Now that we have access to several cloud storage and syncing tools (mostly free), each with its own features and capacities, it behooves us to review how we organize and store our files on our computers and figure out which cloud service is best for which kind of files. This is not a full inclusive review of each product, but a brief description of some of the best services and my suggested uses for them and why.
Box - Since I took advantage of the 50 GIG special by signing on to Box.net with my Android device or others were able to get this offer with IOS, I have a very large depository. Under the FREE account each file has a limitation of 100MB in size, so beware. This service only offers auto syncing with a paid upgrade, so you have to specifically upload each folder you want stored. They do have a Bulk Uploader which copies entires folders up to the Box service.
I use this for archiving entire folders of important projects, articles, documents, images, web designs that I want to save, but I’m not currently working on and don’t need daily syncing. However, since my Kindle Fire integrates with Box very nicely, I would also setup a “Kindle Reading” folder for files and eBooks I want access to on my Kindle. You have to manually upload these files through the web interface, when using the FREE account. But once you upload your “archived” files, they wouldn’t be changing much at all. I’d create an “Archived” folder in your document tree and add subfolders for each project you want to save, then use the Bulk Uploader to upload the entire archive to box. There is a nice Box app for your mobile, so all your archived files are available anywhere.
If you didn’t get the 50GIG bonus from Box and the 5 GIG is a little limiting, you might want to try Microsoft’s Skydrive. You get 7 GIG of free storage. You could use both Box and Skydrive to have a total of 12 GIG for your archived files.
SpiderOak offers total encrypted storage albeit the free amount is only 2 GIG. You can get extra space by referring new users. Use this link you’ll get extra space. [Update: If you don't get 3 GIG with this link, let them or me know, as they told me their referral system sometimes doesn't give the extra space. You should get 3 GIG total.]
I use this for extremely private data, like financial records, personal information and username/password records. If you scan some private documents into JPG or PDF, you can store them here also. I recommend creating a folder on your computer in your Documents tree called “Private” or “Personal” and then create subfolders for each subject matter. Move all your private documents into this area and then you set up SpiderOak to sync this folder.
Be selective about what goes in here, as 3 GIG can fill up quickly, there are other services for non-personal data.
SugarSync – You can get started with 5 GIG and go up from there. You get an extra 500 MB by using the link above. By trying out features and getting referrals, your get additional bonus space. The advantage of this service is that you can select any folders you wanted synced. Which means all the files need not reside in a single folder. Otherwise it works like Dropbox in many ways.
I use this service to sync up my current daily working files and folders as SugarSync also maintains up to 5 previous versions of your files. Great for recovering from a fatal mistake. If you have divided up your daily files into different areas on your computer, it’s easy to setup SugarSync to get them all, with them having to be in one single folder. You can sync that audio editing project your working on in your Music folder, that Word document in your “Current” folder and even your Desktop. They offer really nice syncing between your computer and mobile devices with their Andriod and IOS apps.
DropBox - The first and most well known is still as popular as before. Starting with 2 GIG of storage you can get more by using the link above. You can use this for files you’d like to share, as you can share entire folders between users. All files must go into a single DropBox folder.
I primary use this to share files between business clients and family members, as it’s easy to just drop a file in there and it syncs to the other users computer straight away. Users can than move the files out of their Dropbox and into a folder of their choosing. Dropbox also has a good public linking feature so I used this to host images for my ebay listings, and it has a fair photo gallery, but I’d use something else for photos for personal consumption. There is also a nice mobile app available.
Google Drive – A fresh new service from Google that really converted Google Docs into a catch all cloud-based storage drive. As such, anything you place in the Google Drive appears on the old Google Docs / Google Drive screen in your browser. While actual Google Docs formatted files don’t count against your 5 GIG allotment, other non-Google formats, will count against your storage.
I would use this storage area for all the supporting files for anything you do on Google Docs. Any images, PDFs, or sound and video files can be placed here and be available for your Google Docs word processor, spreadsheet or presentation.
Since Google Drive (Docs) still offers excellent sharing and collaboration tools, and it now can hold up to 5 GIG worth of shared files (the previous limit was 1 GIG), this is by far the best service to use for person to person same file editing. And remember, any of your documents that are converted to Google’s native format when uploaded are stored for free, so only your non-Google Docs file types are charged against your limit. You can now work on many more projects within Google Drive with your co-workers.
Google Photos – Now part of Google Plus, this used to be the old PicasaWeb service. You can upload an unlimited number of photos on Google Plus as long as they are under 2048px by 2048px in size. In fact if you upload using the Google Plus / Photos web interface, your images will be automatically resized to no larger than 2048 pixels, thereby giving you unlimited photo storage on G+ Photos. Anything larger that you can upload with the Picasa photo editor program, will count against a 1 GIG FREE file storage bucket. This is a good choice for the beginning and intermediate photographer.
I used Google Photos when I wanted to share albums of travel photos with my family and other friends, both privately and publicly, both with emails and Google Plus postings. If you’re OK with the image dimensions at 2048 pixels, you can share a lot of photos here. You don’t need to share all of them, you can set any album to private. Since this is so closely tied into Google Plus, you can freely post any amount of your images on Google Photo and share to your G+ stream.
