File-Swallowing Dropbox Provokes White-Hot Rage

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 23, 2011
Wednesday. 5:02 p.m. It's the night before my overseas trip -- for which, obviously, I haven't started packing. I finish my latest changes on a significant, urgent, collaborative PowerPoint document, and save it, as I've been doing all day, to the Dropbox folder where it lives. My local colleague in New Zealand will need to take a look at it and we'll need to fire it off quickly to another colleague in London. It's been a big job, but I'm really happy with the results.


5:12 p.m. I leave for a talk by Annie Baxter, YouTube's Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager.

5:43 p.m. In the midst of the talk, I get a text from my local colleague. "Doesn't look like your doc has synched yet. Will work on my slides and we can reintegrate them when you get back." I assume that I have either left PowerPoint running, and that therefore for some reason it hasn't synched yet, or that I shut the computer down before the doc was able to fully upload. Either way, no problem.



7:08 p.m. I arrive home and look for the file. The version in Dropbox shows most recent edit at 1:42 p.m.

7:09 p.m. Local Colleague and I get on the phone and begin a joint search and rescue operation. It's not in my recently used files. It's not in my temporary files. It's not in previous versions. It's not -- as sometimes happens with Dropbox -- in a different folder. (For some reason, when you do a "Save as..." in Dropbox, it defaults to the last folder you saved as to, rather than the folder where the file originally lived. This is annoying, but not, as you can probably guess by now, the real issue under discussion here.)

7:18 p.m. I begin to resign myself to the facts: that the file has disappeared into the ether. That I will have to redo everything I've done. That I won't get to start packing until midnight,, and that I will have minimal sleep prior to leaving for the airport at 7a.m. the next day. This resignation, as you can imagine, completely sucks. But then Local Colleague decides to check out the Dropbox forum to see if he can figure out what happened. And what I learn makes my head explode.

Here is the story: if you are working on a PowerPoint file that is stored in Dropbox, and someone else opens that file while you have yours open, and that other person then closes the file, without saving or making any changes, you will be effectively locked out of the database. This might not be a big deal, if Dropbox gave you some indication you were locked out of the database. But the problem here, the really ridiculously unfair, infuriating, hair-tearing-out part of this whole deal, is that it lets you continue working, and saving, and appearing to have saved, for as long as your little heart desires -- until, finally, you close the document and discover that none of it has actually saved at all.

This is a HUGE bug in a system that is meant to offer collaborative, folder-sharing capabilities. But what really drove me to screams of frustration and impotence is that this is a known bug. The forum references we found date back at least five months. Mistakes, I can forgive. But you knew, Dropbox. You knew. And you let me fail.

7:27 p.m. I am Jack's raging bile duct. I am tempted to beat myself up, Tyler Durden-style, and frame Dropbox for the bruises. Instead, I get off the phone with Local Colleague, turn to my husband, and burst into tears.

The reason I am sharing this story is not to vent my insane fury (well, not only to vent my insane fury) but so that my own sorry tale might serve as a warning to others. If even one person's file is saved because of my experience... well, it won't have been worthwhile, sorry. I'd still rather have my document back. But at least it will be a little better for you.

Do you use Dropbox? Does it work for you? Feel free to share your experience in the comments or on Twitter.

7 comments about "File-Swallowing Dropbox Provokes White-Hot Rage ".
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  1. Gwyneth Llewelyn from Beta Technologies, September 23, 2011 at 12:29 p.m.

    I might not be a good example... because I rarely trust all those "cloudy" things, important files tend to disappear when I need them most! So what I do with Dropbox is just what I do with Google Docs: I always start writing a document on my local disk first, and drag *a copy* of it to Dropbox (never the original!).

    I know this means using twice the local storage space, but I feel it's a small issue compared to having things disappearing.

    Also, in my paranoia, I actually have my two computers at home sharing the same Dropbox folder. More and more redundancy! Way too much redundancy, in fact, but, well, I tend to lose too many files due to all kinds of unpredictable errors (mostly human errors!!), so, the more copies, the happier I am.

  2. Michael Logan from Ad/Fin, September 23, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.

    Dropbox is a free service, hard to find much fault on their part. You always have the option to not use it or use another provider of the same service.
    Seems like the same complaining that Facebook users have about changes to FB. Its a free service that you are under no obligation to use, if you do not like it, do not use it.

  3. Emmett Childress, jr. from 2010 advertising, September 23, 2011 at 7:11 p.m.

    Why not work in a distributed fashion? What is the problem with working on the file locally and saving the file to the cloud AFTER it's saved locally?

  4. Emmett Childress, jr. from 2010 advertising, September 23, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.

    Oh I forgot to mention that ALL networks are in a constant state of failure. Trusting a network-based service implicitly is not a good idea.

  5. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, September 25, 2011 at 4:25 a.m.

    Thanks for your comments! Yes, I've absolutely learned my lesson about saving locally... and @Michael, although we do actually pay for the service, your point is still valid, and one Dropbox would do well to remember: if we don't like it, we won't use it.

  6. Josh Fendley from Ample, September 26, 2011 at 3:49 p.m.

    You need to zip your PPT before uploading it. I won't get into the details about this, but that's probably what caused your issue. Also, always save locally and let Dropbox sync.

    Dropbox kicks ass. While it has it's quirks, it has game-changing positives.

  7. Peter Capek from Allio Corp., September 27, 2011 at 8:53 p.m.

    I would like to understand @Josh's suggestion about ZIPping a .ppt file before uploading. Please explain. While ZIPping may be a good practice for conserving up/down-load bandwidth, I fail to understand how it affects the correctness of the operation.

    Dropbox inherently has some situations it has to deal with due to the nature of the service it provides, many of them related to (near-?) simultaneous saves. I haven't experimented, but I would guess the same problem occurs between multiple computers on the same Dropbox account.

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