December 02, 2010

What if Dropbox offered time tracking, versioning, & more?

Answer: You’d have something like the just-released GridIron Flow 2.0.  It can save your butt, for free. Why would you not start using it immediately?

The company has radically redefined what was already a unique & very powerful piece of software, enabling file sync & collaboration on top of automatic versioning.  Oh, and instead of costing a couple of hundred bucks per seat, it’s now free (!), with paid upgrades if you need more capabilities.  Read on for details.

I praised Flow 1.0 as being like an airbag, staying out of your way until it saves your bacon–by automatically versioning your files (think realtime Time Machine, with beautiful Adobe integration).  Trouble is, because the app is so unique, it’s sometimes hard for people to wrap their heads around & pay for up front.

The barrier to entry, however, is now zero.

The free product, Flow Essentials, tracks all files in a creative project and displays them in a visual map. You can now define projects and identify teams of people that will be part of the workflow. Flow 2 Essentials enables realtime collaboration, enabling users to add notes to nodes on the map, and to send emails (linking recipient to the node on that map) to the team or a subset of the group. The map allows you to see who worked on each asset, the size of the asset, and any attached notes.

This is all provided, along with 4GB of online Overflow storage (the Dropbox-style part), for free.  Unlike Dropbox (of which I’m a fan, by the way), Flow doesn’t require moving assets into specific folders; you can move and rename them while staying synced.

They also offer three premium services, each for $10/month per user, or $20/mo./user for all three (no contract required):

  1. Time Manager allows you to review the time you have invested on each asset, and provides a control feature to allow amortizing total time across multiple projects. It also displays percentage of time spent in each creative application and offers a manual entry mechanism that allows you to include time that is not file based (e.g. design & client meetings, phone calls, etc.).
  2. Versioning enables automatic file versioning & allows you to lock, delete, branch or drill down on any specific version. Versions are saved locally by default.
  3. Overflow shares not only the asset but versions of that asset as well. The premium service adds 50GB to the 4GB of storage provided for in Essentials.

Why am I promoting this app?  Do I or Adobe get some kind of kickback for sales? Nope. It’s just that having been a Web designer in a big agency, I know the pain of lost/overwritten files & the drag of filling out timesheet.  What’s it worth to help fix those problems?  More than the cost of a few coffees a month, I’m guessing.

If you take Flow for a spin, please share your impressions via the comments.

Posted by John Nack at 9:35 AM on December 02, 2010

Comments

  • Anne-Marie Concepcion — 10:39 AM on December 02, 2010

    I like how Dropbox saves versions of all files on their servers, including deleted files, without me having to think about it. Saves it from taking up space on my HD.

    I have heard the new Flow is pretty cool … I tried the old one but couldn’t take the constant messaging it was doing with me. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right. ;-)

  • Anselm Hannemann — 12:11 PM on December 02, 2010

    I just tried Flow out but it’s not really stable. My new Mac is going down just of syncing and such things. That’s not the way I want to organize my files.

    I work with Dropbox (beta 0.8) and Adobe Bridge which are a great team to work together with other people.

  • Markus Jasker — 12:35 PM on December 02, 2010

    I did evaluate the older version of Grid Flow and it was way to much. It always tried to help me organizing files on my mounted company network shares – that was kind of dangerous and didn’t work quite well. I’m a Dropbox pro user now and very, very happy about it. Even though the file handling in Flow is great and always worth a deeper look for creatives. But what about the rest of us more knowledge workers? I prefer Dropbox…now that I’ve paid them a bunch of my money ;-)

    • Tim Mackey — 9:11 PM on December 02, 2010

      Markus, from the sound of it, you didn’t give Flow enough of a chance. When you first set it up, you need to tell it which drives to keep track of, and what you want to track. I have tracking disabled for network drives. You also need to tell it what notifications you want to see. The default setup for Flow 1.0 was a little bit…too helpful ;). Once you have it set up properly, you almost forget it is even there. Almost the only notifications I ever get are when I delete files that I’ve forgotten I still need for something. Also, You don’t need to “organize” your files with Flow. Flow “organizes” all of your files for you just by watching you work, automatically creating maps which show you how your files are related to each other.

      I also am a huge fan of Dropbox, but the two programs serve very different purposes, even though there is some feature overlap. I’ve been using Flow 1.0 for a few months now, and just switched over to Flow 2.0 I originally tried it over a year ago, but I didn’t give it enough of a chance, and regretted it once I realized what I’d been missing.

      The main selling point of Gridiron Flow is Project Tracking and Collaboration. I don’t use the collaboration part of it much, so I can’t really comment on that, but if it does what it’s supposed to, it’s going to be revolutionary for remote project teams. The Project/File Tracking is a Godsend in my day-to-day work. I often reuse files for multiple projects, but I don’t necessarily remember where they are. With Flow, it’s easy. Just open up a file from the last project that used the file you’re looking for, and there it is in the project map.

      Here’s an example: say you use Dropbox to share your comps with a client. Lets say you use the Save For Web feature in Photoshop to create jpgs that you put in the Dropbox. Your client decides he wants one of the files changed, but you’re not sure where the original file is. Just open the jpg in Flow, and a map will open up tracking that file back to the original file that you worked on. Remember too, all the tracking happens in the background, so aside form any initial setup, you don’t have to do anything with Flow until you need it for something.