Min.us – You do get a lot more space here, starting at 10 GIG and you get bonus space by following the link above. This service is just as much a destination site as a storage medium, as it wants to feature your multi-media files to share with others either publicly or with other Min.us users. You can follow users and be followed. It offers easy drag and drop uploading. So while this is not a syncing tool, it is a place to host your photos for public sharing or private storage. But since there are other more popular services for photo sharing like Facebook, Flickr and others, I’m not sure how long this service can survive.
It’s a pleasant user experience for viewing the content. With generous space available, you have more breathing room here. You can upload all sorts of various files types and minus will try it’s best to deliver it in the most appropriate viewer. There is no automatic syncing, but could be a good place to have a backup archive all your photos.
Since Google Photos allows you to upload unlimited files only if they are under a certain size, (you only get 1 GIG of Google storage for larger images and videos,) I’d use Min.us for larger images, audio and video that I want to share publicly. The site does a nice job displaying images. I wouldn’t use it to store RAW images from your camera, but full-sized JPG masters would go well here.
Getting It All To Work!
Before using the strategies listed above, it would be good to organize your files and documents into the proper folders, so selecting which ones to sync with each service will be easier. It makes more sense to organize your file folders by storage strategy instead of file type. In other words, first have Private Files, then sub divide into documents, banking or photos, and then sync with SpiderOak. Create an Archives folder subdivided into old business, old documents, expired items, retired websites, etc. and sync them with Box. Then have some folders like Current Projects and/or Working Documents which include your daily stuff you want synced immediately and have version control, use SugarSync to sync those files automatically in the background.
Create another major folder called Public Shares and use this for containing all files that are going to be shared that can be uploaded to Min.us or Google Photos. A folder called Media Masters could also be uploaded to Min.us, but would be set to private on min.us. Like Google Photos and most other photos type sharing sites, Min.us only allows one level of nesting, you can’t organize your files into nested folders, so this really is a place to store albums, all of which show up on the main dashboard.
By default the Dropbox and Google Drive folders sit outside your Documents folder, at least it does on my Mac. You can and I recommend that you do, move both the Google Drive and the DropBox folders into your main Documents tree on your computer, then you should have a structure like this:
> Private Files (SpiderOak)
> Current Projects (SugarSync)
> Google Drive
> Archives (Box)
> Media Masters (Min.us Private)
> Public Shares
> On Min.us (Min.us Published)
> On Google Photo
Keep in mind, the first 4 folders are set up to sync automatically, and the last 2 are manually updated when you want to publish something new. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the available services for syncing, backup or sharing, but these are the ones that offer a significant free allotment and my recommended usage thereof.
When this is all set up, even with everything saved in the cloud, you will want to do a normal computer backup of your My Documents folder on an external hard-drive. You may still have other folders that contain too many large files that won’t fit on these small online services, like big video files, RAW photo images, your entire iTunes library and such. By moving everything you use into a single folder, it makes it easier to backup all your files with a single drag and drop of My Documents.
Upgrading Storage Services
Each of these services has an upgrade path of course, that’s where they make their money. But check each one carefully, they all have their sweet spots for pricing, calculate the dollar per gigabyte of each plan and bucket size. Some are too expensive for low amounts, and better for larger amounts and some are priced fairly well at the lower end but get out of hand at the high end. And it’s like a gift card or cell phone minutes, you pay for the bucket size and never use it all up.
By spreading your data by category into the available free services you can go pretty far at no cost before needing to upgrade. And then only upgrade the one service you need for the category of files.
Notable Services For Your Music Files
Honorable mention goes to the Amazon Cloud Drive / MP3 Player / Reader. First to be used for hosting any Amazon media products you purchased from them for free, and secondly use up to 5 GIG of space for any other files you want. There is no auto syncing for your files, you need to manually upload them, but it does a good job of keeping all your Amazon purchases available on your computer and Kindle devices. With a small subscription fee, you can upload unlimited MP3 songs to the service and get an entire 20 GIG for any other file types. The Amazon MP3 player works very nicely with the Kindle Fire. So you’ll want to use this if you have one.
Google Play, (formerly Music) allows you to upload your entire music library to Google servers and then play them from the cloud. You are limited to MP3 file types, so your loss-less file types can’t be stored here. But for a free backup of your entire iTunes library, this is certainly worth setting up the uploader software on your computer.
Step By Step
After getting your Document folder in the proper structure, start with SpideOak and get your personal files backed up right away. Then get SugarSync going and sync your active current project files. Once those are synced, now set up Box or Skydrive and upload your older files for safekeeping.
Install Google Drive if you use Google Docs often, and move files that are used for those documents into the Google Drive, for safe keeping. You don’t need to have the same files on your computer in multiple locations on your hard drive, because depending on the place you put it, it’ll be copied to the cloud service for you.
Once you feel safe with your important files, by all means upload your photos to Google Photo. Those are the treasures you cannot replace. Check out Min.us for some extra space for those large photographs, audio and video files.
I know you’ll want to start syncing right away and can’t wait until everything is safe and sound in the cloud. Remember however, your UPLOAD speed to the Internet is most likely much slower than your download speed, so plan on syncing and uploading for several days, even letting some run over night.
I hope this article was informative for you and you come back here often or follow me on any of the social networks listed here.