Thing 20 2014: Google Docs and Dropbox

Working together...

Working together…

Thing 20 allows you to explore different tools for online collaboration and file-sharing – as well as the benefits of using these tools for your individual work.

It can be frustrating to work on group documents; keeping track of versions is difficult, and emailing round updated copies every day is time consuming. Being able to store and edit documents online can help solve these problems, and tools like Google Drive (formerly Google docs) and Dropbox make it possible.

Google docs
One of the main purposes of Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) is to allow multiple people to edit the same document, spreadsheet or presentation without creating duplicate copies. Documents can either be uploaded or created from scratch within Google Drive and the fact that everyone can access the file in one place means that it is much simpler to edit and update. This can be very useful for researchers who are collaborating on a project; for this 23 Things programme we used Google Docs to store and share post content and schedule.

Before sharing any material on these services, consider the following questions:

What kind of material are you sharing, and is it appropriate for your chosen platform?
Does the material you are sharing contain sensitive information? If so, is sharing it on any of these cloud-based services the best way to disseminate it? Consider security measures such as encryption to protect your data.

Are you allowed to share this material?
You must only share material in which you own copyright, or have the appropriate rights to do so. While there are limited provisions under copyright law that allow material to be shared online, sharing copyright material through these services without explicit or implicit permission from the copyright owner may infringe their copyright.

With whom are you sharing this material?
Only share material with individuals you trust. Use private folders to restrict access to this material, and if publishing or sharing links to these folders, make sure to only send them to their intended recipients.  Frequently review who has access to your shared folders, and update access to them regularly.

How are you sharing this material?
Only use cloud-based services on computers that are secure against online threats such as viruses and key-logging software. If using mobile devices, make sure you are connected to the internet using an encrypted WiFi network. If you cease using a particular device or computer, make sure you deauthorise any cloud-based services from these devices.

Accessing Google Drive is quite straightforward: simply login with the same username and password that you would use to access your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, you can quickly set one up by clicking here and completing the online form.

Once you have logged in to Google Drive, click ‘Create’ and choose what kind of document you would like to create – such as a spreadsheet, word-processing document or a presentation.

Create your document and it will save automatically, or you can force a save by pressing Ctrl+s.

Now you are ready to share your document, either with a colleague or even with another 23 Things participant if you wish! Click on the ‘Share’ button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. In the ‘Add People’ box, enter the email address of the person with whom you would like to share the document and decide whether you will allow them to edit the document or just to view it. Click ‘Share’ and this person will now receive an email with a direct link to your document.

Dropbox is a free desktop application which allows you to store your documents online so that you can access them from multiple computers.

Like Google Docs, Dropbox can also be used when collaborating with others on a project as it enables easy file-sharing without the need for creating duplicates. For example, one person can drop documents and files into Dropbox and then invite other people to access and edit those files.

If you don’t already have a Dropbox account, go to the Dropbox website and create one. Once you have created an account, you will be directed to a page that explains how to download Dropbox.

After you have downloaded and installed Dropbox, you will have a Dropbox folder on your computer where you can store any files that you want to share with others. You can access these files from any computer by logging into the Dropbox website with your username and password. From here, you can view, download and upload files securely using any web browser.

Sharing documents using Dropbox
Sharing with someone who already has a Dropbox account:
Go to the Dropbox website, log in if you aren’t already logged in, and click on the tab called ‘Sharing’.

Select the option to share an existing folder or create a new one, click ‘next’ and then select your folder. Enter the email address of someone with whom you wish to share your folder and click ‘share folder’. This will send an email inviting the recipient to view your folder via Dropbox. If the recipient is not yet a member of Dropbox, the email will direct them to page asking them to register.

Sharing with someone who does not have a Dropbox account:
Dropbox will also allow you to share with people who do not have a Dropbox account. Simply hover over the right-hand side of the listing in your online account and click ‘share link’, then either email the link or use the ‘get link’ button to copy the URL. This will give you a URL which links to your file and you can then paste this, for example, into emails or blog posts in order to share it with others.

Blog post
Write about your first impressions of any or all of these tools and/or their potential uses for your work. If you are already using one or more of them, you could write about the kinds of projects for which they have been useful. If you wish, you could also compare and contrast the value of each of these different tools and consider how they could be used to further your own professional development. Tag your post ‘Thing 20’.

Exploring further
Dropbox and Google Drive aren’t the only tools that allow you to organise your documents and notes online. Take a look at Evernote, Springpad (and compare the two) or even OneNote.

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