A first kick at Dropbox Paper


Earlier this week, I shared An Interview with Peter McAsh on this blog.  I enjoy doing these interviews; it’s a chance to dig just a little bit deeper into what makes an educator tick.

I use a little different technique than what I would consider the traditional interview.  Traditionally, the interviewer and the person being interviewed are in the same place at the same time.  You do get great results but scheduling the time can be a challenge and doing it collaboratively, I feel, gives the person being interviewed the opportunity to really think through and refine their replies.

In the past, I’ve either used a Google Document or a Microsoft Word document to do the task.  I have the questions that I want answered placed into the document, add the person being interviewed to the document, and then let them answer the questions at their leisure.  Because they can go back in and check/refine their responses when they’re able, I like to think that I get the best possible answers to the questions.

With Peter, we tried the new Paper document creator from Dropbox.  It’s been getting quite a bit of notice since it was released within the last month so we’d both wondered what it would work like when put to a task.  We’d actually tried a goofy little document before this but the interview was basically putting the product into production.  I started a new document, added my questions, and thankfully Peter was willing to go for it.

Here is a summary of the experience from my side of the interview.

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The launch pad presents four templates to start a new document.  I just took the “Get Started” document and edited out all their instructions and was ready to go.

The instructions were pretty straight forward.  They said “Just start typing” and so I did.  I added a title, my preamble, and then started into the questions.  My questions go into the Doug: part and I left a Peter: part for him to answer.

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I did have to pause for a second.  I’ve worked with many word processors over the years.  The common thing there is that you have a menu bar at the top of the screen with all the options that you could use for editing with the program.  Here, there was nothing.

But, if you highlight text within the document, a popup appears with the sorts of things that you can do in the context of what is highlighted.  It’s a neat concept.  Instead of having the menu constantly sitting at the top of the screen taking up room, the options only appear when you need them.

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I used the Bold option quite a bit, the bulleted list, the link to include a link to an external source, and then there was the comment option.  Select the text and it appears to the right of the main document so that the two of us could have a discussion about what a question meant.  And, of course, this being Peter and Doug, a bit of back and forth that really shouldn’t appear publically in the final document.

So, we went back and forth, editing and commenting.  Dropbox Paper was great about notifying me whenever Peter had made a change to the document or a comment added.  As you might imagine, the default which lets you know each time he got busy, got to be a tad noisy.  In the notification area, there is a control panel that lets you determine what kind of notifications you’ll allow and how frequently you want them.

In the screen capture below, you’ll see how uncluttered the workspace is.  Unlike other word processors with all the menus and details presented, there’s very little that appears on the screen other than your content.  I’ll admit that, in the beginning, it was a little disconcerting but I did get used to it.

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In the bottom right corner of the screen, there is a timeline and an opportunity to get some help.  I didn’t need help in the beginning so only glanced my way through what was there.  Then, there was a time when I did need help so I dug in there.  I was looking for something that should be intuitive but I couldn’t find it.  I just wanted to centre some text on the screen.  I couldn’t figure out how to do that.  Images centred very nicely by default, but text?  Speaking of media, it was easily added just by dropping it into place within the document.

As we’ve come to expect with online editors, saving is done automatically.  The timeline does open a popup to display a revision history.  I had expected that Dropbox Paper would be integrated with the rest of my Dropbox documents.  At present, there’s a separate location for Dropbox Paper documents.

If you take a look at the screen capture above, you’ll see that there were three collaborators to the document.  In addition to Peter and me, I invited our friend Colleen Rose to the document to get permission to use her picture.  Invitations and notifications appear in the email associated with the person.

Speaking of notifications, it’s always nice to get a prompt that your attention is needed to a document.  They appear in the Dropbox app on my Android phone and in email everywhere.  I had no excuse for missing one.

For our purposes, Dropbox Paper performed very nicely.  We didn’t need all the fancy tools that you’d find in a traditional word processor since the final destination wasn’t to be in Dropbox Paper.  The final destination was to be my WordPress blog.  There was no “Publish to WordPress” option so it was a copy/paste job when we figured it was ready.  Once in WordPress, I did the final editing to make the document look like a blog post.

As I worked through this document, I could hear those who would be detractors.  There are those that won’t use anything other than their favourite word processor because of all the features and some obscure little thing that they know won’t be available.  Dropbox Paper is still a work in progress; even today when I logged in, there was an announcement of a new feature.

For our purposes, it did the job nicely.  There were just enough features.  The idea of working on a cleared screen without the traditional word processing decorations started as a gimmick, turned to a bit annoying when looking for a feature, and then finally a really nice environment for the job.  Old computing habits die hard.  After the document had been created, I was impressed with how quickly I had worked through those stages, becoming more comfortable as time went on.

It’s always enjoyable to play around with a new piece of software and Dropbox Paper was no different.  I even used the presentation mode when I was doing my proofreading.

Where Dropbox Paper is going is anyone’s guess at present.  I feel it’s a good product right out of the gate.  It was perfect for my collaboration needs; quick and responsive; and the workspace wasn’t cluttered like a traditional word processor.  Other than its clean interface, I suspect that many people will be hard pressed to drop their current favourite word processor.  Perhaps future releases will entice?

Have you worked with Dropbox Paper yet?  Please share your thoughts via comment below.  Thanks.

OTR Links 03/04/2017


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