Don’t Be A Dropbox Jerk: Cloud File Sharing Etiquette You Should Know

Justin Pot 02-11-2013

Are you annoying the people you share files with services like Dropbox? Maybe; here are some things you do that may bug others, and some rules you can use to avoid doing so.


Some people think “online etiquette” is a contradiction in terms, but it really isn’t. Since the early 90’s web users have agreed on rules about what is and isn’t appropriate online. For example: CAPS LOCK IS LIKE YELLING, AND GENERALLY CONSIDERED IMPOLITE. You should research before asking a question online 7 Netiquette Guidelines For Writing Emails & Forum Posts Netiquette is short for network or internet etiquette. It encompasses the special set of social conventions found in online interactions. While netiquette is very similar to good behavior or etiquette in offline encounters, there are... Read More . And there’s the strict Bittorrent etiquette, which can help you avoid being banned from private trackers BitTorrent Etiquette: How to Avoid Getting Banned From Private Trackers Read More .

As new services come online, new rules of etiquette tend to pop up, but it seems as though manners surrounding cloud sharing services like Dropbox are yet to crystalize. Let’s try to fix that, okay? Here are rules I’d like to see catch on.

Name Folders After Projects, Not People

Sharing a document, folder or calendar appointment with someone else? Don’t name it after them. Here’s why.

Say you’re using Dropbox, and you’re about to share a file with me: Justin Pot. You might think that naming that folder “Justin Pot” or “MakeUseOf” would be ideal, and you’d be right: for you.

The problem: I get yet another folder named “Justin Pot” in my Dropbox.



That’s not useful, and over time becomes downright confusing. Ask anyone who spends a lot of time coordinating projects online and you’ll find out: this gets annoying, quickly. Sure, I can rename the folder at my end, but if I then share it with someone else the original name will stick: not helpful for the people I’m sharing with.

The solution: name shared folders after what you’re going to do with them, not after the person you’re sharing with. It’s less confusing for them, but still useful for you. It also shows that you’re thinking of what these files will look like on their computer, and not just your own.

Oh, and the same goes for calendar appointments: calling something “Meeting With Justin” and sending me the invite is kind of silly, as it means nothing to me. Include both names in the description, or say what the meeting is about.


Ask Before Deleting Individual Files

Have a shared folder that you’re not using, and figure you can just delete individual files from it to save space? Ask first.

Because of how services like Dropbox work, files you delete in those folders aren’t just deleted from your folder: they’re deleted from the folder of everyone you shared with. Sure, most services allow you to recover deleted files How To Recover Lost Files In Dropbox What happens if you accidentally delete a file in Dropbox? Will it be gone forever once the changes are synced? Yes, the file will disappear but it won't be entirely gone just yet. So is... Read More , but the time in which you can do so is limited – one month for Dropbox. Once that time passes the files are simply gone – frustrating if your sharing partner still needed them.


So don’t delete files from folders without asking. If you really need the space, there’s a workaround.


Disconnect From Folders You’re Not Using

Delete a file from a folder and it’s gone for both you and the other user; delete a folder from your computer and it’s just gone for you. That’s how it works in Dropbox, and is also how it works in most services like it.

So if you need more space in your Dropbox or other cloud-based service, delete the entire folder, or drag it outside your cloud-syncing service. This allows your sharing partners to keep the files as long as they want, but keeps those same files from filling your folder.

Don’t Overfill Folders

Speaking of space: don’t fill folders with large, unnecessary files. You might have paid Dropbox for extra space, but your sharing partner hasn’t. Think before you drop a 5 GB monstrosity into a folder, because odds are you’ll be the only person who can sync it. Don’t overwhelm people if you can avoid it.



If you really need to share and sync large files, consider a service like BitTorrent Sync [No longer available], which is a free, unlimited syncing service From Pirate Darling To Dropbox Alternative: BitTorrent Sync Lets You Keep Your Files Synchronized Across Machines Cloud-based file sync services are easy to use and work well, but your privacy may or may not be your first priority. Not to mention the fact that these services always come with a storage... Read More that syncs directly between two machines. It’s probably a better fit for the job, especially if you set up a Bittorrent Sync server Build Your Own Cloud Storage with Raspberry Pi and BitTorrent Sync Don't believe the hype: the Cloud is far from secure. But have no fear - now you can roll out your own private, unlimited, and secure cloud storage platform. Read More .

But seriously, let people know if you’re planning on syncing huge files. The download is going to take a while, and might even slow down the web connection of some users.

Think Before You Sync

This is arguably all you need to keep in mind: thinking. When you share a folder with someone on Dropbox and similar services, you’re tying a folder on your computer directly to one on someone else’s. Adding massive files, constantly saving changes or cluttering things up could cause others annoyance – and that’s just plain bad manners.

Not sure if you should delete something, or make changes to a file? Contact the people you’re coordinating with first. Better that than delete a file they care about, right?

Are there any cloud-sharing rules of etiquette you wish were more widely known? Here’s your chance to spread them: share your thoughts in the comments below.

Related topics: Cloud Storage, Dropbox, Online Etiquette.

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  1. Israel P.
    November 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    It might be worth differentiating between folders that are meant to be shared and those that are used for transfers. The name of the person is fine inwhen all you are doing is transferring - it's like putting the name of the addressee on the envelope.

  2. Thelma Wickwere
    November 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Nice article. I hadn't thought about the way the folder is named, because at the moment I've only used Dropbox with one person. But you have opened my eyes and expanded the way I think about the service and how to use it. Thank you.