Tool Name: Dropbox

Version Number/Release Date: 1.6.16

Developer Website: www.dropbox.com

Reviewed by: Dallas Merritt

Review Date: January 30, 2012

Tags or Keywords:  filesharing cloud offsite-storage


Dropbox is a file sharing tool that essentially functions as “cloud” storage for your files. It is accessible via any web browser, or via free downloadable apps for common mobile devices such as tablets, cell phones, and even blackberries. The utility functions as a file database that stores information on a virtual drive, which is automatically synched, regardless of what platform or device from which you choose to access the drive. As an everyday user, I can vouch that in my year of usage I have never encountered a single problem, in function or form, while using this tool. While the tool is both powerful and convenient enough to make it useful to any individual, it also has functions that support collaborative work via filesharing.

Communication and transfer of information in the digital age has, at times, been problematic. Devices such as CD-ROM disks, or thumb drives have been used to pass information back and forth, but require some type of physical transfer to occur, which can be inefficient. Dropbox, which has folder sharing capabilities, offers a solution to the dilemmas of file transfer. By sharing folder permissions with another person (or people), a Dropbox user can share files almost instantly with anybody else who has internet access. This facilitates collaboration on projects by allowing groups of users to share a file database, regardless of their location, free of charge, and without any networking restrictions. This type of group work is also facilitated by the ease with which the tool can be navigated.

Because the file organization of Dropbox is based on a traditional file tree, similar to the one Microsoft Windows has used since its creation, the format is familiar enough that most computer users can navigate through the utility without any instruction, even during their first use. The user interface is simple and intuitive, and employs universally recognizable icons that adequately indicate their function. If someone were to have questions, the help files and links are clear and easily accessible in both the browser and stand-alone applications, and should serve to convert the novice to an expert in no time. However, for those who are already avid cloud tool users who are wary about cross-app accessibility, Dropbox’s open communication with app developers leaves little to fret about.

Dropbox has worked with app developers in multiple media formats to facilitate the use of their file sharing system. Facebook, web browsers, and nearly every cloud application for tablets can save files directly to Dropbox, from within their application, seamlessly. This type of integration is what sets Dropbox apart from its competitors, and is why this tool should be your go-to file sharing application. If that is not convincing enough, the app is free, regardless of device or platform. While it is true that the free version does come with limited storage space (250 MB), there are several free options to increase the amount of storage space to which users have access, and there are even some pay options available for those who have more ambitious uses in mind for their cloud storage.

Essentially, due to its ease of use, functionality, free cost, and the convenience it provides for its users, Dropbox is perhaps one of the best tools currently on the market. I have found it to be indispensable in my work as both a student and teacher, and am excited about the potential usefulness it might have for my collaborative work in Digital Humanities.

Ease of Use:  This tool is simple and intuitive. There is a tutorial video available, but most users would not require instruction to fully use this tool.

Cost: Free!

Requirements:  The tool is seamlessly integrated across platforms and is uniformly accessible via any web browser; its function and navigation are exactly similar regardless of method of access.

Rival or Comparable Tools:  box.net, mozy.com, spideroak.com, syncplicity.com, zumodrive.com

Other Reviews:  I didn’t use any other reviews for the product, because I use it extensively enough that I’m thoroughly familiar with its functions. However, the tour on the Dropbox home page would be useful to anybody who wanted a thorough review of the tool’s capabilities.

4 thoughts on “Dropbox

  1. Rebecca Fil

    Well done! I have heard praises about Dropbox from other teachers, and I was curious as to how it worked. I think you thoroughly explained how useful and essential Dropbox can be to the teacher working without something like Blackboard.
    In your review, I liked how you introduced Dropbox as a solution to storage hassles on flash drives, CDs, etc, and then went on to describe the flexibility of the app itself in cross-platform sharing (that sounds really vague: I mean I like how you mentioned that Dropbox is working with multiple app developers to make it as accessible as possible). Once you introduced us to the purpose of Dropbox, the features, and the accessibility, you outlined why Dropbox was better than rival/comparable tools. The whole text review was neatly organized.
    I also enjoyed your presentation. The presentation seemed to be a demonstration of the practical application of Dropbox, not just a show-and-tell type thing. I liked how you used multiple devices to access Dropbox and showed us how to upload and share files, how to organize your Dropbox, and so on. I could’ve done without the picture of whichever Kardashian’s butt all up on the screen, but that’s just me.
    I think you could have spent a little more time explaining the downside of Dropbox and how to overcome the faults of the app. It seemed to me like the only problem with Dropbox was it got tricky when it came to making files public and sharing them, like you would on Blackboard. I think constantly e-mailing the files to your class would be a hassle. If there is a feature on Dropbox where you can upload files to your public folder and students can access them without being able to access anything else (like Blackboard), you could have made it a little clearer. But I understand you were pressed for time.
    More importantly, I would’ve liked to know more about the rival tools and other reviews of Dropbox. I know you’re familiar with Dropbox, but I would’ve liked to hear from someone else just the same.
    Other than that, great job! You could be Dropbox’s spokesman.

  2. Joseph Santoli

    With a tool as simple as dropbox, a focused review like yours may be the only way to contribute a useful review. In that regard, I think you’ve done a great job on showing the uses of dropbox from the perspective of an educator. Considering that audience, some of which may be “behind the times,” I think it would be helpful to explain exactly what “cloud” storage is and what you mean by a virtual drive. I imagine many older educators are skeptical of dropbox’s security and infallibility. Though we would probably agree that they should “get with the times,” persuading them to move forward takes more effort. You may not be concerned with that type of audience, but it is something to consider.

    Your use of previous data storage devices compared to dropbox makes a compelling review and one that is persuasive. I think you’ve done well in highlighting dropbox’s ease of use and accessibility (not to mention showing us in your presentation and in Dr. MacCall’s!). Your personal experience and use of the program makes it seem as if dropbox has many other applications not only for educators, but for people in any field of work.

    I wish that more of what you had presented on had appeared in this review. You mention your personal experience but have not elaborated upon it. Of course, this is of no concern to our class and blog, but for a wider audience, I think it would be useful to include more of your personal experience with the tool. Similarly, I believe the presentation could have been as succinct as your written review, if you are considering putting both together as part of a video and written review (why not? Its the digital humanities!).

    This could just be me and this is a small concern, but I would have liked the description of the interface to occur before any of the functions are described. But that’s how I think in terms of tools – I’d like to have a visual in my head first.

    Great material. I enjoyed seeing the potential for dropbox and I appreciate that you have brought it to our attention.

  3. David Ainsworth Post author

    I agree that the educational focus is particularly effective. I wonder if Joseph’s “downside” suggestion doesn’t deserve some consideration. In particular, there’s considerable ambiguity about cloud computing and FERPA requirements. Campus e-mail has been deemed a secure way to transfer graded assignments, but the cloud generally and Dropbox specifically are not certified as secure.

    In fact, Dropbox currently indicates that they are NOT FERPA compliant:

    You can still freely share syllabi, assignments and other ungraded work via Dropbox. But it has issues with regard to certain very specific types of academic information.

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