Tools: SpiderOak

What It Is: Cloud-based file storage, synchronization, and back-ups. SpiderOak is available on Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS, Android, and N900 Maemo.

Cost: Free, premium, and enterprise accounts available. The pricing for storage is better compared to Dropbox; $10/month gets you 100GB at SpiderOak vs. 50GB from Dropbox. SpiderOak also has no maximum storage limit. Additionally, it offers a 50% educational discount to anyone with a valid .edu email address.

Ease of Use: SpiderOak’s forte is security, not interface design. The web and mobile interfaces are fairly plain and not nearly as user-friendly as Dropbox’s interfaces. Additionally, while Dropbox has a very simple set-up–everything goes in the Dropbox folder and syncs to all your devices unless you tell it not to–SpiderOak’s set up is a bit more involved. First, you need to set up a back-up. You can choose multiple folders and even specific types of files. After you’ve done this, you can sync the folders across your devices. Finally, access from the web and mobile interfaces is read-only. You can only upload files from the desktop client.

Sharing and Collaboration: SpiderOak provides ShareRooms which allow you to selectively share folders (with anyone; not limited to other SpiderOak users), but the files are read-only. It also allows sharing of a single file, but this is read-only as well. The sharing is more secure: the ShareRoom is access through a unique URL and a RoomKey (password) must be entered, but there is no mechanism for collaborative editing.

Organizing: Other than the traditional hierarchical file system structure, SpiderOak does not have any built-in organizational features.

Exporting: Files can easily be exported. Simply de-select the folders or files in question from the syncing and back-up.

Backups and Versioning: This is one area where SpiderOak does well. It says all historical versions of a file, and does extensive de-duplication, so only the parts that are different are saved, not the entire file.

Security: SpiderOak is, as Ars Technica puts it, “Dropbox for the security obsessive.” Its main selling point is not that’s cloud storage, but that it is secure cloud storage. Unlike the other major cloud storage services, SpiderOak employees cannot access your files. Both Dropbox and SpiderOak encrypt their data, but SO also encrypts the decryption key. The downside to SpiderOak’s superior security is that if you forget your password, your files are gone.

 

Popular Economic Paper Criticized for Undocumented Errors

A new review of an influential research article on fiscal austerity and GDP finds that the results were tainted in part by an undocumented error in the authors’ Excel dataset. The original research by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff was titled “Growth in a Time of Debt” claimed that economic growth slowed quite dramatically for countries whose public debt crossed a threshold of 90% of Gross Domestic Product. Since its publication, this finding has often been cited in stimulus/austerity debates, but many economists were unable to replicate it, in part because of the authors’ reticence to share their original data.

The authors of the new review were able to obtain the original data and found a number of problems in the analysis, which are well summarized in this blog post. This episode stands as a cautionary tale about proper data management and open access; these issues are finally being recognized as critical to the integrity of science.

Case Study: Box

I recently sat down with Breanne Litts, a doctoral candidate in Digital Media, Curriculum & Instruction, who has been using Box for file storage and collaboration for her research on learning in makerspaces.

Project needs:
The research project, Learning in the Making: Studying and Designing Makerspaces, is funded by the National Science Foundation.  Breanne and her advisor are collaborating with co-investigators from George Mason University and the Children’s Museum Pittsburgh.  Box appealed to them as a tool for file storage, sharing, and collaboration because it was free and supported cross-institutional collaboration.
The group is conducting ethnographic research at makerspaces in Madison, Detroit, and along the east coast, with the goal of designing activities for the Makeshop in Pittsburgh.  They are conducting interviews and generating video and large audio files, as well as meeting notes, and other documentation related to the research.  They also do brainstorming and initial analysis in Box.  There are eight individuals working on this project, including undergraduate students, so another requirement for their data management tool was the ability to grant differential access privileges.  They organize files using Box’s folder system and have a main folder, a public folder, a private folder in which their sensitive data is stored, and each research site has its own folder.

Favorite features:
Storage and sharing – The group creates Word documents and Google Docs right in Box and appreciates the ability to lock open files to prevent conflicting copies.  This feature is also available on the mobile app.  The previews for documents, audio, and photos are “fantastic”, and the folder system for organization, tagging capability, and search feature are helpful.  Breanne expressed the opinion that the 50 GB of free storage that UW affiliates have access to will be a huge draw for graduate students.
Security – Box makes it easy to comply with IRB requirements regarding access to sensitive information.  In fact, the biggest attraction of Box was that it meets NSF and IRB standards for secure data management.  The ability to create, open, edit, and save directly to Box and not on your machine adds to this security.
Permissions – It’s simple to manage permissions of each individual file, unlike other project management tools the group looked into, which required users to go through an administrator.
Collaboration – Comments, tasks, and discussion features facilitate cross-institution, cross-country collaboration, making it easy to communicate while minimizing the need to email.  The group also found it easy to control email notifications to avoid being overwhelmed, compared to other project management tools.  The ability to link directly to files and folders is very convenient, as is the ability to track changes and revert to previous versions.
Overall, Breanne felt that it was easy to get started with Box.  There’s a low barrier to entry: one can use it without exploiting its total functionality and start getting things done without being overwhelmed.  In contrast, other tools the group considered require too many decisions to set up, as well as requiring meetings with an administrator.  Box offers collaborative teams autonomy, flexibility, and adaptability.
She’s found it to be a great tool for project and data management and collaboration and described it as “Facebook, Dropbox, and a project management tool in one!”  She feels that it does data management, as well as day-to-day project management, better than other tools.

Tools: Transana

Transana
http://www.transana.org/

Description: “Transana is software for professional researchers who want to analyze digital video or audio data. Transana lets you analyze and manage your data in very sophisticated ways. Transcribe it, identify analytically interesting clips, assign keywords to clips, arrange and rearrange clips, create complex collections of interrelated clips, explore relationships between applied keywords, and share your analysis with colleagues. The result is a new way to focus on your data, and a new way to manage large collections of video and audio files and clips.”

Cost/legal restrictions: Transana is licensed under the GNU/GPL license; purchase and licensing details are at the Transana is Open Source page. Source code is available from the Sourceforge Transana project page.

Notes: Developed at the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Part of the Digital Insight project.