Share Files Online — Part 1: Overview

Two guinea pigs sharing a carrot

Over the last few months I’ve answered a lot of ques­tions about online file-shar­ing.

Should I upload my files to my own web­site or put them on a file-shar­ing ser­vice?”

How can I make a PDF avail­able on my blog?”

What about sites like Google Docs and Zoho?”

As with near­ly any­thing, the answer depends on the ques­tion.

And as with near­ly any­thing, the ques­tion is: what are you try­ing to do?

Begin with the End in Mind

First, ask your­self, “What do I want to do?”

Under­stand­ing that in some cas­es there’s a lot of over­lap, I divide file-shar­ing tools into two heaps. Pub­li­ca­tion tools let you put a file where oth­ers can get it. Col­lab­o­ra­tion tools let you coop­er­a­tive­ly cre­ate a doc­u­ment with oth­ers.

Publication Tools

What Are Pub­li­ca­tion Tools?

The goal. You want to make an exist­ing file avail­able to oth­ers. You want peo­ple to down­load your file and use it exact­ly as you cre­at­ed it—or if they do change it, you don’t expect (or even nec­es­sar­i­ly want) to see the changes.

The means. A tool that will put a file where oth­ers can get it.

An exam­ple prob­lem.Your organization’s job appli­ca­tion is a Word doc­u­ment. You want peo­ple to down­load it.

Some pos­si­ble solu­tions. Upload­ing to your own web­site. A blog like Word­Press. A file-shar­ing ser­vice like Drop­box. A con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem (CMS) like Dru­pal.

Uploading a Word Document to WordPress

Upload­ing a Word Doc­u­ment to Word­Press

Pub­li­ca­tion tools offer many ben­e­fits.

  • You get to use your own favorite pro­grams to cre­ate doc­u­ments. Love Emacs or Word­Pad? Knock your­self out.
  • Gen­er­al­ly you can share any type of file you want to, though some sites do impose restric­tions (for exam­ple, Flickr is just for pho­to shar­ing).
  • Low com­mit­ment required: in most cas­es your audi­ence doesn’t need to cre­ate accounts to access your files.
  • The orig­i­nal doc­u­ment lives on your com­put­er, and you can access it whether you’re online or not.

Cons

And of course, there are trade-offs.

  • It’s awk­ward at best to cre­ate a doc­u­ment col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with oth­ers.
  • Many sites impose a lim­it on the total size of your files, though in most cas­es they let you add space through a paid sub­scrip­tion.

Collaboration Tools

What Are Col­lab­o­ra­tion Tools?

The goal. You want to cre­ate doc­u­ments along with oth­er peo­ple. Maybe sev­er­al peo­ple are col­lab­o­rat­ing on a par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ment, or maybe sev­er­al peo­ple are cre­at­ing their own doc­u­ments in a shared place that they and oth­ers can access. You want to see oth­ers’ changes, com­ment on them, make changes to oth­ers’ doc­u­ments, etc.

The means. An appli­ca­tion that cre­ates and stores doc­u­ments online. You don’t install soft­ware on your com­put­er, you just open your brows­er and start edit­ing the doc­u­ment, which is stored some­where on the Inter­net.

An exam­ple prob­lem.You and a col­league need to work on a pre­sen­ta­tion to show at an upcom­ing meet­ing.

Some pos­si­ble solu­tions. Google Docs. Zoho Show. ThinkFree’s Show. Once it’s avail­able for every­one, Microsoft’s Docs for Face­book.

Zoho - An Online Office Suite

Zoho — An Online Office Suite

Pros

No ques­tion: col­lab­o­ra­tion cools are tool.

  • You can cre­ate doc­u­ments with a col­league.
  • Some tools (like Adobe Buzz­word) pro­vide sophis­ti­cat­ed revi­sion track­ing and com­ment­ing: who made that change? What did the doc­u­ment look like two days ago?
  • You can edit doc­u­ments almost any­where. It just takes a brows­er.
  • All your con­trib­u­tors use the same soft­ware to cre­ate doc­u­ments. You don’t need to make every­one install the same soft­ware, and you don’t need to resolve things like iWorks-vs-MS Word incom­pat­i­bil­i­ties.

Cons

But they’re not per­fect for every sit­u­a­tion.

  • Each site typ­i­cal­ly sup­ports only cer­tain doc­u­ment types. Want to upload a PDF to YouTube? You’re out of luck.
  • You have to use brows­er-based pro­grams to cre­ate your doc­u­ments. While these are very cool, and some­times very easy to use, they’re rarely as pow­er­ful as their desk­top-based coun­ter­parts like MS Office, OpenOf­fice, and iWorks.
  • There are often size lim­its unless you opt for a paid sub­scrip­tion.
  • If your Inter­net con­nec­tion (or the site) goes down, in most cas­es you can’t access your doc­u­ments.

What’s Next?

In the next post I’ll take a deep­er look at Pub­li­ca­tion tools — spe­cif­ic tools, how to use them, and their appro­pri­ate­ness for var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions.

After that we’ll take a sim­i­lar look at Col­lab­o­ra­tion tools.

Post image cred­it: ryan­cr

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