The Cure For Everbloat: How To Organize All Your Cloud-Connected Stuff

Are you keeping notes just to keep track of where all your notes are? Here's some advice, and a service that can help.

There are so many apps now that promise to simplify your tasks, focus your thoughts, and organize your files by lifting them up onto the ethereal Internet. And they work, individually--up until you think that file is in Dropbox, but maybe it was a list in Evernote, or maybe you wrote it on the subway in an iPhone note, and you swear it's going to be in the next place you look.

The problem with even the best one-stop cloud storage apps such as Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive, is that they don't communicate with your other all-in-one apps, or make it easy to include coworkers who prefer to use different tools. Simplicity, to paraphrase a friend, can make complexity hard.

There is one service that ties all these apps together--and it's free for the time being. You might still have your little islands of notes and files and thoughts, but you can cluster them into a tight little archipelago using Hojoki, which aims to be "an essential app for all cloud app users."

The first thing to look at is Hojoki's list of integrated apps. It includes Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, Yammer, Basecamp (classic and new), Box, GitHub, Google Calendar, SkyDrive, and even Twitter. Sign into Hojoki and integrate as many of these apps as you have to unlock the potential here--it won't take long to see how disorganized your cloud has been until now.

Hojoki is primarily meant for creating work spaces, performing tasks, and collaborating with others. And it works well enough for that, but Hojoki's real strength is its universal cloud search.

What do I mean by universal cloud search? I mean that if you've been tweeting about coffee, writing tossed-off Evernote bits about your tastes, keeping PDFs about brewing in Dropbox, but you're not sure exactly where you put that note about the best source for unroasted green beans, you can just search "beans" or "coffee" in Hojoki (in the "Search in My Apps" field in the upper-right corner). You will then see every note, file, tweet, calendar appointment, feed item across all your apps with the keywords.

Once you get a feel for how Hojoki bundles your web-based life into a single searchable stream, you'll see that you can keep it open to keep tabs on all your stuff, including shared files, and comment on any item for your own use or for sharing. To use it collaboratively, you would create a new work space (beyond your private, all-apps space), invite people into it (from any of your connected-account contacts), then connect specific parts of your apps to that work space, like an Evernote notebook, a Dropbox folder, and a particular calendar. Everything that happens in that notebook-folder-calendar puts a new item in Hojoki, available for you to comment and discuss.

Free Hojoki acocunts give you unlimited work spaces, unlimited app connections, as many read-only members as you want, and five members who can edit and comment. Paid accounts starting at $5 per month unlock an unlimited number of editing teammates (after the free-for-everyone period runs out on May 1).

Other Cloud-Savvy Connectors takes a similar approach, with a more minimalist and discussion-focused goal. Connect Dropbox, Box, Evernote, and Google Drive accounts to Dispatch, and the app provides the space to comment on work, discuss changes, and upload your own local files or copy or paste notes into projects. Dispatch is entirely free while in beta (disclosure: I'm a paid writer of blog posts and a FAQ for Dispatch), but it's aimed less at finding everything and more at enabling conversations and collaboration on particular projects and files.

Basecamp is an established player in the "hold everything together" game. You can use Basecamp to manage to-dos, simple text files, calendars, and discussions. What about Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, and the like? I recommend simply grabbing visible-for-anyone links from those apps and pasting them in as the top part of a discussion. It's how the TEDxBuffalo team I work with managed to escape our major issue with Google Drive: "Wait, where's that file, and what's the final version?

Basecamp is, as the name suggests, where you head back after you've ventured off into productive realms to discuss what's happening, not where you work and search through every bucket. For individuals or one-off projects, Basecamp Personal is a good option.

Train Yourself in Using the Right Tools for Your Jobs.

Even if you use Hojoki to clean up your messy online desk, it's important that you use the right tool for your different tasks in the first place. There's a lot of bleed between the abilities of all your apps--heck, you could use Twitter to store images, if you really wanted.

Here's some advice that will get you thinking about a purpose-driven approach to your different apps from Brett Kelly's examination at Bridging the Nerd Gap of his Dropbox and Evernote uses. He says:

  • Dropbox is short-term storage of files; Evernote is long term.
  • Dropbox is where I keep the music; Evernote is where I keep the list of bands to check out and the receipts for the music I buy.
  • Dropbox is where I keep records of client assets; Evernote is where I keep a log of client communications.
  • Dropbox is how I move files easily between computers; Evernote is how I move text easily between computers.

Along those lines, I'd say that Google Drive is where you store things you want to work collaboratively, or constantly change over time (a household budget spreadsheet, or a multirevision essay). Drive is also where you go when you need to quickly do a Microsoft Office-style document without Microsoft Office, but you should export those documents into the right Dropbox, Box, or SkyDrive folder when they're ready to be part of your project. Most other apps are pretty up-front about their purpose, be it coding (GitHub) or teamwork (Yammer, Basecamp)

If Hojoki or the other cloud-gathering apps don't feel right for you, consider turning on email notifications, using smart labels and filters to prevent yourself from being overloaded, and searching your Gmail/Apps inbox whenever you feel like something is lost.

Even after you've figured out what you're using each service for, you must contend with force of habit. Try renaming the shortcuts on your desktop, or use verb-oriented folders on your phone for some sly self-training. Dropbox is "Send," while Evernote is "Write" perhaps.

These tips and solutions are just compromises and suggestions, really, because everyone has their quirks to work out in all these simple-yet-tricky apps.

How do you tie together the little independent apps that rule your own life?

[Image: Flickr user Theilr]

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