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Evaluating Web-Based File-Sharing Tools

One of the things that I love about providing technology and marketing consulting services is that I am required to be in a state of constant curiosity and learning. Sometimes I feel like I’m moving through life like an absorbent pinball. A meeting with or research for one client regularly leads to opportunities or collaboration with another client. On one such meeting a few weeks ago, I was asked to research and evaluate existing web-based project management and file-sharing tools. The client was looking for a better way to manage projects and share documents between employees and clients. The requirements were:

  • Cloud-based file sharing and storage with syncing
  • Safe and secure
  • Multiple user accounts
  • Ability to create layers of permissions on folders
  • Easy to use interface
  • Different kinds of documents: word, excel, pdfs, videos, photos
  • Branding consistent with client site
  • Low cost
As it turns out, there is a lot of competition in this field, but there are very few tools that accomplish all of the above requirements. Here’s a rundown of the tools I researched and pros/cons for each:

Dropbox

Dropbox is a set of very secure folders in the cloud that are synced with original files that reside on your computer. Users get 2 GB of storage for free. Dropbox is a great solution for people trying to keep track of documents while working in multiple places and/or offices. Changes in a document in one location are automatically synced and updated in another location.

Pros:

  • Emphasis on file sharing and syncing
  • Can create a photo gallery and restrict or permit access
  • Safe and secure
  • Easy to use
  • Works with any type of document

Cons:

  • Lacks branding. Looks like Microsoft Windows folder structure
  • Not cloud storage – you must maintain original documents on your computer

Cost:

$99/year for 50 GBs

$199/year for 100 GBs

Smugmug

Smugmug is a gorgeous photo sharing website that meets the needs of both hobbyists as well as professional photographers. This is the best – and least expensive option – for cloud storage and sharing for your photographs.

Pros:

  • Customized sites with unique domains
  • Best way to organize and share photos
  • Video as well as photos
  • Unlimited capacity for only $60/year
  • Backs up photos online

Cons:

  • No pdfs, word docs, excel docs – only photos and videos

Cost:

$40 to $150/year

Box.net

With file sharing, syncing, and project management, Box.net is an interesting combination of Dropbox and Basecamp.

Pros:

  • Safe and secure
  • Any type of file
  • Share links to file or folder
  • Easily turn any folder into a web page
  • Online work spaces for commenting and discussion

Cons:

  • Expensive – $15/user/month
  • More complicated because of the project management features

Conclusion

Although none of these three options met all of my client’s requirements, he decided to try Dropbox. It’s the only option of the three that has a plan that’s completely free – 2 GBs – and it’s the most straightforward, user friendly option. What’s certain is that this is a rapidly changing market, and as demand for these specific requirements grows, Dropbox, Box.net, Smugmug, and their competitors will grow and adapt to new needs. While Dropbox is the solution today, it may or may not be the solution six months from now.

Web-Based Project Management Tools

Traditional project management tools evoke images of GANTT charts and project schedules. Complex programs allowed a single user to intricately plan out and manage a project. Improvements in internet bandwidth, connectivity, and the cost of online storage has shifted this process to the web. Web-based project management tools are capable of offering much more because they are inherently collaborative and they are usually “software as a service”, which includes hosting of the project management tool for your business.

I recently reviewed a dozen web-based project management tools in search of one that would meet my business requirements. Because of the extensive variety of project management tools, I recommend defining requirements at the outset.

Common Project Management Software Requirements:

  • Managing Resources
  • Project Task Management
  • Collaboration
  • File Sharing

Best Project Management Tools

Basecamp

Basecamp is one of the most popular tools for managing projects online. Projects are managed through a shared dashboard and it’s easy to upload and share files, send messages, document milestones, track time, and create to-do lists. One of the things I like most about Basecamp is its friendly user interface. If you need to collaborate with different people in different places and you don’t mind the fact that it won’t help you create GANTT charts or track costs, Basecamp is the tool for you.

Box.net

Box.net is unique because it blends file sharing and syncing with project management and collaboration. It’s more complicated than Basecamp because it does more things, but Box.net is still easy to use. If you need to share files with people, create permissions for folders, and collaborate on projects, Box.net is the better tool.

Copper Project

If you need the traditional project management tools and also want the collaborative tools, you should look at Copper Project. You can log time, book people, allocate resources, create GANTT charts, budgets, quotes and invoices.