Using Dropbox for More than Storage Purposes

There is little doubt that you have heard of the cloud-storage app Dropbox, unless of course, this is your first time on the Internet. If this is the case, you should take a look at the features page on the website. There’s no use telling you how awesome Dropbox is, because at the end of the day, you will either be passionately loyal to it, or prefer a different app for cloud-based storage, like Box.Net, SkyDrive, or Apple’s soon to be released, iCloud. What’s important is not what you use, but how you use it.

Just to make it clear, most of these examples should work on any of the options, and probably all the other solutions, but I only know about Dropbox, so that’s what we’re going to focus on. Here’s a few features that are vital for effective use of any cloud storage solution.

On the Go File Access

Here’s an obvious one: having access to all your files from any Internet-connected device, anywhere in the world. It’s one of the main selling-points for cloud-based storage apps, because, well, that’s what they do. What does this mean for students?

Well it means you can sit at your desk and write your essay, then pick up your phone and start tapping away on the bus, then login to the library computer and finish working. Not once do you have to change application, copy a file over to a USB, swear because you have the wrong version or lose your work.

Back-Up

There’s another thing. Never lose your work again. Not even if you physically delete it. Dropbox stores your files for one-month, so you can undo major changes, and even restore a deleted version. It’s even safe from computer theft, as all your data is stored in massive data centres all over the world. Brilliant, isn’t it?

File Sharing

Group projects just got a whole lot easier. Dropbox lets you ‘invite’ other users to your folders, so it’s like you all have a local copy on your machine, yet, whenever a change is made, you don’t have to email each other the file. It’s just there. Not only that, you can open up specific files for the world to see. Have an assignment you want feedback on, but it’s too large to email? Paste it into the Public file, and send off the link. Simple stuff.

How Can You Put it into Practice Though?

There are a number of ways to use Dropbox, although as a student, this generally only involves file-sharing and backup/storage. However, there are many more.

Many applications, on the web, iOS, Android and numerous other platforms take advantage of the Dropbox API, allowing them to read and write your data, with your permission. A large portion of these are note-taking apps, though others include to do lists, photo organisers. You can view 238 such apps on the Dropbox website. So whatever you’re doing on a computer, mobile or otherwise, you can be sure that you will have access to your data wherever you are.

A very useful application is the currently in beta If This Then That. Basically, it takes ‘triggers’ from various apps, and performs ‘actions’ with the data from the triggers. At the moment, Dropbox has one action, Add File from URL, although this is promised to be expanded as the app develops. Despite this, there are a number of useful triggers from other apps which can be combined. For example, if you see a useful article in Google Reader, you can star it, and ifttt will save the file in your Dropbox, in a folder you specify. It’s an extremely useful way to keep on top of your resources. How about connecting your Facebook profile to Dropbox, to save every photo you’re tagged in to a folder. Or tweets mentioning you. There are also countless opportunities to connect apps other than Dropbox. How about a text when the weather is set to turn nasty?

Steering away from applications, what do you think of printing on the go? There are a couple of options for printing from the cloud, such as Google’s Cloud Print, although these seem to be quite hardware and/or software dependent. Obviously, there are some situations where it wouldn’t be ideal to send a document to your home printer, but for non-urgent jobs, it will more than suffice. All you have to do is set up a printing folder in your Dropbox. Then you have two options. If you’re a programmer, write a script. If not, it’s off to Google. With a quick search, you can easily find a script to do the job for you. Unfortunately, I don’t have a printer connected to a computer with appropriate access, so I can’t test this for you, but I know there are some out there.

With Dropbox’s Public folder and Folder Sharing features, your files can become social very quickly. We’ve already talked about how it can be used to easily work on the most up-to-date files, but what about communication? Sure, you could use the same social network, but what if you want to reference a file? Simple, create a folder called “Messages”, set up a format for post titles, and you’re all set. Using sub folders, you can create threads, and life is simple once more. If you’re a techy-sort-of team, why not create the messages in HTML, so you can link to files in the folders?

There are a million and one different things you’ll need to share with your team, and Dropbox provides a platform for all of these. Sure, you could use one of the infinity team management apps out there, but why bother learning a completely new interface, when you can use one you’ve been comfortable with for years?

If you’re still looking for some more tricks to add to your Dropbox arsenal, check out Web.Appstorm’s The Ultimate Dropbox Toolkit & Guide. It really is ultimate! So have fun , and send us a line in the comments if you have any other awesome tips for using Dropbox, or any similar app.

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About Katie Walker

Hey, I'm a student. I'm into web development, so currently I'm working on my blog, a few Tumblr themes, and a few web apps for various purposes. It's exciting stuff.

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