Bye-bye USB syncing, Hello cloud syncing!

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I use a personal wiki-based notetaking app to keep myself organised.

In GTD-speak, I use it to store project information, track my actions, store reference info, and lots more. Everything I’m working on will have a set of wiki pages where I’ve written up what I’ve done so far, linked in to my other work and where it fits in with my goals.

So it’s useful to have it with me even when I’m not at my desk. I’ve got the wiki app installed on my ThinkPad and three of my mobiles (HTC Advantage, HTC Universal, and the Treo Pro).

The problem is keeping them all in sync.

The old way

cables, cables, cablesThe wiki stores the pages as normal text files. So I have a copy of all of these text files on each device.

Using a freeware app called MobSync, I can sync a directory of files on my desktop with a directory on the mobile.

If I want to use the Treo Pro, I need to make sure I get an up-to-date copy of the files on there first by booting up my PC, connecting them by USB cable, and running the sync app.

The new way – no more cables

This week, I’ve been playing with Live Mesh, a way to keep files in sync across multiple computers and devices.

I have the Live Mesh client running on my desktop. It’s hooked into the file system for the folder so whenever I make a change to a page in my wiki, the new file is uploaded to the Mesh.

I also have the Live Mesh client running on each of my phones. Run ‘Sync Live Mesh’ on the mobile client, and the updated page will be sucked down from the Mesh to my mobile.

And it works back the other way, too.

This is simple, and it is awesome.

adding mobiles to my meshIf I want to use the HTC Advantage, even when I’ve not used it for a couple of weeks, it wont have a two-weeks old copy of the wiki on it.

I know that the Live Mesh client will have kept the files up-to-date. I can grab any device as I go out the door in the morning, without needing to boot up my PC and run a sync first.

If I am in a meeting, making notes in my wiki from my mobile, when I get back to my desk, I don’t need to connect the mobile to PC and run a sync before I can continue working. I can pick up where I left off immediately, because the mobile client will have uploaded the changes to the Mesh, and the desktop client will have noticed the change and downloaded the new file – all before I even get back to my seat.

This is a good compromise between working in the cloud, and working with native apps using local files. Because if I work somewhere with no wifi or 3G/GPRS coverage, I can still keep working as I’ve still got a copy of all of my work. And the next time I get a signal, anything I worked on while offline will be synced up.


Okay, so the mobile client got off to a rocky start, and the initial sync for my wiki directory seemed to take forever. But this is an early beta, and my wiki directory does have over 2,500 files. So I can forgive a few early teething problems.

Especially as now it’s working well.

The desktop client can upload every updated file as soon as it is changed. This might be overkill when running on mobile devices – where network usage sucks up valuable battery life. So the mobile client, while it can be run as the desktop client, also includes the options to sync on manual request or every half/one/two/four hours.

I’ll wait and see what the client does to my phone’s battery lives before settling on an approach, but even running with manual syncs might be enough.

Say I decide to use the HTC Universal for the first time in a couple of weeks, it’d mean I need to remember to tap the ‘Sync Live Mesh’ button as I walk out the door in the morning.

Why I like it

I like this because it works. It is seamlessly keeping my files synced between two computers and three mobiles.

I also like that it isn’t tied to any one app – by just syncing files, you can sync almost any app you use. I’m focusing on syncing my wiki pages, because that will help me the most. But there are a ton of possibilities – such as syncing my Visual Studio settings between multiple PCs, or syncing my Firefox settings and bookmarks between multiple PCs.

I’m also trying it with podcasts – I can download podcasts while I’m at my PC, and they will be copied to each of my mobile devices. When I listen to them on any one device, I can delete it, and the copies will be deleted from my PC and my other PDAs. It’s all very neat.

But there is also an SDK on the way, so we may be seeing apps appear that exploit these abilities. I’m thinking what I could do to the mobile version of the wiki app with a Live Mesh SDK. Perhaps let users kick off a sync from within the app?

We’re all syncing with the cloud

This isn’t the only example of syncing with the cloud I’ve been playing with this week.

I got an Android mobile this week – the T-Mobile G1. I’ll write a proper post about it once I’ve had a longer play with it.

But something worth noting here is that it doesn’t come with any software such as ActiveSync to sync with a PC. Instead, it syncs email, calendar and contacts directly with Google’s servers. If you add a new event in your diary at from your computer, the push notification means it is quickly added to your mobile’s diary.

The push notification is a great addition – if Live Mesh could get that, the need for polling or manual syncing from the mobile would go away. Could this be done without the sort of partnership with network operators that Google has with T-Mobile?

At any rate, for a very early beta, Live Mesh is already very impressive.

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8 Responses to “Bye-bye USB syncing, Hello cloud syncing!”

  1. […] so will continue to play with it. In particular, Iā€™m a bit inspired by what Dale Lane is doing with it on his eighty-million […]

  2. Alexis says:

    ‘Could this be done without the sort of partnership with network operators that Google has with T-Mobile?’

    Yes, because it works fine on O2 šŸ˜‰

  3. dale says:

    @Alexis – really? wow, that’s interesting… wouldn’t have expected that. I’ll have to look into how the push notification stuff works

  4. Nicolas says:


    Clouds are certainly the future – especially for people who use multiple devices. I have been using evernote to make notes and keep them in sync on my mobile, my home mac and company PC. I wrote an article on this on my blog in case you want to know more.

  5. Byron says:

    Just out of curiosity, are you using a particular wiki format? I have been using the MonkeyGTD flavor of tiddly wiki. I love it, but I don’t seem to be able to edit in the opera mobile that ships with the HTC Touch Pro.

  6. dale says:

    @Byron – I use a Windows Mobile app called bLADE Wiki.

  7. dale says:

    @Byron – PS – If you’re trying to find a wiki that’s right for you, is worth a try

  8. drmurdoch says:

    Sadly, Windows Mobile synching has been removed.
    Not sure when Mesh will allow Mobile devices.