Automatic File Conversions and More with Dropbox Automator

Computers keep getting closer and closer to making people obsolete. The latest step towards human obsolescence? Dropbox Automator, a Web-based tool for setting up actions that happen as soon as you put a file in a Dropbox folder. It’s not flawless just yet, but it might provide a useful service for many Dropbox users.

The service is powered by Wappwolf, an online “action store” that features a set of Web actions that can process files. For example, it has ready made actions to encrypt and decrypt files, extract text from PDFs, convert documents to PDF, generate QR codes and manipulate images.

Dropbox Automator

The Dropbox Automator works by connecting to your Dropbox account and then defining actions based on which folder you place files into. For example, I connected my Dropbox account and created a folder called Appwolf. Then I defined actions to convert files placed into that folder into PDFs.

You can also do things like upload files to Slideshare, sign PDFs, scrape PDFs to text files and even translate files automatically using Bing Translator. It looks like much of Automator’s functionality just comes from tapping into Web-based services.

You can also automatically upload photos to Facebook or Flickr, add a bug (stamp) to a photo, resize or rotate photos and much more.

A Few Glitches

I found that the service isn’t entirely glitch free. It says that it can covert HTML files to PDF, which it does… but it just converts the text to PDF, so the tags are presented in the document instead of used for formatting. It might be that you need the header information before the service (conf2pdf) properly recognizes the file as HTML instead of plain text.

When Dropbox Automator zips files, it uses a format that doesn’t seem to be recognized on Mac OS X as a zip file. At least not by the Archive Utility that comes with OS X Lion.

Converting Files Using Dropbox Automator

It does convert OpenDocument Format (ODF) files OK, when it actually converts them. Of two ODF files I placed in the Appwolf directory, only one was converted. The other was placed in the processed folder that Dropbox Automator creates, but no PDF ever materialized.

But it’s a brand new service and I suspect they’re still shaking the bugs out. The service, at least for now, is free. How will they make their money? It’s unclear, but some of the actions you set up for files may cost money. So it’s possible that the developers will add premium services or charge a fee to other services for connecting users. If it catches on, I do hope that they start providing paid accounts so users can support the service.

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