      One more example: Lets say you’re the designer for some company. This company decides that they want to make a small change to their logo. This change is going to have to be propagated through their website, their print ads, their catalogs, everything. Before you would have to do a lot of manual searching to find all of the documents that needed to be updated with the new logo. With Flow, all you have to do is open the file in Flow and it will show you every document on your computer that contains that logo.

      The biggest selling point *for me* is the versioning aspect of Flow, which is now a $10 a month service. There’s a big difference between Flow versioning and Dropbox versioning. For one, Flow versioning happens all on your local computer, so it’s instantaneous. Dropbox versioning is only useful if you are working on small documents, as the amount of time to transfer a large Photoshop file, for example, over the internet is prohibitive. Flow 2.0 also gives you a centralized way to manage all of your versions, so you can clear out old versions if you want to free up space, and you can restore old versions instantly without having to wait for them to download from a server.

      After switching to FLow 2.0 recently, I haven’t had any stability issues, but your mileage may vary. Flow 2.0 is a brand new product, and a big change from Flow 1.0, so bugs are to be expected. Gridiron has an incredible support team, so they’re sure to get any problems ironed out quickly, and they’re super helpful if you ever have any problems. I’ve contacted them quite a bit for help, and it’s not uncommon to get a response email back within minutes. To anyone thinking about giving Flow a try, I highly recommend it. I have a hard time imagining that anyone could regret it.

  • jfd9 — 5:41 PM on December 02, 2010

    What if Adobe actually got decent customer service for their install base?

    [What if you were a little more specific so that I could take some action on your behalf? Thanks. –J.]

    • salvis — 11:06 AM on December 03, 2010

      Customer service has *always* been helpful in my experiences with them.

  • Doug Nelson — 9:49 PM on December 02, 2010

    Does it have an iPad app? That’s the only reason I use Dropbox.

  • Nat Brown — 5:38 AM on December 03, 2010

    I’m using Flow 1. Can’t speak to Dropbox.

    I bought Flow to help with my PS workflow. My day job(s) is in law, consulting, training, and facilitation. It didnt’ occur to me that Flow would be keeping track of all that work too. The first time it bailed my ass out was not with my PS work. It was when I almost deleted a WORD file with the yet to be backed up original of a 60 page training document. (Yes, yes, I probably would have soon realized it and gone to the trash bin and restored it. But still . . ..)

    I’d just flag for the multi-life folks out there that Flow can help in a bunch ways other than graphic project work.

  • Todd Patrick — 12:36 PM on December 15, 2010

    Hey John, I just got an email update from Gridiron, where they link to this post, so I thought I’d check back. Is there a reason you didn’t approve my comment?

  • David A Rogers — 2:04 PM on December 15, 2010

    I have been using Flow for more than a year now and have found it tremendously useful with a small exception.

    I track files that I work on in photoshop and while Flow will allow tracking of any Illustrator files placed as Smart Objects (Thanks Adobe) in addition to derivatives of any files it will not track a group of unrelated files in order to compile a timesheet for invoicing.
    Each of the images would have to be tracked individually and then added separately. Defeating the purpose of tracking, well almost.

    The work around was to create a blank text file. Track that and free associate the image files to it. Not flawless but a step in the right direction.

    For my purposes I was thrilled to hear that Flow 2 was able to track a folder of images. Exactly what I needed. But at a price!

    Albeit $10/month, but thats just another $10 on top of anything else in my life. I have downloaded version 2, the interface looks to be an improvement of what was already a gorgeous looking program and will probably end up subscribing to the Time Tracking service. Thus a $120 upgrade for the next year of use.

    My concern is that as SaaS moves forward it will go the way of the cable and telephone companies marketing jargon – “for ONLY $xx more you can…blah blah”. At some point the consumer will just refuse to be a part of the package mechanism.

    With the new version of Flow, I feel somewhat duped. I had purchased Version 1 and then the game changed. I understand the idea behind the change and fully see how it would benefit groups of users. Its the individual users that I feel have been disregarded.

    Im certain Adobe will eventually offer its programs as SaaS, with a modular fashion, like removing or adding the parts of Photoshop that I don’t want. Im not sure its accurate to state that its a dangerous game but perhaps a risky one. We could say that ultimately the consumer will decide but I dont believe that to be true at all. The consumer will bitch and moan no matter what is offered but not necessary decline to purchase. As I will probably not be declining to purchase Time Tracking. Grumble.

  • John Gallagher — 4:13 AM on January 25, 2011

    I’ve been watching Flow with interest for the last few years. I like the premise.

    Disclosure – I’ve not tried to use it properly in a work environment.

    I found that it was just too big and unwieldy for me. I’d like something much lighter weight. It was slow and the UI was horrible. However, I can see that it’s perfect for a busy agency. And I did try it a long time ago.

    I’m interested in how we can escape the confines of the awful folder-within-a-folder paradigm that’s choking our productivity. So Flow is great for this.

    Nice to hear they’ve moved forwards so much.

    I want something native that can work across iPad, iPhone and Mac.

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