Dropbox File Requests »

Jason Snell, at Six Colors:

But the thing is, a lot of the people I work with have a free Dropbox account—meaning they’re limited to 2GB of Dropbox data. Sometimes that Incomparable Transfer Folder can get big—and some of them are so close to the Dropbox size limit that they’re not able to even join the shared folder, because it’ll push them over. And though I’m a paying customer, I can’t grant the rights to some of my storage space to members of my shared folders. That’s not how Dropbox works.

But a feature introduced by Dropbox in June is starting to change how I use the service. It’s called File Requests, and it allows me to create a link that I can give to anyone who needs to send me a file—whether they use Dropbox or not.

I feel like a dope, but I had no idea that this existed. I could use this in a ton of ways.

✱ How I Almost Lost Every Family Photo I Have

Yesterday, we celebrated my son’s 15th birthday (Yes, 15!). Before the extended family came over for the party, I thought it would be fun to pull up a few old photos of my boy for us to have a laugh over. What came next was an influx of heart palpitations, tears, panic, and relief. But let’s back up and start at the beginning…

My Terrrible Workflow

It had been at least a few weeks since I looked at our iPhoto library. I have a 128 GB MacBook Air, so keeping a local copy has been out of the question for some time. But I’m no dummy, I back up regularly. I have a copy of the library on an external 1 TB Thunderbolt drive — which I use as my regular portable — and another copy stashed on the data partition of my Time Capsule. Neither of these are foolproof, and I know that, but it’s always worked. Even with the inherent risk. See, I’m no dummy. Nope. Not me.

Any time we do a “photo dump” of our phones, cameras, etc, I hook the Thunderbolt drive up to the Air, open the library, and import everything we need to save. Then I hook the drive up to my Time Capsule and make another copy. Again, I know this is a terrible strategy, especially when dealing with invaluable memories. And yes, I had planned to embrace Bradley Chambers’s excellent workflow once I had the time. It should’ve been clear that changing my ways was urgent, but we don’t think that way until we get burned, right? I mean, we’re not dummies.

Call The Fire Department, Dummy

When I hooked up the drive and fired up iPhoto this past Sunday morning, everything seemed normal. I scrolled up the library; about 10 years back and double clicked on a thumbnail. I was greeted by an image of a giant exclamation point. I hadn’t seen this before. “What in the hell?” came fumbling out of my mouth. Our bedroom is next to the office, and my wife overheard. I assured her it was nothing and decided that Bradley’s suggestions needed to be implemented. Right now.

I hit ⌘-A in the photo view, and clicked on “Export” (which is horrible in iPhoto — more on that later). I was greeted with an “Unable to create…” dialog, which basically means that iPhoto can’t find the original files; only the thumbnails.

Next, I decided to open the iPhoto database itself and dig around.

This is where the panic began to set in.

The “Original Files” and “Modified Files” folders were empty. I mean, nothing. Not a single image. Clicking through all sorts of who-knows-what in that database turned up zilch. I quickly logged into the Time Capsule and opened that copy of the database. Same thing. Empty. This is when the tears started streaming uncontrollably. Blubbering. Whimpering. All of that.

I’m the tech person of the house, so when my wife came into the office to see what was causing my groans, she saw my face and naturally starting sobbing too. She knew that I had been working with our photos, and immediately knew that something was very, very wrong. We were in complete panic-mode. A photographic fugue state, if you will.

My reaction may sound extreme, but here’s a number for you: 14,500. Fourteen thousand five hundred photos. Gone. And I didn’t know how or why, or what I could do to get them back. That’s not including the 75 or so hours of video that were missing as well. I needed to collect every backup disk I could find and check them for a viable library. But I didn’t really have that kind of time, nor could I remember which drives had what. Great backup strategy, huh?

Outsmarting Myself

I mentioned that it was my son’s birthday and folks were coming over shortly after my horrifying realization that I had failed as a parent (yes, that’s what it felt like), and we needed to get things together. We still had some last-minute gifts to buy, and food to cook. So we went out.

On the way to the store, my wife (still teary eyed) mentioned that I had sent her to her office with an external drive not too long ago. I honestly don’t even remember doing this, but figured we could stop and pick it up. It’s worth a shot, right? We bounced around to the stores we needed to hit, stopped at the office and headed back home. My heart was pounding as I plugged the drive in.

Deep breaths…

A fully intact library was there — give or take a hundred photos.

I sat back in the chair, feeling a little bit better based on the fact that I wasn’t a complete dolt. I had actually sent a backup to my wife’s office for safe-keeping. I seriously don’t remember doing it, but the point is that I did, and I suggest you do something similar. It started to come back to me; if god forbid the house caught on fire, I wanted the photos safe.

Birthday party or not, I had to start the process of migrating out of iPhoto.1

The Tools — Phoshare, Hazel, Dropbox and Everpix

I won’t re-hash what Bradley Chambers rightly recommends. Toss him the $3 and grab his short eBook; it’s absolutely worth it. I’m basically following it to the letter. It involves Dropbox, Everpix, and some solid backup strategies. He outlines everything clearly and explains all the costs involved. The big plus is it’s written for “normal people”, so you can share it with non-techy friends and family. I did however, use a couple of extra tools that eased getting to the goal of a Dropbox based library.

