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Using DropBox to update your WIB website

I’ve previously written about how to utilize Dropbox in reading eBooks, and how to install it onto a Debian server. This article continues the series and explains how Dropbox can be useful to help nontechnical users to update a website made with Worse Is Better Content Management System, collaboratively, from their desktops!

The usual story is that there’s an “administrator” who has access to the technical details and outlook of a website, and then there are several other persons who should be able to make updates and changes to the site’s content. And then those people keep e-mailing their requests to the administrator. Blah. Wouldn’t it, instead, be convenient if they could do the updates themselves? Using a (distributed) version control system on the top of a SSH layer would be the techie solution, but for non-technical users even the basic use of a simple VCS with a good GUI (e.g. Mercurial) can be too much. Not to mention all this SSH key hassle.

But anyone can certainly use Dropbox. So, install it onto the web server.

Now that DropBox lives in a directory in the server (~/DropBox/), move the pages/ directory from the WIB installation into the DropBox, and set up a symbolic link pointing there:

ln -s <the dropbox location/pages> <the wib location/pages>

For instance,

ln -s ~/Dropbox/ ~/www/

There you have it! Your site’s content sits on your desktop and on your web server simultaneously, and everything stays synchronized without a single extra command or click. Work offline, and get synchronized once you’re connected again. Good luck attempting this with a database-powered CMS! If several people need to be able to edit the website, you can simply share the web folder with other Dropbox users—no password hassle. And of course, if you don’t have your PC at hand, you can also edit the site via Dropbox’s web interface from any computer.

This leaves database-powered and web-interface-administrated systems far behind in flexibility, and truly shows the power of plain text: the power is that it is the universal interface; compatible with everything, so it can be combined with anything else in ways nobody originally dreamed about, with no need for clumsy adapter layers. I had no idea about Dropbox when I started making WIB, but the combination was apparent once I saw it. And like plain text, it seems clear that Dropbox is here to stay; instead of artificially forcing yourself to a mold of their choice, they offer quite plain, almost spartan service that just complements the idea of a “file system”—something that everybody already is familiar with. And, as it usually turns out, simplicity is flexibility.

The downside currently is that one complete Dropbox (e.g. yours) will be cloned onto the server—that is, even though it’s possible to share single directories with other users, Dropbox’s current implementation requires that the computer (server) owns a complete Dropbox. Unless you have lots of free space in the server, this can be an issue, limiting much other stuff you’re willing to drop into your Dropbox.

Last modified: 2009-12-27 21:03 +0200

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