Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A cure for CEA

by jonwatson (license)
I have a confession to make.  A few years ago, I had an affliction really. You see, I was a chronic e-mail attacher (CEA).  Gasp.  I know.  Me, one of your tech co-chairs, an inbox clutterer...a space exceeding, quota maximizer.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Working on a file at work that I need to work on at home?  Attach it to an e-mail to myself.    Need that same file at work the next day? Yep, another e-mail to me.  I doubt a day went by when you couldn’t find an e-mail in Allen Taylor’s inbox from Allen Taylor.  Of course, being a CEA, I didn’t just limit those attachments to myself.  Need feedback on a form I was creating?  E-mail attachment to my colleagues who then sent me more e-mails with more attachments back with their comments that I then had to combine into one document.  And guess what followed that...yep, that’s right; another e-mail back to my colleagues with the changes.  When would the madness end?!  But then I found salvation really, and I want to tell you about them in case you too find yourself afflicted as a CEA.

Ga-ga about goo-gle

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’m a Google nerd.  I signed up for a gmail account and never looked back. The large amounts of free storage and the suite of applications (Google Docs, Picasa, Reader, Blogger, etc.)  that come with a Google account have kept me hooked ever since.  Now you can see why Calley recommended signing up for a free Google account with any e-mail address; gmail not required.  Let me now tell you how Google Docs helped me lessen my CEA affliction.

To start, Google Docs has a wide range of possible applications. Contained within the Google Docs suite are word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs.  Full disclaimer right at the beginning--these programs are not as fully featured as Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint.  Google Docs and online document creation programs are fairly new in the overall history of the web and they're not the only options out there.  Just to name a few, Microsoft makes a version of Office online called Office Web Apps, and there's Zoho and ThinkFree as well.  If you're ready to give this a try (and I hope you are), you can give the various applications a look to see which one your most comfortable with.  However, to prevent you from being overwhelmed by its usefulness (and to keep this blog post from being too long), we're going to specifically focus on real-time document collaboration in the word processing program in Google Docs. I recommend watching the short video below to get an idea of what I'm talking about.  You might consider it cute or cheesy depending on your stance but it is still a pretty good illustration of online document collaboration.

So that's online document collaboration in a nutshell.  The best part of Google Docs is you can share a doc with anyone for collaboration, even if they don't have a Google Account.  You just need to send them the link.  I hope you can begin to see just how useful this might be for collaborating on a document.  Just as an example, I was working on a proposal for the NACADA 2011 Annual conference with advisors across the country.  Instead of e-mailing ideas and changes to the proposal back and forth, we collaborated on it in a Google Doc.  This let individuals work on it on their own time in their own time zone and left me and everyone else all on the same page about our session.  It was great!  If you're presenting with others at our regional conference, you should consider giving this a try.

PS--later this week, you'll see another feature of Google Docs right here on our very own blog.  We're pretty excited about it.  Stay tuned.

My online hard drive

So Google Docs takes care of e-mail attachments for collaboration but what about the chronic e-mailing of files back and forth to myself.  Of course, I could use a USB drive, but I'm just a likely to forget to bring that with me as I am to lose it so that's a "no go" for me.  I could also just upload my files to Google Docs, but what if I have some specific formatting that Google Docs isn't equipped to deal with just yet?  Yes, Google Docs does have a feature that allows me to upload documents in their original format unchanged for download later, but again, after I save a document on my computer and make changes to it, I might forget to upload the new one.  I just wish my hard drive was online somewhere. That's where Dropbox comes in.

Dropbox lets me open a document from the Dropbox folder on my computer, make changes and then, when I click save, it saves the changes back to the document in my Dropbox folder.  But here's the really great part-my Dropbfox folder is online! The latest version of my document is available through my Dropbox folder from anywhere, anytime. And since it's web-based, you have the option to access your Dropbox folder from the web is you're working at a computer where you can't install the Dropbox software (like those pesky business center computers at conference hotels). The video below does a great job extolling the virtues of Dropbox (even better than I can).

So that's it.  Those are my two cures for being a chronicle e-mail attacher.  I hope you'll give them a try; they're free after all.  I think, maybe, after you do, you'll wonder how you functioned without them.  You can thank me in Charlottesville.  =0)

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