Cloud computing has been a huge advance for computer users, especially those of us who work on the go. Being able to grab your files from anywhere is a big quality of life improvement, and a back-up safety net to boot. But like any good tool, the cloud has some limitations to be aware of, so you don’t get burned down the road. Today, we’re thinking about Cloud Clutter and how it affects you.
Cloud Clutter includes the following:
Cloud clutter is all the stuff that you don’t need, let alone in the cloud. The automatic nature of most cloud backup solutions is that you end up holding onto copies of everything, and that’s probably not the best solution. Why not? Isn’t that the point of the cloud? Sure, but remember: most of these services include a small amount of free storage. After that, you’re paying for space. We’ve got NO problem supporting these awesome companies by paying for storage, but don’t overspend – if you save everything, you’re going to be forking over more than you need to. Think of the people who rent a storage unit, only to fill it with things they will never use!
Just like that person with the storage unit full of physical things, you’re EVENTUALLY going to have to sort through this crap to get to something you want. Remember, the point of the cloud is backup and retrieval: to be able to grab the things you want, from anywhere. Ever tried to pull something out of a shelf at the back of a full garage, your feet balanced on two boxes of holiday decorations? That’s pretty much what it’s gonna feel like when you’re trying to figure out where you saved that important document if it’s actually three subfolders deep in your Dropbox’s “Pictures” folder.
Having a copy of each of your contacts’ info is great. 4 copies? Not so much. Especially when one of them is current, 2 are obsolete, 1 is somebody else you mislabeled, and all 4 are lined up together in your smartphone’s directory. “One copy of everything!” you say. “Isn’t that the point of the cloud?!” The answer, like so many tech questions, is “Yes, except.” Yes, except that you use multiple software and webware applications, by many different companies, and those ecosystems don’t always play nice. I once tried to sync my Mac’s iCal, my Google calendar, AND my Outlook calendar at work. Events made in 1 place would generate 3 copies, and events made another place wouldn’t sync outward at all. I’m sure I made a mistake with a setting somewhere, but these problems are pretty common.
Okay, hate cloud clutter? Awesome! Let’s get to clutter-bustin’. Here are some ideas.
A big part of the appeal of cloud solutions is the “Tada! It’s already working” feeling of backup. It’s true that these things come installed ready to start working immediately. Take some time, however, to get the settings tweaked to what works right for YOU. Configure what folders sync, what size of files, how everything is sorted into the cloud, and so on. A few minutes of work on the front end will save you big time when it comes time to actually use this stuff.
Cloud storage is designed to hold lots of stuff, so most of them feature strong search features to help you wade through your digital treasure trove. But all of those search features can’t help you if your files aren’t searchable. And, between you and me? The way you label your files kinda sucks. Just a little! Don’t hate me.
Kidding aside, make it easy on yourself – set your files up to be easily searchable. How many Office users do you know who have multiple documents saved as “Word1” somewhere on there system? When you save a document, name it something easy. Better yet, name it THREE things easy to remember: if your software can do partial searches, naming a file “Project Report Presentation” will turn it up whenever you search for any of those words. If a file is for a specific month’s financials, date it. If your system supports tags, filters or something similar, use them. Make it easy for your future self to find the files you need. This is a good habit to get into with all your files, not just cloud-bound ones.
The cloud is a tool, and like every tool, a little maintenance from time to time will keep it running well. Go into your storage, and see how well your organization is holding up. Does the file layout match the way you actually work? Are there old projects in here you could move to an offline backup? Is there anything else you feel you could improve with your cloud setup? It’s your tool, so make it work for you, in the way that works for you. That’s a moving target, incidentally, so take a few minutes now and then to double check.
What types of cloud clutter are you fighting? How are you doing it? Let us know!
Image By: Chuck Todd