I have been told on more than one occasion to “get my head out of the clouds,” but today I’m going to preach the opposite: It’s time to get not only your head but also your data into the cloud. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive not only give you online storage (between 2GB and 7GB for free, with the option to buy more), but the ability to share that data with anyone in the world, making you more productive and efficient.
All three services have a lot of similar functionality. They all allow you to upload any type of file or document to servers on the Internet or “the cloud.” They give you a web interface so you can download the file you’ve uploaded or let others download it. Even easier, each of the services has an application for your desktop computer which lets you treat the folder in the cloud exactly like one that lives on your local hard drive. You can organize files and folders simply by dragging them around, much easier than trying to do move things on the service’s website. As you update the file and folders on your computer they sync with the service in the cloud.
These services also have apps for your mobile devices, too, so you have access to all of these files away from your desk. Most of the services let you read MS Word, Power Point and Excel files as well as PDFs on your mobile devices—even when you don’t have internet access. Just make sure you mark the files you want to read offline. This will save you space on our device because the app won’t download all your files, just the ones you want.
White/Green/Blue/Pink Fluffy Clouds
Most of these services allow you to share a file or folder with a simple link. Other people can click the link and download the file or folder. That’s great if you only need to distribute data, but the biggest advantage to these services is the ability to collaborate on documents. If the person you want to share the file with is also signed up for the same cloud service, often you can easily “share” the folder with them. The file or folder will automagically show up on their desktop or mobile device, giving them the same access you have. No more collecting changes via email and combining them into one document, or having different versions of the document traveling through email and getting everyone confused—everyone can now work on the same document.
If you do this, it helps to have a system of marking the edits each person makes. Assigning each person a color goes a long way to distinguishing who added what. Google has the lead in this area, as Google Docs truly stores the file online so several people can edit a file at once. I was once working on a draft of a document and three people were typing together in real-time. Google also allows you to add comments that can be emailed to a specific person.
The disadvantage of giving everyone access to modify a folder is exactly that: They can change or delete a file or folder. One advantage of Google Drive is that it allows you to give a person editing or viewing privileges, so you can limit how much control they have.
The cloud is also a good spot to store data you need to access everywhere. As a TD, I tend to need a lot of manuals—How many channels does that light use? Is the CD player supposed to act like that?—And the ability to access, search and use these manuals wherever I am is a godsend. I share my folder of manuals with coworkers and students so they have access to them, and can even upload more as they get them. We’re developing a very complete set of manuals this way.
I have another folder dedicated to facility documents. I keep any drawings I have of the space; support materials; inventories of lighting, sound and soft goods; and any other files designers might request. When I worked as a production manager I kept a designer packet in the cloud. The packet included pictures of the space and common obstacles, like the large rods in the house that blocked some lighting positions or a picture of the staircase that anything loaded into the space must go down. I also keep safety, budget and schedule folders in the cloud. I use a Google spreadsheet to track our departments budgets, because it allows me to not only track the budget but I can create an online form for all departments to enter their expenditures. Here is an example of a budget sheet http://bit.ly/fakebudget and input form http://bit.ly/Budgetform. I have also found once a file gets over 10 files it's best to divide things into subfolders, this make is easier and quicker to find the file you are looking for.
It will take some time to organize all your data, but once you get it organized it will be easy to maintain. By adding your files to the Cloud you can make your job a bit easier by always having the information you need and be able to share, or collaborate easily.
Now that you know all about this, how do you choose? Visit www.bit.ly/sd-cloudpicker for some tips on how to choose the service that's best for you!