Using DropBox for Project Collaboration

Most projects I work on are collaborative in nature, and I like it that way. It's great to work with other professionals and create something together. Sometimes the teams get together in a live meeting, and those tend to be pretty productive, but mostly the collaboration is taking place online. The problem I have is that the online collaboration isn't as efficient as it could be.

A bit of background... Back in 1990 something I had a two year stint in the information technology department at Creo Products and my focus was tools for disseminating information effectively out to our customer service people. Before I started in that role email was a prime vehicle for sending out documents, and this became completely unwieldy as the company grew and opened up offices around the world in many time zones. When I left (and by no means do I take credit for all of this) we had a functional intranet and service techs around the world could log in and find the information they were looking for, without a phone call or email request. It was vastly superior.

This might be why I get annoyed when a project team I am part of gets in the habit of sending around their documents as email attachments. It is so clumsy. The email system gets bloated, all these different versions are floating around, and not everyone has the information they need, when they need it.

Fortunately there is a better, simpler, and more or less free solution. Collaborative Drop Box.

You can't understand how DropBox really works until you realize that there are two key parts to it. The first is the remote online server, the cloud. If you upload a file to DropBox then it goes on to some server, somewhere. I have no idea where, and it doesn't matter.

The second part of DropBox is a folder that lives on your computer (and any other computers you use where you have set up DropBox), and a background application that quietly drives the process of exchanging files between the your computer and the cloud.

Once things are set up then any file you save on your local DropBox folder is transferred to the cloud. And any file that arrives on the cloud is saved to your local folder. All of that happens in the background, automatically.

This is really handy on a solo level. I host pretty much everything in DropBox folder, and this means all of that stuff is transferred to my laptop automatically, and if I need to I can get any file from any where in the world via the internet. And files are backed up on the cloud, and it even saves old versions so I can get to a deleted file or a previous edition of a file if I need it!

If I need to share a file or folder I don't email it - I just send a DropBox link, like this one:
Whoever hits this link will get the latest version of the files I want to share.

So, back to our team collaboration. Everyone needs a DropBox account, which is free unless you want a lot of space or extra features. (I do, so I pay about $100 a year, and I consider this money well spent). To make it work as a team tool all that needs to happen is that one of us sets up a folder for the project. I typically use a structure like this:

And then that person sends out the a DropBox folder share. Not a link! That is different. It must be a share. (fastest way is right click in windows explorer, select view on, and from there select the icon "share this folder")

The sharing process will require entry of the invitees, by email address. The invitee will receive an email with a link to click. When they accept it then right away copy of that folder will be created on their hard drive, complete with all files and subfolders.

So at this point everyone can simply load their own data into their subfolder and in less than a minute it will be available on their team mates hard drive. If one of us deletes a file then it is deleted from everyone's drive (That might sound like a problem, but probably they deleted it because it no longer has value, and if it is needed it is saved on the cloud as a prior version).

I think that is awesome.

Tom, Tim and I have been experimenting with sharing a live Revit model on DropBox. It looks promising. Stay tuned, and leave a comment if you have anything to say!