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Genealogy Tech Tools – Series 1: Dropbox, Having Your Files in the Cloud

This series of articles will focus on some technical tools that I’ve found useful. These are not necessarily product reviews. I’m just sharing information about some tools that have worked for me. These are my own experiences and my own opinions. Take them for what they are worth.

First, some terminology:

The Cloud: This term is being used a lot right now. Don’t worry too much about it. For all practical purposes, just think of it as the Internet. It means more than that, but not so much for us users. For example, if you say your data is in “the cloud”, that just means it’s on the Internet and can be accessed from any computer. Here’s a simple example. Your Microsoft Word document is on your drive. Your Google Document is not, it’s in “the cloud”.

Client Application: This is a program that you install on your computer. It’s not web-based. For example, Microsoft Word is an application that is installed on your computer, hence it is a client application. Google Docs is not installed. You just use your web browser to access the Google Docs application. It’s web-based.


Remember when you copied files to a floppy disk to transfer them to another computer? Then we burned them to CDs. Then we copied them to a thumb drive. Well now you can copy them to “the cloud”. Dropbox offers a free account with 2GB of storage space. Paid accounts offer more space. As of this writing 50GB is $100/year and 100GB is $200/year.

Client Application: One great feature with Dropbox is the client application. This little application allows you to choose a folder on your computer and it will sync your files with your Dropbox account. Simply copy a file to your designated dropbox folder (or sub-folder) on your hard drive and it instantly uploads to your account in the cloud. Switch to a different computer that is also running the client application and that same file is retrieved in the background. No more remembering to copy files between computers. You can customize the sync settings if you want to turn off synchronization for certain folders.

Photos Folder: Another great feature is the Photos folder. This is a special folder. Don’t rename it. Suppose you took some pictures of your family vacation that you would like to share. Simply create a folder below the Photos folder and copy some photos to that folder. Get the Gallery Link for that folder and send it out in an email or link to it in your blog. Dropbox does the rest. It displays thumbnails of your pictures, let’s you scroll through them, pick one at a time, see them if full resolution, or save/download them.

Public Folder: By placing files in the Public folder, you can get a URL (link) to the file that you can share with others by pasting it into an email, blog, or web site.

Summary of Features:

  • access your files from any computer with a web browser
  • automatic synchronization of files between computers (using the client application)
  • by having files in the cloud, they are automatically backed up
  • ability to go back to previous versions of a file
  • easily share files or folders with others
  • a link to a file in the Public folder can be placed in an email, web site, blog, etc.
  • a link to a folder under Photos can be placed in an email or web site and you have an instant photo gallery

How I Use It: I use dropbox to transfer files between my laptop and desktop computers. I use the Public folder and link to my photos and documents from my web site. Some of my photos are copied to my web hosting space but I link to my dropbox files for my full resolution photos. I would rather use up my Dropbox space than my web hosting space. When I want to have a quick and dirty photo gallery, I place them in the Photos folder and share the link with friends and family. I also occasionally use my iPhone to view a file in my Dropbox account.

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