Sharing Large Files – Your Options

So, as we head into the future of new media production, we are going to bump into that dreaded limitation on file size for email attachments. Video files are big, there’s not much we can do about that. What do you do if you need to share a medium or large file with clients or other production team members?

There are several alternatives.

For the time-available-impaired – the quick links to my 2 (current) faves:

drop.io – sharing files with others, simple password for security, cheap, YouTube!-like experience

Dropbox – syncing files between multiple computers, public sharing, pretty cheap

(Purely coincidence that Cable Chow posted a similar post to this one – Jon has other sites to recommend than I do – there are a bunch out there)

For years the quick goto has been File Transfer Protocol or FTP. This works fairly well and is still the most flexible option for many reasons. It robust, handles multiple file types and can be easily set up (provided you have access to a server that can handle it) The drawbacks are that it is a complicated concept to grasp, often requires a client application, and can seriously flummox anyone who has (how to put this sensitively?) competency issues regarding computers. FTP is a super-geeky way to transfer files, but it can handle just about anything you can throw at it. Yes, there are ways to make FTP work without a special application, but the simple ftp://username:password@servername style link confuses many people who don’t understand what that link does for them. If you have someone on your team who isn’t strong in the computer skills deptartment, you should consider finding an alternative to FTP. It goes a long way to reducing the stress and aggravation levels among team members, if you target the lowest-common-denominator when it comes to computer use and aim for their level.

Often I run into a situation, however, where FTP provides too much power/setup/maintenance for sharing large files with others. Because FTP falls into the category of upper-level computer skills, its power can cause problems if you have to interface with someone on your team who doesn’t understand what they are getting into with FTP. There are several alternative options – some newly opened, available that allow quick, simple and flexible sharing of files.

There are a ton of these sites out there. Just Google “file sharing“. You’ll get a ton of hits. Making sense of them really depends on how well you understand what you need. I have put a great deal of time into researching these sites and I can recommend two in particular because they excel at the task of sharing files in a dead-simple way.

Drop.io

This newly launched service is, hands-down, the easiest way to share files with one or more people. All you need is access to a modern web browser. It’s free to post a file (or files) under 100 megabytes. Just go to to drop.io (it’s a funny address, but it does work) and follow the instructions. One thing you should know – a “drop” is lingo for a folder or site used to share files.

  1. Name your drop. You can use the randomly generated letter-number combo they give you or choose your own name
  2. Add files. Choose files from your drives to upload.
  3. Make some decisions about guest passwords, duration of availability, & permissions. A guest password gives your drop some security.
  4. Click the DROP IT! Button and it uploads.
  5. After it uploads, you’ll be taken to the Drop page and can set an Admin password. The Admin password is different than the guest password – admin allows you to change settings about the drop & even delete it completely.
  6. Add more files, get links that you can send to others and off you go.

There are 3 huge benefits to this service that might not be apparent until you get your hands a little dirty: 1) Drop-dead simple. I like this part because I work with a wide range of competency levels when it comes dealing with computers. This service makes it pretty easy to “get” and it doesn’t require special geek-fu or arcane knowledge of wonky computer commands. 2) Video previews like YouTube! or other video sites. This is huge because people are now accustomed to the YouTube model and using something like FTP, can be really confusing to them. By “YouTube model”, I mean, being able to click on a link and see the video playback (nearly) right away. The FTP method means you have to download the file first and then find where it went on your system and then play it – and of course only then will you discover that the client has an older version of Quicktime than you do and can’t play the file. Drop.io’s system will convert the file to a low-res file that can be streamed quickly and viewed like a YouTube! clip. During or after viewing, they can download the file and get it at the resolution you saved it as. Even if they still have the older version of Quicktime, at least they can see something – trust me this goes a long way to reducing client frustration. One word of caution, they do need to have Flash installed, so there still might be a little hassle. Prepare them when you set to work on the project by sending them a test file to see if it works on thier end. 3) Drops can expire at a predetermined date. Whatever you post can be set to expire (and be deleted) after a time. This fire-and-forget mode is great, because you won’t get bogged down managing drive space. At 100Megs for the free service, that translates to a 15-minute clip at Quicktime, Broadband Medium – not to shabby. The other big benefit for me, as manager of several project teams, is that I can send them to the drop.io site and they can be self-sufficient – unlike FTP, where every team comes to me to post the files becuase they don’t have an FTP client or (more often) they just don’t get the how or where of FTP.

What if you want more space? Or longer time? You can purchase a premium drop. Currently it is $10/US for 1 drop at 1GB for 1 year. You can buy packs of 2,3,5, or 10. It is really cheap and at only $10 for a year, you can keep buying them as you need or buy just a few and then manage the space (you just need to be aware that each drop will expire in a year unless you renew it). I put drop.io in place at the beginning of a recent project that had mulitple layers of review and it worked really well. I’ve asked a few of the higher level people, who used the site to approve the pieces that were posted, and they all responded really well. The fact that they unanimously had a good reaction to it shows me that the simplicity and usability with this site make it a good choice.

Dropbox

Do you carry a USB flash drive with you? Do you take it everywhere? Do you constantly forget it? I have lost so many USB drives. Back when I free-lanced, I used to keep my USB drive on the keychain with my car keys so I couldn’t leave unless I had them both – after I lost about 5 of them. Now with Dropbox, you can stop carrying a USB drive with you and keep everything online – at least, don’t carry sensitive files on your USB drive. If you have one or two computers you use regularly, they have a client application that you can download & install. It puts a folder on your drive and then mirrors that folder up to a server and then back down to any other computers you’ve installed it on. The files are synced on a regular schedule, so you can have a set of documents that are available to you where you need them. If you’re ever at an unfamilar computer you can access these files through a web interface.

Another beautiful part of Dropbox is version control. If you make changes to a file or delete a file, you can get back the original if you need. The whole thing is automatic and really easy to use. You can share some of your files with the public by just putting them in the Public Folder. The Pictures folder will display images as a gallery. Dropbox is free for a 2GB account. If you want more storage it is 50GB for $99 a year. The other beauty is that it works with Windows, Mac  & Linux as well as the web client. There’s talk of an iPhone client coming soon.

Leave a Reply