Looking for cloud-based document sharing service for small group
January 23, 2014 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I have a small business of about a dozen which has a massive amount of paperwork to be scanned in, organized, and shared. Boxes and boxes. The shareholders are not all very tech-savvy, so I'm also looking for something easy for them to use. There's sort of a dizzying array of options out there. What do you recommend?

I'd like to stay away from options that require you to sync a folder to your own computer, because if all this paperwork ends up taking 50 gigs, that's going to eat into hard drive space. Also, many options I've seen cost something like $15/user/month, which is too much for us to pay, but we could possibly do something like two users - one admin, one general shareholder account.

I looked hard at Google Drive, but am concerned at the ability to organize that much stuff easily on that platform. I do like the fact that it's web-based and doesn't require an additional software installation. I'm also concerned by the fact that if I go over the 15 gig Google limit and have to pay for extra, then share that with other people, do they have to pay extra on their accounts, too?

So basically:
- Easy to use
- Inexpensive
- Need either 12 users (preferred) or 2 users
- Doesn't take hard drive space
- Preferably web-based, or can be
- Good organization
- Can do text searches, and (possibly) can sort documents by different fields, like title, subject, date
- Secure and private
posted by Addlepated to Technology (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You aren't going to be able to choose between options very effectively until you estimate the number of pages you need to store, and the size of each page when it's scanned (this should be fairly consistent unless some are color and some B&W), multiplying these to get a number of GBs or however much. If you want searching, does this mean you're running OCR on the scans?

Secondly, what do you mean by "good organization?" Is directories and subdirectories enough? Do you need labeling, tagging, or whatever else?

Lastly, assuming this is client work rather than company-internal, consider you may not be charging enough for a job like this to cover the resources needed to complete it. However, if it's company-internal documents being digitized, a hard drive big enough to hold all of this stuff would not be very expensive.
posted by rhizome at 11:43 AM on January 23, 2014

Box.net will give you 100 GB for $5 per user per month.
posted by COD at 11:49 AM on January 23, 2014

Response by poster: Rhizome, all I know right now is that there will be thousands of documents. I think there are several file cabinets full, dating back 60+ years. So yes, we'll need to OCR them, and then be able to search either text or name/subject/document date, which I suppose is where labeling or tagging would come in. Subdirectories would probably be sufficient for this if there's a search/sort available.

This is actually internal, for a family-owned business, so it will be a labor of love for the most part. We can put aside a reasonable budget for initial costs and ongoing hosting, but you're right in that getting someone to do all the work would probably be pretty spendy.
posted by Addlepated at 1:51 PM on January 23, 2014

How about checking locally for "law office scanning services"?
posted by Dansaman at 2:26 PM on January 23, 2014

box.net is amazeballs. so much better than everything i've tried. you can tag files. you can comment on files. you can assign other users "tasks". you get 10GB for free, and as COD says, 100GB for 5$ a month, which is cheap enough.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:20 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use Google Drive quite a bit, and you can certainly organize that much data in it. But you will have to do the tagging yourself, either manually or by writing scripts. The per-user default quota is 30 GB, which can be split between Mail and Drive. You can purchase more storage at any time, and distribute it how you like.

The advantage of using Drive is that the rest of Apps comes along for the ride, and the integration is very good - you can select files from Drive to include in email without actually attaching them, you can automatically save attachments you receive in Drive, etc, etc.

I've heard very good things about Box.net too, but haven't worked with it myself.

I think the tagging is the most complicated part. The search in Google Drive works very well, but I like to have things organized, so I set up a fairly complex system for handling scans, where I name them a specific way, then use them as input for a script that uses the Google Drive API to upload and apply tags.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:25 PM on January 23, 2014

I was coming in to recommend Box.net as well. I use it for work and its great. Great customer service and collaboration tools too. You can sync it to your desktop, but you don't have to. The only weird quirk I've run into is that you have to use their default sync folder; when I tried to sync it to an external drive I kept losing files. Thankfully, in this case losing files just meant that they were put into the local Box trash folder and were thus recoverable.

Keep in mind that the price is $5 per user, but there's a minimum of three users.
posted by postel's law at 5:18 PM on January 23, 2014

Evernote does ocr automatically. A business acvount might have the space that you need. I believe you can export anything you put into it.
posted by jander03 at 10:12 PM on January 23, 2014

Google Drive does OCR also, but I don't think it's very good. But if you're using a scanner, you probably will already have an OCR application that will do a better job. I use Acrobat - many scanners come with this - to do OCR as part of the scanning process.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:54 AM on January 24, 2014

I dont have a specific recommendation, but i have some perspective that might be helpful.

OCR in this context is best viewed as easing in indexing and retrieval, so perfection isn't necessary.

First, the OCR results are used in a freetext index.
Next, you can use the search index to retrieve documents, screen the results, and then add structured metadata. Or you go through, extract things that look like dates on each document, clean them up in a spreadsheet, and then use that for a date based index.

When you do the scanning, make sure that you record the way they map to your existing organization in your file cabinets so you can use that for indexing as well.

Finally, consider how you will be using your existing archive. If most of the documents will only be referred to on rare occasion, rather than investing too much in organizing them up front, do minimal work up front and expect to have to do a little more work when you actually need the info.

As noted, most scanners will come with software that can scan to PDF and then add an OCRed text overlay for retrieval.

That still leaves you with the storage and retrieval question, and I am afraid I don't have much experience there, other than to say that it is a competitive market and chances are good that there is an offering that is a good fit for your needs. If you find something you like, but the price really ads up for multiple users (like dropbox, if we pretend it fits your other needs), chances are there is an alternative with a pricing model that is a better fit.

Whatever you do, I would suggest you make sure that any organization you do either takes place locally and is stored in the PDF metadata and your folder hierarchy, or if you do it online, that you can export it all to your HDD with the added organization metadata intact. Either way, keep two copies on hard disks at separate locations so you aren't stuck if the service you use disappears suddenly.
posted by Good Brain at 11:31 AM on January 24, 2014

ownCloud perhaps?
posted by humboldt32 at 1:48 PM on January 24, 2014

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