Access Your Stuff, Anywhere with Free Online Cloud Storage

Filing, filing cabient, broken, broken filing cabinet, destroyed, mess
Remind you of your approach to managing files on your computer? Cloud storage services can help. Photo: Bart Everson

After a positive response to my post last week explaining how to use Compfight to easily find free, legal visual inspiration so I thought I would follow it up with another knowledge sharing post, this time on how to keep a grip on all your electronic data.

Drowning in Data? There’s an App for That

As a social media adviser and volunteer at Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery I often frequently meet people who are struggling to keep a handle on where their important (and not-so-important) data is stored. More often than not documents, photos other files are scattered across various devices and online networks. This not only makes it hard for people to find the file they’re looking for, it presents business problems including a risk of data loss (what would happen if your laptop died?) and sending clients the wrong version of a report (which is the ‘final’ final document?).

Doing Nothing is Not an Option

Faced with all this digital detritus, it is understandable why many of us adopt a note of weary resignation and instead of taking steps to manage our data simply ignore the problem and hope we’re one of the lucky ones whose hard disk will never fail us.

Luckily, a number of free and easy-to-use online storage services have come along  to help us regain control of our digital lives. Set out below are some examples of services I have personally used and found to be a great help. I recommend you try out at least one of the services from this list and see if they can help you get more organised.

A Note of Caution over Data Protection and Managing Risks

As with anything you do online, online storage services carry with them a security risk. Just as someone can hack into your email or Facebook account, it is possible whatever documents you store online could be accessed by someone you didn’t intend to share it with.

Each service listed below makes its own commitment to privacy and data security policies. You should read these policies and make sure you are comfortable with them before using the services. these are. Individuals and organisations with responsibilities the Data Protection Act should  give careful consideration as to whether free online cloud storage services are suitable places to store Personal Data. 

For more information please read the Information Commissioner’s Guidance on Cloud Computing.

As with all risks in life, it is important to make a sensible judgement and not lose sight of the benefits free online storage services offer in terms of convenience, not to mention reducing the risks associated with the ‘do nothing’ approach to data management.

1. Dropbox

Dropbox, screenshot, Dropbox screenshot
Dropbox files as viewed via a web browser

Dropbox is probably the best known and easiest to use of all the free online storage services and if you sign up using the link below you will qualify for an extra 500 MB of free space, in addition to the standard 2 GB.

Sign up for Dropbox

As its name suggests, Dropbox acts like a box for all your digital data. When you add files to your Dropbox (via your laptop, tablet or smartphone) a copy of those files are also held online. This means you can access your files from any machine, anywhere in the world. You can also easily share your files with people, attaching a link in much the same way you might attach a photo to an email.

Besides these basic features, Dropbox also has clever synchronisation and collaboration options. For instance, Dropbox automatically stores the latest version of the file, meaning changes made to a document using a work laptop will be reflected when you access Dropbox at home or via your smartphone. This synchronisation principle allows colleagues to add to a shared document, eliminating version control issues.

I’ve been using Dropbox for three years or so and can’t imagine life without it. Besides work my favourite use of Dropbox is sharing links photographs with friends and family without clogging up their inboxes with large attachments

2. Copy

Copy, logo, copy logo, paper plane
Copy’s rather nifty looking logo

Copy one of many new contenders to Dropbox’s crown and works in pretty much exactly the same way as Dropbox. Again, users add files to the service and a copy is saved online, allowing a user to access their files from any machine, anywhere in the world.

Right now, the chief difference between Dropbox and Copy is the amount of free storage Copy is offering new users. In a bid to increase its numbers, Copy offers 15 GB of free storage as opposed to Dropbox’s 2GB. If you sign up using the link below you will also get an extra 5 GB free.

Sign up for Copy

Habit is a powerful thing so I still find myself using Dropbox over Copy. As I get used to Copy I expect I will start using it more but it is still good to know I have extra storage. At the moment I mainly use it when I have to share large multimedia files with clients.

