Monday, April 9, 2012

I've Got Dropbox. Now What?

You made the leap. You joined Dropbox, installed it on your computer and maybe your mobile device, and now you're staring at the screen waiting for it to do something magical. Congratulations! You've joined the world of cloud computing, but what does cloud computing really mean to you as a genealogist? Cloud computing is meant to free you from being forced to do all of your work in a single location. The same information is now accessible on your desktop, laptop, and mobile device; anywhere you have access to the Internet. Let's take a look at how to take advantage of some of the features of Dropbox.

One of the best and perhaps least known features of Dropbox is its ability to keep multiple versions of your files. Dropbox keeps your files, and versions of your files, for thirty days. What does this mean to you? While working on a document you delete a paragraph or two, save the file, and then close it. You have lost those paragraphs forever. If you had saved the file in your Dropbox folder on your computer you could go back and retrieve that previous version of the file before you deleted the paragraphs.

You can also get back files that you have completely deleted as well. You are able to view all deleted files from the last thirty days and undelete the one you need. If you have a paid Dropbox account you can activate the Pack-Rat feature. Pack-Rat keeps an unlimited amount of snapshots of your files, allowing you to retrieve a file from any time you like.

For more details on retrieving old versions of files, retrieving deleted files, and Pack-Rat, go to

New discoveries are made in our research, and we want to share these findings with friends and family. The first thing you must do with a file you want to share is put it in the Dropbox Public folder. Once a file is in the Public folder a link is generated which you can send to others, which will allow them to download or view the file on their computer.

See "How do I link to files in my Dropbox?" on the Dropbox help pages.

If you are collaborating on files with others you can also create a shared folder. This shared folder will sync itself on each user's Dropbox account. If you are working with others, searching on the same surname, you can pool your resources in one shared folder. It's perfect for those large projects or family documents you want to share with others. You don't have to worry about emailing the files, trying to figure out who has the most current version, or any of those hassles. Everyone can work off of the same file.

See "How do I share folders with other people?" on the Dropbox help pages.

We have all heard it at least a hundred times, BACKUP YOUR DATA! But do we always do it? Of course not. Instead of making a copy of your family tree file, from whatever software you use, and saving it on Dropbox, why not just keep the file on Dropbox in the first place? Most software applications allow you to choose where you save your files. When you install Dropbox, it creates a folder on your computer, and whatever is in that folder gets synced up to the cloud. Just place your family tree file in the Dropbox folder and make sure your software is pointing to that file. It's nice to know that my file is somewhere safe. Even though it's backed up on a hard drive, bad things can happen. If, God forbid, lightning struck or a fire broke out in your house, you would most likely lose both your computer and backup drive. An off-site backup is just the thing you need to make sure you never lose your files.

Hopefully I've given you some things to think about when it comes to using Dropbox. I have used it for a long time now and am a big fan of it. I especially love having all of my documents and photos available to me on my iPhone and iPad. I can view documents wherever I go and show off my old family photos to friends and family. If you haven't yet joined Dropbox, do it know. Follow this link and get your free 2GB account. If you join using this link you will help me get some more free storage on Dropbox. I can use all the space I can get.

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