Files flying around the cloud

Related to my previous post about cloud computing and such, I've been trolling the interwebs and trying to learn something. In doing so, I have come across various "Web 2.0" technologies, some of which seem neat, others not so much. No, I haven't made any progress toward finding the massive storage and high-performance, massively-parallel computing solutions that I want for climate science purposes, but I'd like to share two (and a half) software+service technologies that I'm now using daily.

First and foremost, I have adopted full-hearted the use of Dropbox (getdropbox.com), which is a simple, elegant, and multifaceted tool for syncing files across multiple computers. The idea is that you install a little software package, which makes a folder called Dropbox in some obvious place (your home directory in OS X). Now whatever file you put into that folder gets silently sent to the dropbox servers -- out in the cloud. That alone, plus a simple (maybe too simple) web interface on the dropbox site, provides a very useful form of backup/archiving for these files. But for me the most amazing, wonderful, life-changing thing about dropbox is that when I go to another computer (with dropbox similarly installed), those files are there in the dropbox folder. They aren't available for download from the dropbox site, they are local copies of the files, right there in a folder. This provides another backup for the files, as they now exist on the first computer, the dropbox servers, and the second computer. It also allows me to simply navigate to that folder to continue working on whatever I put there, and when I press "save" the file is then sent back to the dropbox server, and sent on to the first computer. Amazing. For those who don't move files around between computers, it might seem silly, but it is so, SO much better than e-mail files to myself, or putting files on some server, or using (s)ftp to move the files around, or carrying a thumb drive around, etc. For those who are intrigued, go check out the screencast. Oh, and it's 2 GB of storage for free, $99 for 50GB for a year, and I think they will introduce a more flexible pricing system in the future. And yes, you can share a folder between users! Amazing.

Second, and less new and impressive, is simply delicious.com, which we used to know as del.icio.us. It's a "social bookmarking" system. For me this just means that when I want to bookmark something at work, like a paper I want to read later, I do it using a different browser button, and then I can add a description and/or tags to the bookmark. Then I go somewhere else, home or anywhere else with an internet connnection, and I can go to my delicious home page and find the link to that paper. The social part is that you can share bookmarks and whatnot. It is not as life-altering as dropbox, but it is actually quite convenient. You've probably seen on blogs and news sites little delicious symbols (there might be one right below this post). That provides a way to promote a blog or web page using your delicious account, essentially advertising it to other delicious users, and possibly making a list of things you've been reading for your friends. The firefox plugin for delicious is great, and I hope they bring such a simple interface to Safari.

Similarly, Digg.com is a bookmarking tool. I use this to try to promote news stories that I've read and like. I am not in love with digg, but I have kept using it for months. My main complaint is that when I hit a digg button from a page, like NYTimes.com or LATimes.com, it then makes me log in, looks for that article, suggests it might be a duplicate, asks me to write a summary and pick a category if no one else has dugg it, etc. It can be an ordeal. I want to digg something and not have to interact with the digg machine at all, and that hasn't happened very often.

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