In the post-PC world that the late Steve Jobs imagined, the cloud is the common factor that links our arsenal of electronic devices together. A file system that is remotely available to a family of different devices makes it much easier for people to leave their computers at home – though it is not totally possible for everyone yet – and use a much more convenient and portable mobile device to take care of business while on the move.
As the arbitrary "Cloud" has grown and matured, a plethora of different cloud-based services have spawned.
In its most bare bones form, the cloud is just an allotted remote server space you lease from a company. For instance, you can get 2GB of storage for free through Dropbox. If you need more space, however, you can pay either $9.99 or $19.99 per month for 50GB or 100GB, respectively. (There is also a referral program that allows users to earn more free storage.) But, paired with different interfaces and types of media and files, cloud storage can be used for some pretty unique and awesome services.
I have been using various cloud services for many years now for both work and personal needs, and my dependence on it and love for it has only grown. I have found many different ways to use remote server storage to best suit my needs. And, honestly, I can't imagine living without it. Here's how the cloud fits into my life:
Every picture I take with one of my phones (or seldom with a tablet) gets uploaded to one of my various cloud accounts. I have several Dropbox accounts, Box.net accounts and a SkyDrive account. If I take a picture and post it to Instagram, a copy is immediately saved to the Instagram Photos directory on my Dropbox account. From an Android device, if I take a picture, it is automatically uploaded to my Google+ account (privately) once I connect to a Wi-Fi network. And every few weeks, I sync all of the new photos on my iPhone with a free 50GB Box.net account I use specifically for photos.
Like I said, every picture I take eventually finds its way to one of my cloud accounts. Maybe not immediately or permanently, but every photo gets backed up one way or another. And from there, they all go to another backup drive. (Backup your backups, people!)
I have to share a lot of different types of files of all different sizes quite frequently. For most smaller file types, emailing works just fine. But for larger files, emailing doesn't work so well. For instance, the limit on the attachment size for Gmail is 25MB. A great deal of the stuff I share is much larger and cannot be broken up into pieces and sent over email.
So what do I do?
I use Dropbox; it's quicker and easier than email anyway. I simply drag a file to the Public directory in my DropBox account (which is synced to a folder system on my computer) and forget about it while it uploads. Once the upload finishes, I simply right click the file, highlight Dropbox and select Copy Public Link. This adds the direct URL to that specific file to my clipboard. From there, I can paste it anywhere – on Twitter, Facebook, in an email, etc.
Just last week, though, Dropbox updated their site (all users' folders) to make file sharing much easier. While I will continue to share files strictly from the folder titled Public, it is no longer a necessity. Any file from any folder can be shared.
For quicker sharing with select people (versus making a folder totally public), you can also simply share a folder with another Dropbox user. I do this with a couple family members, some friends and even a few colleagues to share various files and it works like a dream. Several of my former teachers actually took my advice on this and now have their students use Dropbox to turn in their digital assignments instead of email.
For all of my music needs, I generally stick to Spotify, a subscription music streaming service. But as I have explained in the past, Spotify does have quite a few holes in its music offerings. There are a lot of various bands that I listen to that may never find their way to subscription streaming services, so I have to use my personal library for those.
That said, I never load my own music to any of my devices anymore. Never. Every song I own has been uploaded to my Google Music account and is synced with my Android phones and tablet. When I want to listen to a specific track, I can navigate to it and stream, it over a wireless network. Simple, quick and painless.
I could run away with this one. I used to use so many different cloud services for note taking that it was somewhat confusing for even myself. So recently, I've attempted to cut back and stick to one service. So far so good.
What I have been doing is switching back and forth between Evernote and Google Docs (now Google Drive) to write all of my articles via mobile or to jot down some possible article ideas for safekeeping. There wasn't really a major problem with Google Docs or Evernote (except Docs wouldn't allow me to work offline, which caused a few issues when not in a Wi-Fi area), but writing in them would usually call for a few extra, unnecessary steps when moving over to my laptop to finish the piece. They come formatted in rich text, I have to sync or launch a resource-intensive program or pull up a web client to access the files, etc.
In other words, it was overcomplicated and my workflow could be much more streamlined. I don't need (or want) all of those features. All I wanted was a way to sync plain text notes between all of my devices. Simple. Easy.
Last Monday, Paul Miller of The Verge wrote a piece titled, The Verge at work: sync your text everywhere, never lose an idea again, where he details his workflow and the service he uses, Simplenote. This is exactly what I had been looking for, a no-frills syncing method that just works. So I immediately signed up for Simplenote from my iPhone and downloaded all of the different Android note taking applications that implement Simplenote's APIs. I also downloaded Notational Velocity to my MacBook, signed into my Simplenote account and chose to save them to a Dropbox directory titled Notes (creative, eh?) for backups. Seriously, it's a dream come true for me.
It took a little setting up and getting used to, but it was worth every download and all the time it took. I can now type a couple words from Notational Velocity and pick up where I left off with Notational Acceleration from my Android tablet/phone or the Simplenote application on my iPhone. And if I'm using Windows Phone (which, to my knowledge, doesn't have any applications that use Simplenote's APIs), I can simply edit my notes from the Dropbox backup .txt file, and everything will be synchronized once again when I return to my MacBook.
It's beautifully simple and has significantly cut down the number of steps it takes to sync my notes between various devices.
There are a million different services and uses for the cloud. I use various combinations of cloud services to accomplish everything I need, but my uses vary and change as new services arrive and older ones evolve. What I'm interested in, though, is how all of you, our loyal readers, use the cloud and how it fits into your life, how it makes your life more simple.
Share your setup or uses for the cloud below! And feel free to offer suggestions for me – I'm always looking for new services and a better setup!