25 July 2012

Thing 13: Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

I'm a huge fan of two of these but I will never be the Wikilady...

Google Docs

Google Docs I have been using for a long, long time - in fact I had a Writely account before Google took it over. Reasons for this are many:

  • Aversion to Microsoft Word (sledgehammer to crack a nut for most of my docs) and not having it on home laptops.
  • Using several PCs to do stuff: we have a home PC, a laptop and then I have a work PC. I like to be able to read or write my docs wherever I am without worrying about whether I have suitable software installed.
  • Collaboration at work: in this job and the last, I have often ended up using a sneaky Google Doc to avoid using Sharepoint. It's SO much quicker for opening, reading, editing, tracking changes etc. 
  • Sharing documents: there is no way for us to SHARE a document with the wide world using the ironically named Sharepoint and I find myself wanting to do this more and more. It's a moment's work to make a Google Doc public and send out a URL. 
The down side?
  • Backing things up: I do tend to trust the cloud but I also back up important stuff somewhere else. I don't do this religiously but I work under the assumption that I'm willing to risk things I haven't backed up and most of the time that's OK.
  • Clunky interface: using Google Docs on my mobile (Android) and iPad is not the easiest, even with the app. Definitely could do better. Evernote does do it better, in fact.
  • Uploading word docs and downloading them does mean you lose the finer points of formatting and it can go wonky (that's a technical term).
Ways of using Google Docs:
  • In one of our library groups we have been doing the minutes as we go on a laptop using Google Docs. If you have your own laptop or device, you can see and amend what the minute taker has written if you wish (doesn't happen a lot!). It's also there ready and shared for the next meeting.
  • I have created several teaching resources and shared them with students using Google Docs. My only alternative would be to put them in Blackboard and this immediately creates a login barrier. For example, the 3rd year social work students we presented to on social media will lose their university accounts at the end of August but will still be able to view the resource sheet we created. I also do it so we can give out an URL (always a small one!) and reduce the waste of paper handouts. We also tend to handout paper with long URLs on which students then have to type on. This is silly!
  • Forms: wonderfully quick and easy to create a survey with results going into a spreadsheet. Maybe not as good-looking as SurveyMonkey but no restrictions on numbers. We have just run a Google Forms survey with over 450 responses and still going. It took less than an hour to put up there and circulate.


Of course Google Drive is now rivalling Dropbox but I'm sticking with my existing Dropbox usage, at least for now. Why I use Dropbox:
  • Backup: we have it installed on our home computer / laptops so anything is duplicated across those and also available via the online interface for access from anywhere. We do also backup to a hard drive but that is more sporadic. This is instantaneous.
  • It's soooo easy! You install it and it's just there as a folder to copy and paste or save into etc.
The down side?
  • It's just a file store. So if you put a powerpoint presentation on there, you need Powerpoint (or OpenOffice or whatever) to open it installed on your machine. In my opinion, this is less desirable than sharing a Google Doc which needs nothing to view other than a browser.
  • It requires a software install.
  • I won't install it at work even if security allowed that - I don't want my personal files on my work computer - so I just use the web interface which is a little clunky.
The only time I have used Dropbox to share stuff publicly is for the teaching materials from our "Managing your online presence". These are linked to from this site - again, I hit a problem using our corporate systems if I want to share stuff with the wider world. Otherwise I only use Dropbox for personal and home stuff.


I hate wikis! Really - I avoid them like the plague. Clunky, usually password protected with a password I have long since forgotten and not particularly nice to look at. Apart from maybe Wikipedia which is in a league of its own.


  1. I agree with your comments on Googledocs vs Sharepoint, and have used Googledocs to collaborate over Sharepoint in many cases. A shared Googledoc beats wikis too.

    I use a hard drive for backup, since no online storage could deal with the GB of data I backup (or be fast enough on my connection). Use use SynchronizeIt so that only files which have changed get copied to the external HDD, making it quick. The HDD lives in another house and only comes here on backup day. I would like to start using cloud storage in addition, just for my documents folder, since that isn't too large. A project for the future.

  2. I wasn't surprised to hear a certain product referred to as 'Shitpoint' in work today.

  3. I love the 'minutes on the go' approach, that sound so good.