There are a variety of free, free-to-try, or low cost solutions for storing, sharing, and/or distributing files online. Before researching or selecting the vendor/product that's right for your chapter, it's important to identify what your chapter needs-not just what it wants.

Needs Identification

Questions to ask in the data storage or distribution arena include:

  • Does security need to be public, restricted, or private?
  • Are file size constraints are an issue?
  • Does the duration of storage need to be perpetual, or is temporary storage acceptable?
  • Would you be satisfied with multiple vendors providing niche services or would you prefer a single vendor providing broader services?
  • What are your cost considerations?

Brainstorm with key stakeholders, then rank your chapter's needs to develop your online storage/sharing strategy. Once you've determined your needs, consider tactical solutions using products that meet those needs.

To determine the appropriate product, try ranking the unique responses to a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of products, then match the ranked needs to the product before making a purchase or commitment. Since service offerings are so different, ranking the SWOT for each product should help you be able to compare "apples to apples."

Solutions

If you are interested in hosting/sharing files online, the first suggestion is to determine whether your existing chapter website has the space or features that your chapter requires. As you probably know, your chapter website should already host important files such as your chapter's bylaws and newsletters. Hosting files on your website may be a way to solve a problem with a solution for which you have already paid the bill.

If your webhost does not meet your chapter's specific online storage/distribution needs, we have highlighted a few potential resources for you. HFMA does not endorse or provide support for any of the following products; this list is a sampling of services available.

File Distribution

If your primary need is to distribute large files, there are numerous alternatives. These services typically send a message including a web link to the file or generate a custom URL for you to reference in your own communications and links typically remain active for one to two weeks.

For a "bare bones" way of sending very large files, YourFileLink allows you to upload single files of up to 5 GB for free-then you can include the generated URL in your e-mail or webpage. With no accounts, there's no limit to the number of uploads or downloads you share; just be sure to also record their "delete link" URL to be able to remove your file from the web.

For sending large files (limit 100 MB per file for free) with increased storage and delivery options, such as delivery receipts, consider the free or paid plans from YouSendIt. After upload, this service composes an e-mail with a web link to your file.

Simple Storage and Sharing

If you're seeking products that go beyond simply sharing to archiving or managing electronic files, browse CNET's list of online storage and data backup services. CNET is a well-known source for tech news and reviews.

Storage products allow a flexible way to publicly share files via e-mail, Twitter, websites, and more. If that's what you seek, consider MediaFire, which specializes in file and media hosting. No sign up is required, but free accounts are available for unlimited uploads/downloads, unlimited storage, with stats tracking and RSS file feeds. At press time, client reviews warned: access your account every 30 days or run the risk of your files being deleted.

For online sharing with a bit more security, try who.hasfiles.com. They promote it as your free 100 MB remote drive, accessible via the Internet. Free accounts are upgradable to paid accounts with 100 GB of storage and SSL encryption of traffic. Free or paid accounts allow for public or restricted sharing of files with an option for password protection.

Store, Share, and Collaborate

Beyond storage and sharing, if you need the ability to manage and potentially collaborate on files online, two large vendors come to mind: Microsoft and Google.

Microsoft's Windows Live SkyDrive offers 25 GB of free online storage space to archive or share files with customizable security levels. You can store documents, pictures, and more-or create and collaborate on Office documents online. A Windows Live account is required to access the files.

One of Google's main considerations for all of their products is collaboration. With that in mind, they offer a wide selection of online tools to share, archive, compose, collaborate, and analyze.

Similar to SkyDrive, Google Docs allows file storage, sharing, or collaboration to be private, restricted to users with the link, or public to all on the web. Google Docs offers 1 GB of free space for any uploaded file not converted to the Google Doc format; virtually unlimited storage for documents created in or converted to Google Doc formats. While most people are familiar with Microsoft Office's formats, Google docs are easily shared outside of Google in the commonly used PDF format.

If you're looking for even more collaboration and customizable sharing options, consider collaborating with Google Sites. You could use this free, web-based service as something like a "chapter intranet" to share ideas, scheduling, and more.

Clearly, there are many online file storage and sharing options available. Some products have really cool "bells and whistles" and some are quite simply straightforward. In developing your online file strategy, spending time on the front-end identifying your chapter's online file needs will lead you to a better solution.

Publication Date: Monday, October 25, 2010