Three lightweight work media tools integrated with Dropbox: Refinder

Stowe Boyd has done some experimenting with tools that integrate with Dropbox - calling the class a "work media tool". In a report he summarized his view on Chatbox , Pandadesk, and Refinder

Here is part of the post, copied under the terms of the CC-BY-NC-ND license. I replaced some parts with "...".

Recently, I have been experimenting with lightweight work media tools with Dropbox integration, hoping to get the combination of Dropbox as a shared (and private) repository and the capability of coordinating work with various partners, where any files being shared would be managed in Dropbox directly.

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Some aspects of the tool show how young it is. For example, you can create contacts (or 'persons') but you can't associate email addresses or phone numbers with them. Topics are treated as if they are bits of information like tasks or updates, but they really are stand-ins for tags, so I have been told that topics are going to be totally reworked in a later version.


Each collection has its own activity stream, and controls to filter and sort the items in the collection and different displays. In this collection I have added a few files -- either directly, by email, or via the Dropbox integration -- and added notes and tasks.


Because Refinder is more a semantic information management tool, a great deal of its functionality is oriented toward filtering and selecting multiple information items, and adding them to collections, or associating them to other 'things'. Locations, for example, are managed as independent things, which can subsequently be associated with persons, or organizations. But this is harder for my head to get around than simply having location information in each person or organization item, without all the semantic networking.

Conside the example below, where I have selected two notes in my Ungrounded Research collection:

In the current implementation, I can related these items to any sort of object, like a file or a task. One obvious use case is to tag these things, and Refinder's Topics can be used in that way, but they don't feel like tags. For example, they aren't displayed like tags at the foot of the items: you have to click on the refinder icon at the bottom, and then you are shown a list of all related things. I would rather have plain vanilla tags -- which I would use all the time -- rather than a totally general way to relate anything to anything.

Bottom Line On Refinder

Refinder is perhaps miscast as a work media tool in this analysis, but it would make a perfectly credible entrant in the market for light weight work media tools, given a few tweaks.

The Dropbox integration works as advertised, although I think that making it more uniform -- so that all files added to a collection by whatever means would wind up in the associated Dropbox folder -- but those wanting that model can simply add the files to the Dropbox folder, and all's well. I haven't explored the other integrations, but they are the one that many people would want, and shows a way that the tool could be extended to support other integrations, as well.

Some of the 'things' are at an immature level, or not well thought out for the work media context. Topics in particular need to be either simplifed into tags, or maybe tags could be added independently.

In the few weeks since I have been experimenting with Refinder, the team has implemented several new capabilities -- such as the email posting feature -- which suggests that the product has momentum, and is likely to become more mature very quickly, as new users start to recommend desired product features, as well.

Final Thoughts

Dropbox has developed a large ecosystem of developers building a broad range of solutions. In my personal use, I share folders with apps on my iPad (like Notability), my iPhone (like Nebulous), and tools like those reveiwed above on my Mac. The ability to get at the bits and pieces across all these devices and tools is extremely helpful to me, but basically means I have to operate at the file level with Dropbox.

I would like to see lightweight tools like these that integrate with the other critical information tangles in my work life, like Google Calendar. Just as I have a Dropbox folder associated with every project in my work media tool, why can't I have a corresponding calendar for events? Or a Google calendar task list for tasks? Or capture bookmarks with a specific tag from my Pocket account (formerly Read It Later)?

My life is a collation of information in dozens of tools, instead of a single tool to capture and control all the information in my world. So tangled things, loosely coupled is the way to go (with apologies to David Weinberger).

Read the whole post here:

Stow Boyd has some valid points we want to address for Refinder:

  • for an improvement of Topics, we are simplifying that more towards tags
  • we are working on a Google calendar integration
  • it is a new kind of tool, gathering information. I wish that "work media tool" becomes common and we can call it that way.

Also we are continually releasing new features. Use to tell us your observations.