3. Google Drive

Google Drive, screenshot, screenshot of Google Drive service, files, folders, web browser
Folders and files stored on Google Drive

Unsurprisingly, Google is keen not to miss out on the rise of cloud storage and has developed a service of its own. Again, the service works in much the same way as Dropbox and Copy, with copies of your documents being stored online, this time within Google’s vast network of servers. Drive comes with 5 GB of storage and, interestingly, documents created using Google Docs do not count against your space allocation.

I’ve used Google Drive since it launched last year and have found it an easy and convenient service which complements my Dropbox folder. There are, however a couple of things you should be aware of before signing up:

  • You need a Google account to use Google Drive. Some people are uneasy about Google and the extent of its reach. As such, you may feel uncomfortable signing up for a Google account, even if you do not plan to use any of Google’s other services.
  • Questions remain over the ownership of your data. Google Drive has been hit by claims its terms of service gives Google rights over your data. So far, it seems the terms of service are primarily concerned with allowing Google to improve the service but given Google’s size and influence, the wording raised concerns. You can read more about what this means for you by clicking here.

Sign up for Google Drive

Share Your Tips

I hope you’ve found this post useful. I’ve only scraped the surface when it comes to online storage. Please feel free to contact me if you have any tips or suggestions for any web-based tools, services or shortcuts you think more people should know about. I will look to take on-board your suggestions and share them with my class and in future posts.


Easily Find Visual Inspiration with Compfight

Dinosaur, Origami,
Jurassic Park! Visual inspiration located via Compfight, an image search tool . Image by EmreAyar

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve recently been offered the chance to teach an introduction to web design course at the Midlands Arts Centre (or the mac) in Birmingham. Having just completed week 2 last night I am pleased to report the class is going well and I’m enjoying sharing my knowledge with a friendly and enthusiast group of adult learners. 

Sharing Knowledge

From teaching the course I am beginning to realise that a good number of the web tools, services and shortcuts I use are not as widely known about as I first thought. With this in mind I have decided to make a conscious effort to share my knowledge through my blog whenever I find myself introducing people to things I take for granted. In doing so, I hope to help people achieve more using the web.

Compfight: A Daft Name for Seriously Good Visual Inspiration

One of the things I’ve observed from teaching my course at the mac is many people aren’t clear on how to find and (legally) use images on their websites.

Most people I’ve worked with in recent years are aware that is possible to use Google to search for images and typing in a search term will display a plethora of images from all over the web. A Conscientious minority will be vaguely aware of copyright and question whether they are allowed to download and use an image from another website. I would say a majority of people either don’t understand copyright or are willing to take a chance on using an image without formal permission.

When faced with this situation I explain to people what copyright is and that it’s bad form to use an image without permission, even if the odds of getting called up on it are fairly slim. I then go on to introduce them a convenient and legal alternative for sourcing visuals for their website. This is generally the point where people ask what on earth do I mean by Compfight.

For those of a less geeky persuasion than me, I’ll try to offer a simple explanation of what Compfight is and why you should consider using it.

Compfight is a tool which allows you to search through all the photographs hosted on the photo sharing site Flickr and quickly find images which you can freely and legally use in your work.

Like any search tool, Compfight allows you to locate what you are looking for by typing in one or more keyword. One member of my class is fascinated by dinosaurs and so typed the word ‘dinosaurs’ into Compfight the other week. This is what came back.

Compfight, search tool, search tool returns, images, dinosaurs
Searching for Dinosaurs using Compfight

Creative Commons: from ‘All Rights Reserved’ to ‘Some Rights Reserved 

So far, so Google Images, right? What makes Compfight different is it allows users to filter results to show only images labelled as ‘Creative Commons’. Creative Commons is the name given to a form of copyright licence which gives the public permission to share and use a creative work — on the conditions set by the creator of that work. Think of Creative Commons as a shift from ‘All Rights Reserved’ to ‘Some Rights Reserved.

