine ever converting to a 100% cloud system for storage, but dear gods I couldn’t ever imagine something like an iPhone before so who the hell knows where this will all go?

I’m having the same thoughts as Jonolobster: if I’m writing a novel ( which is top secret until it gets published), would it be a good idea to put it up on Google docs?

Also, are there any iPhone apps to recommend for writing?

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I have used Google docs for some of my writing assignments for class, but I still will be using Word for my novel. Google can be glitchy from time to time, but the reality is there isn’t any privacy in Cloud, not when you think about it. At this point in time, every agent will want a Word doc or RTF, until I shift there, I’m staying put in Word for big, sensitive projects.

I use Google Docs and My Writing Spot for short bits that I want to transcribe later, but I prefer to use Scrivener or Open Office for my actual projects. It’s less that I don’t trust the lack of privacy (though there is that) and more that I like the formatting and resources in my preferred programs better.

Cylon: My Writing Spot got me through NaNo a few years ago. I wrote about 20k words of it on my phone and still use it for short stories, scenes, etc. You can’t italicize in it, but it’s great for writing on the go regardless if you use something like word in italics to denote what you want to use when you copy/paste it later.

Thanks for the definitive recommendation - it sounds reasonably what I’m looking for!

PS I always read the reviews (and check the file size) before downloading any iPhone app - it seems some people are unhappy with Scrivener?

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I don’t use the Scrivener iPhone app so I can’t say, but I really like the Windows version on my netbook. It’s been great for my longer projects: organizing research, writing out of order and then rearranging scenes to better suit the story, and it’s been helping me outline. I’m thoroughly satisfied with it.

If you really are afraid of someone else getting/reading your private files, encrypt them! TrueCrypt works really well and it’s free! Having a robust password on my Google account is fine for me.

I’m mad for Scrivener. There’s an app?

Encrypt what you do on Dropbox. They’re good folks, but they also advise encryption.


I’ve had Dropbox for awhile, but it wasn’t until recently that I really put it to any use. If I’m at a friend’s, and we need a file from my computer, I’ll remote in using Splashtop on my phone or laptop to my media PC at home, then drag and drop whatever file we’re after (movie, music, etc.) right into Dropbox, and at most I’ll wait 5 minutes before I can pull the file right on to my friend’s computer. I think it’s a great little solution to solve transferring small to medium amounts of data between remote locations. I’ll also use the Public folder to share pieces of projects I’m working on with partners and things like that. I honestly keep meaning to mess around with Google Docs, but I really haven’t had the honest need. I guess I’ll get to it eventually.

Evernote is free now! Is it any good for privacy?

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So I found an article online about Google Forms use and how Google is closing forms and deleting content in the forms out of user accounts. The article was school related, so the forms in question contained personal data (like phone #'s /passwords of students) people who made RSVP forms in Google were also affected.

In short, Google doesn’t allow for the collection of personal data in forms, which ultimately means two things- 1) how much privacy is there on Google applications (including email) and 2) Who ultimately has content ownership- the creator or the provider?

While this is all applied to Forms, I can’t help but wonder what will ultimately happen within Google docs. We’ve already had teachers experience denial of ownership rights on content they created in our work Google accounts when they tried to share or transfer that content to a personal account. Obviously a work-sponsored Google account is different than a personal one, but I’m seriously wondering what rights I have as a Google user.

In short, I’m still behind keep my most sensitive and important created content on my own HD and EHD via MS Word.

Obligatory disclaimer: I work for a tech company; my opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

To answer your first question, I’d recommend reading the “Information We Share” section of Google’s Privacy Policy ( As for your second question, Google’s Terms of Service ( clearly states: “Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.”

Thanks Emily!

I’m a late participant here so I apologize for that. I’ve been an avid user of the Dropbox for little things from the beginning but I never kept any of my personal intellectual property there unless I needed in which case I immediately removed once I had done. Since Google Docs upgraded to Google Drive however, I find myself using it almost exclusively. I can update or add documents from any of my Android devices and with the PC app I have backups on my own harddrive and I have made available every document of imporance offline on my portable devices. I can edit in Word although I rarely do as I find the online version is just as good and since it does not automatically correct spelling errors it actually helps me maintain my spelling and proofreading skills.

Much of my writing is blogs that I post otherwhere after completing it in Drive online however so my privacy in that regard is not of major concern to me. I haven’t actually used it for any of my original stuff but only because I haven’t yet had the opportunity. I will point out though that because I work on a government computer that I cannot access Drive at work for security purposes so if I do have a flash of genius at work that I wish to keep I bang it out in an RTF file so I can email it to myself for later. Most of my original stuff gets saved that way and remains on my harddrive but I’m considering using Dropbox for backup since I do not treat my PC well and regularly lose things due to frequent crashes. I also have a Box account because I signed up when they were handing out free 50 GB accounts but I haven’t used it yet.