Share Files Online — Part 2: Publication Tools

Two guinea pigs sharing a carrot

In last week’s post, How to Share Files — Part 1: Overview, I drew a dis­tinc­tion between pub­li­ca­tion-based online file-shar­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion-based online file-shar­ing.

In brief, Pub­li­ca­tion tools let you put a file where oth­ers can get it. Col­lab­o­ra­tion tools let you coop­er­a­tive­ly cre­ate a doc­u­ment with oth­ers. There’s a lot of over­lap between these cat­e­gories, but I’d argue that most tools are more like one or the oth­er in spir­it.

This post will dis­cuss Pub­li­ca­tion tools in more detail. These are tools that assume you’ve cre­at­ed your doc­u­ment already (for exam­ple in Microsoft Word, Adobe Acro­bat, or Apple iWorks) and want to let oth­er peo­ple down­load the doc­u­ment. This approach assumes peo­ple have what­ev­er pro­gram they need to open your doc­u­ments (for exam­ple Word, Adobe Read­er, iWorks, or Open Office).

Publication Refresher

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.

Option 1: Old School

Ok, I sup­pose real old school is email. But here I mean sim­ply upload­ing files to your web host so peo­ple can down­load them.

Near­ly every web host gives you some way to upload files. Some web hosts pro­vide a web-based file man­ag­er; cPanel’s File Man­ag­er is a good exam­ple:

cPanel File Manager

cPan­el File Man­ag­er

Most web hosts also give you the option to upload a file via File Trans­fer Pro­to­col (FTP). To do this you’ll want a spe­cial pro­gram, an ftp client. A few good ones:

Oth­er web hosts will give you oth­er options too. “How do I upload files to my site” is a fre­quent­ly asked ques­tion for web hosts, and that’s what FAQs are for. Any decent web host will make the answer to this ques­tion eas­i­ly avail­able to you in the Help or Sup­port sec­tion of their web­site. They don’t want to field emails and phone calls for such a com­mon need.

Once you’ve uploaded the file you should be able to access it through a URL that points to the file on your site. Share that with your col­leagues by email, or add a link on your web­site, and bam you’re done.

When to go Old School

If you already have a web host and you just want to share a few files, this is a great option.

Option 2: Social Media Sites

Facebook Logo


One of the main ideas behind social media is to democ­ra­tize web pub­lish­ing, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for any­one with a brows­er to cre­ate a web pres­ence.

But that doesn’t just mean let­ting you pub­lish your online diaries and opin­ion pieces. Files are a part of express­ing your­self, and many social media plat­forms give you some way to upload cer­tain types of files. For exam­ple:

But of the social media options, blogs often give some of the best flex­i­bil­i­ty in the kinds of files you can upload.

For exam­ple, Word­Press allows a wide-though-not-unlim­it­ed range of file types: pic­tures, videos, audio, Word doc­u­ments, Open Office doc­u­ments, Pow­er­Points, and PDFs. In fact, some blog­ging plat­forms are flex­i­ble enough that they cross into the realm of Con­tent Man­age­ment Sys­tems.

When to use Social Media

As with the Old School options, social media sites are great if they sup­port the kind of file you want to upload.

Option 3: Content Management Systems

Drupal Logo

You get even more flex­i­bil­i­ty if you move to a Con­tent Man­age­ment Sys­tem (CMS). A high­er-end CMS like Dru­pal or Joom­la is a file man­age­ment beast, let­ting you not only upload near­ly any kind of file, but also let­ting you clas­si­fy the files in var­i­ous ways to make it easy for peo­ple to find them. The trade-off: they’re more com­plex to set up and man­age than most of the oth­er options list­ed here.

A few resources to help you to choose a CMS:

When yo use a CMS

A CMS is great if you have lots of files, or lots of kinds of files to upload. And it’s real­ly the best solu­tion if you want to clas­si­fy the files in var­i­ous ways, let­ting peo­ple search for the files using those clas­si­fi­ca­tions.

Option 4: “Actual” File-Sharing Sites

Dropbox Logo

I’ve saved the most obvi­ous for last.

Why? Some peo­ple have sim­ple file-shar­ing needs, but they assume they need a spe­cial­ized web­site to meet it. And file-shar­ing sites are great… but if you already have a web site and are able to upload files to it, there’s a cer­tain appeal to using the tools already at your dis­pos­al.

Desktop Extensions

File-shar­ing sites give you online stor­age and an easy way to access it. Some ser­vices, like Drop­box, make this almost trans­par­ent: there’s sim­ply a new fold­er on your com­put­er, and when­ev­er you drag files to/from that fold­er they’re actu­al­ly being uploaded/downloaded.

Not only does that give you an online back­up of your files, or sim­ply make the files avail­able to you wher­ev­er you go, but in near­ly all cas­es online stor­age sites give you a way to let oth­ers see your files.


Some ser­vices, like Rapid­Share, are less focused on giv­ing you a space to share and retain lots of files over time, and more ori­ent­ed toward quick and easy shar­ing of indi­vid­ual files. Rapid­Share sim­ply lets you upload a file (up to 200MB for free as of this writ­ing), then it gives you a URL that you can mail to your col­leagues.

Choosing a Service

As with many online things, most of these sites give you free ser­vice with cer­tain restric­tions, and then they let you remove the restric­tions by pay­ing for a sub­scrip­tion.

Some of the best file-shar­ing sites:

Life­Hack­er recent­ly sur­veyed its read­ers about their favorite online stor­age tools. It’s good read­ing if you’re choos­ing between online file-shar­ing ven­dors.

When to use a file sharing service

It real­ly comes down to whether the site offers some fea­ture that’s espe­cial­ly appeal­ing to you, and how you feel about open­ing up yet anoth­er online account. If you use anoth­er tool already that allows file shar­ing, if you’re hap­py with it, and if it sup­ports the files and fea­tures you need… why switch?

On the oth­er hand, file-shar­ing sites are great in many ways. They’re also eas­i­er to use than some of the oth­er options on this page, espe­cial­ly those like Drop­box and Sky­Drive that let you man­age the files as though they were stored local­ly on your com­put­er.

What’s Next?

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

Post image cred­it: ryan­cr

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