Let's discuss a really powerful free tool that you may not yet be using. I hope this blog post will convince you that you need to set up a free online document repository.

I have been finding many interesting uses for Dropbox and have encouraged others to sign up. Dropbox offers 2 GB of online storage for free. (Although with a few referral credits from blog readers, my free Dropbox account is up to 8 GB.) Recently Box.net increased its free online storage from 1 GB to 5 GB and business accounts now start at 500 GB. Just this week SugarSync increased its free storage from 2 GB to 5 GB. Drop.io used to offer the abillity to create many free document drops. But I say "used to" because Facebook just bought Drop.io and is shutting it down. So look for the future announcement that Facebook will be offering a document repository in addition to its photo albums.

I've also had many lawyers asking me recently what "the cloud" really means. I think the possibilities are starting to become interesting to many. Let's set aside lawyers and client files and confidentiality for a minute and talk about something simple–like pizza.

I've told many people that the above services are so neat because they synchronize your documents so you know a synchronized document is the current version of the document. It also saves you the trouble of e-mailing a document home to work on it or keeping it on a flash drive. But let's say you only work on one computer ever and you've made a decision never to ever store any business or client document in the cloud.

That's where pizza comes in. Two new "pizza by the slice" places have opened in my home town. They are located not very far from me, almost facing each other across Main Street. As I was picking up some pizza from one I asked the manager a few questions, like delivery charges and such. I took a paper menu from the counter. It turned out the pizza was good and I might order from them again. I went to put the paper menu in the "paper junk drawer" in the kitchen. It was stuffed full with menus and manuals. The manuals reminded me of another plan I had not yet put into practice.

So instead I put the menu in the home scanner and scanned it to PDF. named it SandrosPizza.PDF. created a new folder c:/MyDocuments/MyDropbox/Menus and saved the file to it. I scanned a couple of other menus from the drawer and placed the files there too, just to get into the rhythm. So now those files will be available from my Dropbox subfolder on my computer or by logging into the Dropbox site from any computer. But that's not the point. I could locate it in the drawer at home and the restaurant has a website. The point is the synchronization with my iPhone (or any popular smart phone.) So now i can get to the menu whereever I am if I have my phone, whether that means calling in from work before I leave to pick up food on the way home or just not having to get up and rummage through the drawer to find it. I can, in effect, have a file cabinet's worth of documents that are easily accessible from my phone.

It's not a perfect system to read a menu from an iPhone screen, but it is doable. Of course if it was a 20 page document I had saved to my online Document Repository, i'd read it on the computer or the iPad which also has a Dropbox app. Menus are not really the best example anyway as restaurants often have websites with the menus online, often in PDF format.

You may not want your tax returns or medical records in an online repository. That's your call. But think of all of the documents you could store there that you might want to access from your phone and you'd definitely like to have out of the way. For your children, there are school directories, sports team information and schedules, special events and assignments, just for one set of examples. Every new product comes with a manual. why not just go to the web site of the manufacturer and download to the PDF of the manual for your product to your drop? Sure it will probably be still there online sixteen months from now when you need it, but why not keep it where you can grab it is seconds.

All of these documents don't even fill up your phone. Unless you specify otherwise they are just links and the document loads in a few seconds when you click on the link.

There are lots of tools you can use, but at a minimum you need one of these free online document repository accounts and a scanner. It is better if your scanner can scan in duplex (two sides at a time) mode. It is better if you own a PDF management tool like Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat reduced the size of the menu file from almost 2 megabytes to about 750 KB and would have OCR'd it if needed. But think of the fact you can get from two to five GB for free and 1024 megabytes equals one GB. That's a lot of documents! (Of course, if you start uploading lots of photos, you could fill up your alloted space pretty quickly.)

Of course if you really start scanning many documents, you might fill up your free space after a year or so and have to start paying the small fees. I assume that is what the vendors are hoping.

If you do not use your scanner much, you may want to invest the time to set up a "scan to drop" setting so you can just scan everything to a My Scans folder under the Dropbox folder on your computer. Then you could just feed things into the scanner and only periodically do the clean up work of changing them from that location to the proper location with a proper file name.

These repositories also make it easy to share documents. Basically you can copy a link to a single document that allows someone to download that one document without granting them complete access to your repository. Just recently I was tied up in a meeting so I copied the link to the document that was due that day and used my iPhone to e-mail it to my assistant wth a note to review it and suggest any changes. When I got back to my office, her edits and suggestions were in my inbox. Once you have this set up, you will find your own uses, like Grandmother asking when the next grade school basketball game is and you responding by e-mailing her the complete schedule or a lawyer keeping blank new client information sheets and other documents to easily e-mail potential clients from the smart phone outside of normal office hours.

Take some time to try this out now as it probably represents your future document filing system for your personal papers. You may fnd that you can set this up in less time than it took to read this post.