Box.net as a collaborative file manager

Not too long ago I posted a review & comparison of three online collaboration applications – Basecamp, Goplan, and activeCollab. Through personal experience, as well as input from readers, I realized that the online collaboration tools niche is one of constant change and continual competition between various services. Each tool offered its own strengths and weaknesses.

However, the review did not take into account the fact that oftentimes, decentralized team members find it challenging to consistently log into and utilize a centralized service outside of their daily routine. Translated, the aforementioned web services are useless unless team members or clients are capable of training themselves to consistently utilize the web apps.

Consider the following hypothetical *cough* decentralized team and their habits:

  • All members utilize Gmail / Google Hosted email for exchanging ideas, input, criticism, and overall communication
  • All members utilize Google Talk / Jabber instant messaging for immediate communication
  • All members have grown accustomed to exchanging files via email

What is the problem with how this team operates? It would be difficult to say there is a problem. Thanks to Gmail’s message threading, archiving, and powerful search tool, locating a previous conversation held online is very easy. For a team that has grown accustomed to operating in such a manner, imposing the usage of an online collaboration tool is quite a challenge. I know!

Each service – Basecamp, Goplan, & activeCollab – allow members to create and or reply to messages which include email notifications for the rest of the team. These notification arrive in each members inbox, but in order to reply, they must all navigate to a separate page to do so. Time consuming and counterproductive when an immediate reply via email would suffice.

We communicate just fine, what about files?

Continuing to use the hypothetical team above as an example, it’s clear that email communication works – forcing members to navigate away to a separate page in order to reply to a conversation is not necessary. Although the team could continue using Gmail to pass files back and forth, email attachments can often get lost in the shuffle as revisions are made and shared. Short of setting up a server to act as a file repository, a simpler solution would be to utilize a browser based service.

Box – Updates and features abound

A long-time fan and supporter of Box, I was surprised with a new aspect of the file storage service known as Box Professional. The intent? Box aims to simplify your work flow.

  1. Store: Upload documents, photos, and files to Box.net and access them anywhere
  2. Send: Reliably send files large and small to clients, co-workers, and customers
  3. Exchange: Manage and share files with sub-users in a shared workspace

The advantage of adopting a service such as Box to work into a current email based work flow? Team members can continue utilizing email to communicate with one another and have access to an easy to navigate browser based file repository.

Rather than emailing new revisions to members or co-workers via email, files can be emailed directly to the teams designated work group page on Box. From there, each team member with access to the page can download files or packages for viewing, download & edit before re-uploading, or selecting files to be sent directly from Box to other members.

Box serves as the core file manager. A clean, simple, and intuitive interface for organizing or browsing file revisions. Adding such a service to your current email-centric work flow will allow each member to continue communicating through familiar means, at the same time, allowing specific individuals with a platform from which to manage, edit, and share file revisions.

Box – For projects small & large

Box offers complimentary accounts with 1GB of online storage for free. Upgrades are available in the form of Premium – 5GB storage / 0 sub-users – and Professional – 15GB storage / 20 sub-accounts – tier packages.

Looking for more uses? Check out a previous article: Poor boy Apple Dot Mac alternatives or Box.net desktop for Macs (sorta)

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Discuss - 3 Comments

  1. Great post Derek – I use box.net everyday for all kinds of stuff. If I had a company I’d go professional.

  2. Ian Halliday says:

    An interesting service Derek, thanks for the write-up.

    I’ve just started using Basecamp about a month ago for project management, and the one major disadvantage is exactly what you discuss; the requirement for clients to go to the effort of logging in to a web based service instead of just sending an email. Especially frustrating when the client has received an email update from Basecamp but cannot reply to it.

    I’m interested to see that the new issue tracking and management service Lighthouse allows users to email their Lighthouse account to post messages rather than log in on their browser (as discussed by Kyle), which is a massive advantage over some the other services of this kind, and a feature I’d love to see in Basecamp.

    As you’ve previously mentioned when you wrote about Basecamp, activeCollab and Goplan, it’s just a case of trying these methods/services out, and seeing which fits best!

  3. Aditya says:

    Box offers a 1GB account for free, which is where things fall apart. As regular alpha users of the Internet, we all know how long it takes to fill that space up if we seriously begin to use a service. That is the reason I have been using http://www.divshare.com for quite a while now. It offers only one restriction — upload of 200 or less MBs at per file. The rest is completely unlimited.

    How they’ll/they’re sustain(ing) themselves is a mystery, and a question only they can answer. The service is constantly being improved, so collab tools will not be far away I hope. Maybe you can add it to your comparison charts?