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A Different Approach to Transferring Large Files

AllPeers works better than e-mail for sending large files to multiple recipients.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 08/09/2007

In the wired world we live in, sending files to clients, colleagues, and friends has become commonplace. Many of us regularly circulate documents, diagrams, photos, audio files, and videos. The bulk of these file transfers move over the Internet as e-mail attachments. Now there is nothing fundamentally wrong with using e-mail attachments to send files. After all, there is a reason that this method of files transfers has become as popular as it has. But e-mail attachments are not perfect for every occasion. These days, attachments work best when they are limited in size and when the file is being sent to a limited number of people.

The utility of e-mail attachments is limited by a number of constraints. One limitation is attachment size. Many Internet services providers limit the size of an attachment that they will allow users to send or receive. E-mail services such as Gmail and YahooMail allow a generous e-mail size of 20 MB, but many providers limit the size of an attachment to 5 MB or 10 MB, or less. So, your changes of successfully sending large e-mail attachments may be mixed. Even if your e-mail service allows you to send large attachments, the recipient may be blocked from receiving them.

Spam filters and anti-malware software are further impediments to sending large attachments. Some software that is designed to protect your computer may be programmed to block e-mail with large files, certain file types, or files that meet a combination of criteria. In some cases, your software will alert you if it blocks or quarantines such an e-mail; in other cases, it may not.

When you use e-mail to distribute files, there are also limits on the number of recipients you can send to. Again, this varies depending on the e-mail service provider and other factors, but 20 is a common recipient limit, while others impose more stringent rules.

In some cases, there is an easy work around to the limitations you encounter. For example, it is often possible for you, or your recipients, to easily alter spam setting, firewall, or antivirus program so that most attachments will get through, but this can take time and some level of technical know-how. In many cases, however, it pays to find alternative solutions.

One common alternative for advisors who need to reach a large recipient list is a list serv. This is a mailing list server that sends an e-mail to everyone on a specified list. A list serv will work fine provided the messages you send are not too large, and provided that the list serv does not raise any other red flags with your e-mail anti-malware programs.

A new alternative I've been trying lately is a free service called AllPeers. This application allows you to share large files over the Internet. AllPeers is a FireFox extension. This means that it installs itself within the FireFox Web browser. As part of the installation, you create a user name and password. You also must supply a valid e-mail address. You are then prompted to add contacts. You can automatically import them from Gmail, MSN Hotmail, YahooMail, or Microsoft Outlook. You can also add contacts to the list manually.

To send a file, you click on the AllPeers share icon. A little box appears. Here, you can drag and drop individual files, or a whole folder for that matter, into the share box. You then add an e-mail address, a subject, and a message. If you are sending a file to somebody for the first time, your recipient receives an e-mail inviting them to install AllPeers. This is a one time operation. Subsequent files work the same way, but they are routed directly to the recipient's AllPeer inbox.

Once your recipient installs the program, they will appear on your AllPeers contact list. In order to send them files in the future, you can just drag and drop the file onto their name in AllPeers. You then type a subject and a message and send the file. The application allows you to create groups, so you can send the file to more than one person at the same time.

AllPeers is a new peer-to-peer network application, and as such I would not recommend transferring sensitive client data through the application, but I do think that it is an excellent way of sharing non-sensitive data, particularly when the data involves large files going to a multiple recipients. For example, if you are sharing research, committee work, and graphics that are not confidential, AllPeers moves it fast and effortlessly. You can send as many files you want of any size to as many people as you want at no cost, as long as they are have AllPeers installed. You can even instant message from AllPeer, so you can communicate with you are sharing files.

So what's the downside? The primary one is that you and your first recipient have to be online for the file transfer to take place. Once your file is received by your first recipient, you no longer have to be online for your subsequent recipients to receive it, provided at least one other person has the file and is online. Of course, if multiple people in your group already have the file, and they are all online, subsequent file transfers will be faster. That's why this application lends itself well to groups working together.

I've tried other services that allow you to share large files such as SendThisFile, but they work differently. With most other services, you upload your files to their servers, and then your recipient goes to the server to download the file. These services are fine, and when security is a concern, they are a superior alternative for large file transfers. But the free versions of other services generally have limitations, and to get all the security features, you usually must use the fee-for-service version of the product. The other file sharing services are generally just a bit more cumbersome to use as well.

So far, I'm finding that for sharing large files, particularly with groups, AllPeers works well. It is still in beta, so there may be hiccups from time to time, but it is a handy tool to have at you disposal. To find out more, or to download your free copy, visit: http://www.allpeers.com/.

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