Web 2.0: Best free data sharing tools for effective collaboration

Anyone working with video, audio, high-end graphics or animation projects will inevitably face the need to move and share hefty volumes of data. Outside of bringing your client or collaborator into your studio, or running an account with a courier company, there are many more time and financially economical ways to send works in progress for approval. Unlike FTP transfers (and these are still great when there’s a tech-head on each end of the deal) the solutions this post focusses on don’t require technical savvy on the recipient’s end. Emma Sterling and I rely on these tools heavily when we are collaborating with other professionals locally and internationally, and if you manage your workflow around their limitations, you won’t have to shell out a cent.

Best free tools for moving data

For files under 100Mb, we still use the longstanding favourite, YouSendit. With a free account on YouSendit, you can send files, along with a short description to multiple email recipients. Rather than gumming up their email inboxes, YouSendit stores the data on their server, and simply sends a nice, friendly email with a download link to your selected recipients. The file resides there for a limited time (a number of days) which is generally ample for the short-term exchanging of content. We also recommend you download the helper application to enjoy added drag-n-drop convenience from your desktop and improved transfer speeds. If you value the service, you can also pay for membership, express delivery and a range of other options.

When 100Mb of Yousendit free transfer love aren’t enough, it’s Sendspace to the rescue. Sendspace’s transfer rates tend to lag behind Yousendit’s a little in our experience, but we’re yet to find a better free way to move such sizeable hunks of data. We mostly use Sendspace to deliver previews of videos we’re editing. By using Adobe Media Encoder to export our footage from Adobe Premiere, we are able to compress our work to sit snuggly under their 300Mb limit (Media Encoder calculates the file sizes before the compressing begins) allowing us to move any project’s low-res preview, regardless of its duration. Another way of working with the file size limitation is to use 7Zip or a similar compressor, and break your compressed file into 300 Mb chunks. Sendspace also offers a free downloadable application called Sendspace Wizard, which resembles an FTP interface, and again offers improved uploading times and flexibility. Once you’ve uploaded a file, your recipient gets a simple email with a download link and you’re in business.

Dropbox is the file-mover that I’ve discovered most recently, and is one we tend to favour specifically for internal use. Dropbox creates a web-drive, which conveniently appears just as any other folder would on your desktop. When you move or copy a file to it, any other computers (or mobile devices) with Dropbox installed (provided they are also logged into the same account) will automatically update their contents locally. We find this most useful when moving data between our home and Tomorrow Studio offices, and also use our Dropbox to keep templates and frequent use documents ever-ready. You could also easily create multiple accounts, for instance, project specific ones that could facilitate a cost-effective collaborative server… quite enticing since the ceiling for free accounts is initially set at 2 Gb but is expandable to 5 Gb, provided you share the love, and spread the word about Dropbox!

Dan Monceaux

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