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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Quest to Replace drop.io

Most editors are only interested in buying new, unpublished stories. For their purposes, any story that has been freely available on the web is generally considered to have been published. To allow writers to enter the Friday Challenge without unintentionally "publishing" their stories, we used a password protected site called drop.io for those who wished to enter challenges without making their story available to everyone on the web. Since drop.io was closed back in December, I've been trying to find a good substitute for it. Several of you have sent suggestions for sites to check out, something I greatly appreciate. There are a lot of different services designed for sharing files across the internet, so having some extra eyes to check sites out really helps.

The strength of drio.io was that anyone who knew the user password to the drop site could add files to it. The troika kept the administrator password among ourselves, restricting the people who could delete files from the site to the three of us. But anyone who visited the Friday Challenge could easily discover the user password to the drop site and add files there. Simplicity at its best.

So far, all of the potential replacement sites have been more restrictive. Drop Box is one of the ones recommended and I've checked it out. Once it's setup, it is easy to use, but it has some serious drawbacks. If there were a Friday Challenge drop box site, each of you would have to go through at least a couple of steps before being able to access the site.

First, you'd need to download the Drop Box software from the Drop Box site and install it. That is because Drop Box creates folders on your computer. That folder is a mirror of a folder hosted by Drop Box's servers. If you wanted to access Drop Box from more than one computer, say your work computer and your home computer, you'd have to install Drop Box in both places. You might also run into resistance from the IT department at work to the idea of having a folder on your computer shared out "to the cloud."

After installing the software, you'd have to ask the Friday Challenge Drop Box administrator to invite you to join that drop. This is a step that could seriously deter some people from ever using the drop and, perhaps, keep them from ever participating in the Friday Challenge. It's human nature for many of us to think something along the lines of "I'd like to enter, but I don't want to bother the admin. He's bound to be really busy!" No request. No entry. Lost Challenger.

Finally, the admin would have to invite those who requested access to the drop to join it. At the risk of making the last part of the previous paragraph true, there are days when the admin wouldn't have time to go to the drop and issue an invitation. Unfortunately, once real life gets in the way and delays the invitation, the admin may end up forgetting about it for days or even forget about it entirely.

In the end, it's not that Drop Box is particularly complicated, it's just that it's not nearly so simple and user friendly as drop.io. Unfortunately, all of the other drop sites I've found are either designed primarily for off-site backups and can't be shared or are similar in approach to Drop Box. If we were operating with a small, set group -- such as an online writing group with a fixed membership -- Drop Box might be just the thing. As the one of the strengths of the Friday Challenge is that it's open to all who wish to enter, Drop Box forms just enough of a barrier that it may end up discouraging new writers from ever entering.

I'd still love to hear about other options to replace drop.io, so please keep looking and sending suggestions.
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