Hazel’s great; I’ve talked about it before. But when you yank your photos out of iPhoto, and want to arrange them nicely in folders, Hazel goes from great to an absolute must. Read Sven Fechner’s article on moving your library, and specifically the part describing the app, Phoshare. Earlier I mentioned that exporting from iPhoto is pretty terrible, mainly because metadata is totally borked including the images’ “created date”. Phoshare fixes that quite nicely, preserving all metadata and copying all your images into a user-defined folder.

So my process went something like this.

  • Use Phoshare to export the iPhoto library to a desktop folder
  • Create a Hazel rule that sorts exported photos into subfolders based on year created, then month
    • First level folder: 2002, 2003, etc…
    • Second level subfolder 1 | January, etc…
  • Move newly organized folders into the Camera Uploads folder in Dropbox
  • Point Everpix at my Camera Upload folder
  • Sit back and take a deep breath

Note that if you are meticulous with naming/dating your iPhoto Events, using Phoshare to export based on Event name should suffice.

Phew…

This stuff isn’t for everyone. Catastrophes like this probably won’t happen to most people. But the thing is, you don’t have a problem until you have a problem. It’s the same cringe-worthy talk we’ve had a million times with our parents about backing up data. I’d argue that this is more dire. Databases can be very stable, but I’m no longer willing to keep life’s memories in something that can seemingly turn on me in an instant. I still don’t know what actually happened; it could even have been my own fault. Doesn’t matter though. I need a more stable plan, and for now, Dropbox+Everpix is it. Dropbox could go away tomorrow, and I’ll still have a neatly organized folder with all of my photos that I’m free to clone for safety.


  1. By the time everyone showed up I was already uploading to Dropbox. No harm done. 

✱ Sorting Dropbox Camera Uploads

I’ve had some conversations lately around how people deal with using the “Camera Upload” feature in Dropbox, mostly around what the best way is to sort through this mountain of photos. I don’t have a super-sophisticated setup, but using Hazel is a great way to manage them with ease. If you’re not using Hazel, I don’t know what to tell you. We probably shouldn’t even be friends.

The easiest way I’ve found to do this takes a tad bit of manual setup in Dropbox. In my Camera Uploads folder I created folders named Screenshots and Videos. This will make it easier to parse those out from my actual images I care about. Then I made some simple Hazel rules to take the auto-uploaded photos and sort them out. Here’s the first:

This first rule takes all of the images and renames them based on the date created, then files them away in folders that Hazel will create and name based on the date added. Pretty simple. It’s not perfect since sometimes I’ll have to sift through folders to find what I’m looking for, but it’s far better than having a huge photo dump.

The next rule takes any videos and basically does the same thing I have set for photos.

And finally, a way to sort those screenshots that seem to pile up.

I also use a rule to trash the screenshots that are more than a month old so they don’t pile up in Dropbox, taking up that precious space.

That’s it in a nutshell. Like I said, I’ve been having some great discussion around this issue lately and figured I’d share how I deal with it. This workflow is only scratching the surface of what Hazel can do. If you have a cool — or better — way, don’t hesitate to give me a shout.

✱ Dropbox actions with Drafts

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Drafts from developer Greg Pierce. Some friends have asked what kind of rules I use in conjunction with the also sweet Launch Center Pro. I figured I’d take a few minutes to write something up, so here goes…

Scratchpad rule

One of the things I do is keep a general scratchpad in Dropbox. All sorts of notes go in this file, but it’s generally things I don’t want to forget. Here’s the multi-part process of setting this up.

First, set up the scratchpad file in Dropbox. It can be wherever you want, and named whatever you want, just make sure you remember so that you can point Drafts in the right direction. Then you’ll want to start building the rule in Drafts. This isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Create a new Dropbox action in Drafts –mine is named Add to Scratchpad. Then choose the path in Dropbox, and tap Predefined in the File section. For the Write section, pick Append. Then we get to the template. You can get creative here. Here’s my template:

[[date|%Y-%m-%d %I:% %p]]:[[draft]]

This setup allows me to have output like this:


2013-03-08 7:03 AM:

Living room window

  • 8’ sill piece
  • 47” 1/2” quarter round x 2
  • 8’ 1/2” quarter round x 2
  • 55” side molding x 2
  • 106” top/bottom molding x 2

Sweet right? Okay, so now we have the Drafts rule all set up. So now to Launch Center Pro —which is easy. Simply create a new action —I called mine “Scratchpad”— and choose the “Custom URL” option. Then you’ll want to add an x-callback-URL similar to this —depending on how you named your files:

drafts://x-callback-url/create?text=[prompt]&action=Add%20to%20Scratchpad&action=LCP&x-success=launchpro://

That’s it. The action will prompt you for text, send it to Drafts.

You’ll also need to create another Drafts rule that runs the append rule and sends you back to LCP. In URL Actions in Drafts, name a new action LCP and add this as the URL:

drafts://x-callback-url/create?action=Add%20to%20Scratchpad&x-success=launchpro://

This will trigger Drafts to run your Scratchpad rule, and finally, kick you back to Launch Center Pro where you started.

Hope that helped you understand how this works. It sounds complicated, but if I can do it, you can too. If you visit this link, it should import my Drafts rule. Then you just need to make sure you have the correctly named files in Dropbox, and create your LCP action. That’s it! I’m pretty sure that my set of rules could be accomplished much more easily, but this setup works. If you have any problems, or questions let me know.

Note: This whole post was written in Textastic on my iPhone. Forgive me if there are clumsy errors.