Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Send This Enormous File

March 2007

By Mike Gould

Topics for this column tend to be generated by inquiries from friends, Romans, and Countrymen, neighbors and clients. Since I got 3 requests regarding how to send collections of photos last week, the time has come for an update on the movement of large files across the Internet. I touched on this briefly back in Jan. of 2006 (http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.95.shtml) but I have become aware of a new (to me, anyway) procedure recently, so here is another way to send that big folder of hi-rez vacation photos to Gramma.

Why This Is An Issue
Here's the scenario I encountered last week: a client wanted to send me several hundred photos to put on his website. Even compressed into a .zip file, his email refused to send it, saying it was too big. And so it was; email servers usually have strict limits on the size of files they will deliver or accept as attachments. The limit varies; the UM system has a limit of 10M for their web-based email, and 20M as an absolute limit with client-based applications, and I think this is at the very upper end of such systems. From what I could discover online, AOL has a limit of 16M. So what to do if your record of that fabulous trip to Columbus takes up 30M of space? Read on...

With photos, you have any number of alternatives to email; you can use any of the various online photo websites that will display your collection in galleries. If you have your own website and a program such as Photoshop Elements, you can have Elements generate the gallery and post it to your site, or send the gallery to your webmaster for posting. Such generated galleries have had their filesizes greatly reduced, so they will travel by email easily.

You can see an example of this at: http://ivankral.net/ivankralsongs/index.html. This is a photo gallery I put together using a customized web gallery in Photoshop.

But the above are web-friendly photos, processed to have reduced resolutions so they download fast and look good on screen, but not-so-good in print. If you want to send ready-for print photos, you need to send full-resolution files - the same size as they emerged from your camera. These can add up in a major way to files too large for email, hence the central conundrum of sending big-ass (a technical term) files.

How To Deal With It
The steps are as follows:

  1. Put the files in a single folder
  2. Compress that folder
  3. Upload to a specialized website (or your own)
  4. Send the URL of that website to your recipient (or let the service do it for you)
  5. Bask in the glow of your new-found expertise.

Zip It to Ship It
Step one is obvious; you want all your files to be in one place so your recipient doesn't receive a steaming heap of files all over their already-cluttered desktop. (All this advice also works for other collections of large files, such as sound or movie files, or vast amounts of Word Docs. I use photos here as they are what come up the most often). Once the files are in one folder, make sure the folder has a name that makes sense and isn't too long. "VacationPix" is much better than "Photographs from our fabulous trip to Columbus".

The next step is to compress the folder into a single file, and the common way to do this is to convert it into a .zip file. This is usually done in Windows using WinZip, and on the Mac using Control-click and selecting "Make an Archive" from the drop-down menu. This combines everything in the folder into a single file, compressing it in the process. Note that photos and other multi-media files may not compress much, because they are already compressed by default by whatever created them, usually a digital camera. Any .jpg file you see is already compressed.

Step 3 - The Wonderfulness of the Web
Here's where the magic happens: that web service that recently came to my attention. I was working with a commercial artist in Chicago who needed to send me a large, multi-layered Photoshop file. As she didn't have a web server of her own, she used http://www.sendthisfile.com/, "The trusted file transfer service". As I have my own server, I have never had occasion to use such a service, so this was new to me. I was impressed. I received an email telling me to go to such-and-such a URL, where I could download the file. I did so and we were in business.

A Google search on "file transfer service" will bring up a large number of such services. I can't really vouch for any of them, but I found sendthisfile.com to work really well. The usual caveats apply; I'm not sure I would trust a really sensitive file to this sort of thing, as any such server can be hacked by a determined bad person. For sensitive enormous files there is still the alternative of burning a CD and sending that via snailmail. But for printable vacation pix for Gramma, this looks like the ticket.

Remember that whenever you are on the web, you are downloading files. Usually these are small .html documents that tell your browser what to display on the screen. But if you have a file.zip on your server or some commercial server as above, and someone clicks on "www.yoursite/file.zip", your browser will download that .zip file and place it wherever you have set your downloads to go, usually your desktop. Hint: put a folder called "Downloads" in your Documents folder, and put an alias to that folder on your desktop. Then set your browser and email program (via the preferences controls) to dump all downloads to that folder. This greatly reduces clutter and makes it easy to purge unneeded email attachments (like those spam .gifs that are all the rage these days. And I do mean rage...).

Summing Up, Pulling Down
In short, email has file size limits, but the web does not. So the next time you need to move an enormous file, or a collection of large files, reach for your compressor and browser, not your email program.

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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