The basic idea behind Dropbox, the cloud-based file service which announced a new $250 million round of investment giving it a $4 billion valuation, is pretty straightforward, but like any successful tech sensation, its users have taken that idea and run with it. Dropbox offers a place to store your files in the cloud and some simple social features mean that you can give your friends access. Even Steve Jobs, the prophet of Silicon Valley, knew that this was the next big thing and even tried (unsuccessfully) to buy the company in 2009. Now, Forbes magazine says that "Dropbox me" is becoming the new "Google me" or "Facebook me," as denizens realize that sharing files--of all kinds, of any size, on any device--can enable you to do some pretty awesome things.
Keeping up with tractors on your farm. Frankly, "farming" and "cloud computing" aren't two tasks that we'd normally think of putting together. However, this Dropbox user has figured out a way to manage his sprawling agricultural enterprise without having to leave his office:
I have dropbox installed on 4 machines, one of which is in a farm tractor. The computer in that machine is used for automatic steering and coverage mapping in the fields, so all of the day's data gets logged to some files that get sync'd to the other systems when it can find WiFi access.
I'm looking at adding a cell modem to that machine for GPS correction data, but that Internet connection would also allow dropbox to stay synchronized through out the day. From the main office, I could track location and progress of the tractor with less than 1 minute of delay. -Lance L.
Fighting crime. The more tech savvy Dropbox users have come up with all kinds of hacks that enable you to do unpredictable things on Dropbox. Among them is a way not only to recover files from but track the movement of a stolen laptop. One DropBox user tells his story to Consumerist:
Last February my laptop was stolen from my Brooklyn apartment. We went through the motions of filing out a report and having detectives come to the house. I gave the police all of the serial numbers, etc. and of course, nothing came back.
A few days ago I was playing around on the Dropbox site - I use the desktop and mobile applications a lot, but don't interact with the site as much. While I was clicking around, I found the My Computers tab on the Account page which lists all of my devices AND their last logged IP. My stolen computer was still in the list along with its last known IP.
With the stolen IP address, police can help track down the stolen goods. The same can be done with smartphones and tablets.
Creating international art projects. Dropbox works especially well for people who in industries that require sharing very large files. One music producer brags about his new system in Dropbox's forums:
I often send complete album masters back and forth internationally. Before dropbox it meant splitting, zipping and labeling it to death. But with all the given care it almost always meant a guaranteed mistake when trying to put it back together on the receiving end.
Visiting your grandmother in the hospital. One of the problems with using a site like Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch is that it takes a lot of effort. You have to update your status or tweet a photo, and with big files like videos, complicated terms and conditions often mean that you don't even own the videos once they're uploaded. As the company's founder Drew Houston says, with Dropbox "your data follows you:"
My 93 year-old grandmother is in a hospital in Japan. My mother is there with her; she and I are sharing a folder on Dropbox. After an email from mom telling me that grandma really enjoyed seeing videos of my three-year-old son singing, I quickly shot another video of him, uploaded it to our shared folder, and they were watching the video less than an hour later. How cool is that? -Debi
Playing Dungeons and Dragons. Some people think this is cool:
I have a Dungeons and Dragons game that I play with people remotely, and we have our notes and character sheets in a shared Dropbox. The DM always has access, and if needed we can step in for each other (baby calls/whatever). -Wilson Mead III
Following Dropbox's lead, everybody now wants to get into the cloud computer business. Apple's new iCloud is an obvious challenger, but it's not as open. For now, iCloud only works with Apple products, whereas Dropbox works with any product imagineable from Droid phones to Linux computers to the iPad tablets. Like this Quora thread explains, "It WORKS. Except in China."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.