12 reasons to use Box – and some caveats
Box* provides online file storage. I used to do this with Dropbox, but in August 2012 my institution began a partnership with Box. This is a second update of an earlier post on the pluses and minuses of Dropbox.
Most college-level instructors have to manage a plethora of computer files – syllabi, presentations, data, papers, handouts, images, and so on. If you don’t want to lug a laptop into your technology-equipped classroom, you can use a USB flash drive to tote files, but it’s easy to lose that little guy or leave it behind. You also have to remember to copy the right files onto it.
Online storage is often a better choice. Most universities provide file storage space, but their solutions tend to be no-frills propositions. As a result, many faculty are attracted by the rich feature sets offered by third-party services. It’s not surprising that the Internet2 consortium partnered with Box to provide a cost-effective service for universities (more at Internet2 NET+Box).
Benefits of Box
- Access it anywhere – save a PowerPoint in your office and then open it in the classroom, library, coffee shop, home, airport, hotel, or conference center.
- Use it on multiple devices – save files on your desktop and open them later on your laptop, tablet, or smart phone.
- Work across platforms – sync up a to-do list from a Windows machine and modify it on a Blackberry, Mac, Linux, iPhone, or Android device.
- You decide what to sync – unlike Dropbox, Box lets you decide which folders automatically sync to your various clients.
- The app is optional – if the computer in your classroom that doesn’t have Box installed, simply access your files from a browser.
- It’s good to share – set up a folder that is accessible by a specific set of Box accounts. Try this with students, colleagues, committee members, co-authors, family, or other groups.
- Make items public – create a folder that is available to anyone who has the link; you can even link to an item from a course website (here’s an example).
- Back up essential files – everything you save in a synced Box folder is automatically copied, not only to “the cloud” but also to other devices connected to your account.
- Keep files in sync – always have your most recent to-do list or browser bookmarks. Keep your genealogy database in Box if you want the most up-to-date info at home and on the road.
- One less thing to forget – become less reliant on that USB flash drive or portable hard drive.
- We have a history – my files have a “version history” (not true for Free Personal Accounts). When I replace a file in a directory, the previous version is filed away and I can recall it later.
- Keep costs low – there is no fee for a personal account with 5 GB of space. If you need more, $20/month gets you 50 GB. Our institutional accounts provide 50GB (files saved by others and shared with you do not count against your total).
Caveats and downsides
- Privacy – my institution does not want highly sensitive information be stored off site. Box’s security measures are fine for certain data, but an individual can still mistakenly publish a file.
- Enterprise login – we use a centralized system called CAS to access Box accounts and some integrations available from a standard login don’t work. On my iPad I can’t access Box files from apps like GoodReader and Documents to Go. Other services have figured out a workaround.
- Proliferation – Box creates a copy of each file on each device – this may get confusing if you use the system on three or more devices.
- Space creep – when you sync a shared folder, keep an eye on how much your collaborators are adding.
- Startup delay – with a slow Internet connection, large files – or large numbers of changes – may take time to sync from the cloud to your desktop.
- Shutdown lag – if you aren’t paying attention, you can shut down mid-sync and unknowingly end up working with a dated file later on.
- Not for editing – it’s primarily a way to store files, not edit them. There is a “web document” option as well as a “Box for Office” add-on for Windows computers. There is also a Google Apps option, but that has been disabled for our institution.
- Not for massive storage – I have an external hard drive for complete backups, which require more than 100 GB. Everything on my Mac – software included – is incrementally backed up multiple times a day with “Time Machine”.
Further reading from the Box blog
- Students Ditch Paper and Move to the Cloud
- Learn to Collaborate (Before You Graduate) in 7 Easy Steps
*Box = box.com = box.net (same thing)