Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Dropbox Idea

As part of the portfolio idea I've been working on, I need some kind of central location for providing minimal organization for what documents go with what course--whether it's a hyperlink to something on the web or an actual document stored in a private archive. I built something similar to this once before. We called it iceBox, and it was immediately very successful, mostly because of its simplicity. A screenshot from the prof's point of view is shown below.
Student last names have been redacted because of FERPA. Here, Joey L has submitted a document called "Web Interface", which he's designated as a rough draft, and has not yet been reviewed by the instructor. As soon as the instructor downloads it, this turns to "Reviewed." Later we added a feedback link too. I used this almost exclusively for the last math course I taught, taking probability assignments as Excel documents, and giving the grade via the simple feedback button.

The student interface is similar, and also very simple. The main difference is that it has a form for uploading a file. When this service was launched, there was no advertising beyond an email to faculty to try it out if they wanted. Despite this, it has been extremely successful. I attribute this mainly to simplicity and (related) reliability. In IT we had almost no support calls on the service. You can see a live usage graph, which shows a peak of 600 files per week during finals (with a student population of about 1000). The graph uses Maani Flash-based charts, which are very handy.

You can get a dropbox for yourself. This sort of thing isn't just good for portfolios. Imagine if all of your work files were automatically synched across your home computer, laptop, and desk computer at work, AND that you could get them through a web interface. That's the intent of DropBox, which you can see all about in this short screencast. 2GB is free, or you can pay $200/year for 100GB. I recently signed up to iDrive for online backup, which does something similar at a cheaper price ($50/yr for 120GB). This service won't synch across computers, however. It will allow downloads from the web. Another difference is that DropBox will allow you to publish any of your files to the web, so you hyperlink to anything in your archive, to paste in an email, for example. This sounds very useful, and once my iDrive backup is complete (it takes days) I'll sign up for a DropBox account and try it out.

1 comment:

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