RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dropbox, Evernote and Quip -- Isn't One Enough? Not Really

Every so often new computer applications (now called apps) or programs come along that seen to change the way we use computers and even how we view them as part of out society. Obviously, the "social networking" type of program has had that impact. All you have to do to understand the power of social networking is to read about the suppression of Twitter.com in Turkey. As genealogists, we are not immune to these fundamental shifts in usage. Even if we stand on the outside as non-users our families and the society around us changes with the technology.

I can remember, just a few dozen years ago, when a huge segment of our society resisted the idea of credit cards. They prided themselves on paying cash for everything. There were those who straddled the line by paying only with checks. I remember driving across the United States and getting to West Virginia and discovering that none of the service stations took credit cards. We barely made it out of the state.

In some states of the United States, there are laws requiring service stations to dispense gasoline and prohibiting the customer from doing so. They require a service station attendant to put the gas in the car. In Arizona and Utah, this is non-existent. If you are disabled and can't easily get out of your car, there a very few places where there is an attendant who will help. Again, I can remember when "self-service" gas was a gimmick. OK, enough examples showing how old I am.

Computers have their examples of fundamental changes just like credit cards and self-service gas. Sometimes, you don't even realize that there is a change in progress until it becomes so pervasive as to be ubiquitous.

One of those changes, dependent entirely on the existence of the Internet, is the almost instantaneous transmission of documents between individual computers. Some of us do this so regularly that we hardly think about it. For example, my wife just moved into the texting world. She discovered the convenience of sending brief messages to her children living all around the country. On a more mundane level, we discovered Dropbox.com some time ago. At first, it seemed like a good place to backup our data files. But soon, we discovered that it was a really good place to share documents, especially larger documents that could not be sent as email attachments. The next step in the evolution was a little more complicated. We figured out that the documents we were handing each other back and forth, even while sitting in the same room on two different computers, didn't have to be printed out. We could make PDF copies of almost everything and exchange the documents almost instantly by creating a dedicated Dropbox folder for only my wife and I to use. Anything we put in the folder instantly became available to the other person. This went from being an novelty to becoming an integral part of how we conducted our various businesses almost overnight. Accounting, taxes, applications, and everything else was reduced to digital copies and even signed digitally. For example, we recently purchased a house in Utah. The entire transaction was accomplished by using Dropbox and digital signatures. We closed on the house without ever leaving our office. We never even had to go to the title company and sign anything. We did it all at home on our computers.

Of course, this use of Dropbox has affected our entire use of genealogy documents and sources. We can immediately transmit photographs, certificates and copies of all kinds to anyone who needs to see them. I keep all of my source documents in Dropbox so that they can be used across all of the different programs I use. That way I can consolidate the document usage. I also keep all my presentations on Dropbox so I can use them immediately and have a backup is for any reason my flash drive and computer don't work. A week or so ago, I almost gave the Directors at the Mesa FamilySearch Library a heart attack when I couldn't get my PowerPoint presentation off of my computer and had forgotten to put it on a flash drive. This happened just a few minuted before my scheduled online Webinar. At the very last minute, I went online and retrieved the file from Dropbox and went on with the presentation as if nothing had happened.

All the time Dropbox has been evolving, so has Evernote.com and now there is a new addition to the family in Quip.com. Both Evernote and Quip have sharing capabilities that give them the potential to do exactly what I am doing with Dropbox. But they are different. They add the ability to capture information from the Web and annotate it, organize it and store it. The idea here is to make all of your routine notes and documents available on every electronic device at any time and they work very well at doing this.

The one fatal flaw in all of these programs is that they rely on my memory to look at my to-do lists. Reminders and flashy things on the screen don't work for me. I can ignore almost anything. But despite this limitation, they are changing the way I do my work and especially how I do my genealogy. One thing I have decided though is that you need to get into the instructions for each of these programs and learn about all of the features built in to them. As you do this, you will find things that will help you personally. I can give you stories about how the programs work all day, but you have to try them and adapt the features to your own online and work style.

Good Luck.

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