The precise nature of the permission granted varies but typically the public are free to use Creative Common images for non-commercial purposes provided they credit the author and provide a link back to the licensing agreement. This makes Compfight a perfect source of visuals for your personal blog. With care you can also use images in professional settings, provided the Creative Commons licence allows for this.

Share Your Tips

I hope you’ve found this post useful. Please feel free to contact me if you have any tips or suggestions for any web-based tools, services or shortcuts you think more people should know about. I will look to take on-board you suggestions and share them with my class and in future posts.


What Did You Do This Summer (and Early Autumn)?

Names of types of emotions written on cards, white cards on black table, cards scattered on table
Emotion Cards used to support  conversations between care home managers and people receiving care. Photograph taken at the recent My Home Life event. These emotions will no doubt also speak to anyone who as ever embarked on a freelance career.

It feels like ages since I last properly blogged because it is in fact ages since I last properly blogged. If Aristotle said we are what we repeatedly do, I’m not proving to me much of a blogger these days.

In defence of my lack of written output, it’s been a pretty eventful time for me, both inside and outside of work and this has limited both my opportunities and enthusiasm for making the time to blog.

Picture This

Woman, woman speaking, hands gesticulating, expressive face
A London Care Home Manager speaking at last week’s My Home Life London Network event

Work wise, I am continuing to develop my freelance career and this has certainly proved interesting. Most notably, this summer I decided to strike out and offer photography services under the banner of Francis Clarke Photography. So far I am getting a positive response to this move and just last week I travelled to London to provide reportage-style photography for the My Home Life social movement. You can view images from the project over on my Flickr. I also recommend you visit  My Home Life’s website to find out more about their mission to improve quality of life in care homes.

Those Who Can, Teach

I’m also pleased to say I have recently started teaching an adult education class on web design at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. The course covers the basics of web design and concentrates on supporting participants to use the WordPress content management system to create a relatively simple website hosted over at WordPress.comIt is still early days but I am enjoying sharing my knowledge and experience of designing my own blogs and websites and it is great to feel I am helping people take their first step in web design.

 Elsewhere, I am continuing to provide organisations with advice and support around social media and other digital technologies. As with the teaching, I am getting real satisfaction from helping people understand what digital tools such as blogging, Facebook and Twitter have to offer and supporting them to integrate them into the fabric of their lives.

Keeping Faith (in Local Government)

Flip chart with writing and drawings on it, Birmingham City Council, Adult Social Care, council services, co-production, public services
A council officer’s illustration from my recent co-production workshop with Governance International and  Birmingham City Council

In amongst these newer developments I am also trying my best not to lose sight of my original passion for public policy and social innovation. In support of this earlier this month I jointly delivered a workshop on co-production for officers from Birmingham City Council’s Adult Social Care department with another colleague from the not-for-profit consultancy, Governance International. However, given the continued grim state of public finances, it’s not clear whether the session will lead to work of the traditional, paid variety. Still, it was nice to remind myself of the sector I left just over three years ago and the potential local government has to effect radical change. 

Life Beyond Work

Away from work I’m pleased to say I managed to get away for a week’s holiday in France the week before last. My wife Sarah and I spent a week in Brittany with Sarah’s family. Despite my initial misgivings over the potential for stress that exists with any family occasions the holiday passed off smoothly. It’s amazing what good food and wine can do. Less relaxingly, we’ve been trying to buy our first house. I’m not going to bore you with the ins and outs of the process. I would however recommend you read what Charlie Brooker has to say on the subject.

Keep In Touch

I hope I’ve been able to give you a flavour of what I’ve been up to and where my heads at right now. I promise not to leave it so long until my next post as I don’t wish to let Aristotle down. As ever please, feel free to get in touch if you have any further questions about any of the things I’ve touched on if you think we could work together on project. You can reach me at:


Mobile: 07749374339

Twitter: @francisclarke