While I agree with benefits of Assembla, I think that it needs to be pointed out that it is most beneficial for the distributed teams. With a team onsite I can accomplish everything you mentioned with ease. Note, that I do not disagree with the conclusion, just the cited examples.
1. On the personal level, it saves me a lot of time. Sure, all of my work files are on a hard drive somewhere. But then someone asks for a paragraph I wrote three months ago. Which directory did I put that in? Is it in a Word file, or was it on a PowerPoint slide? Or in an email in my gmail account, or my Exchange mailbox? No, maybe it was from a Skype chat? And there goes an hour of my life searching all those places.
>> well, you can start with creating a dedicated folder for each project, using only one e-mail for your project work, etc. If you are not organized assembla won't save you. You can put that "paragraph" in a wrong project, wiki, file repository, etc. if you are not organized, you will still have an issue.
2. On the team level. Now I don’t have to worry that Jeff or Nadia's hard drive has a crucial file that I need right now, at 1:00 in the morning.
>> ever heard of shared network drives? again, it is about discipline. Jeff or Nadia might store that file locally and not in assembla unless they are trained to do otherwise.
3. On the business level.
(A). Companies are now shifting staff around between projects all the time, so being able to bring new members up to speed quickly is not just nice to have, it is a facilitator for the whole business model.
>> this assumes that you keep you docs up to date.
(B) What happens when somebody gets sick suddenly, goes on vacation, or quits? If a crucial document or piece of code is on their hard drive, or in their desk drawer, the company misses deadlines or loses money duplicating work.
>> this is again about discipline. just having assembla does not solve the problem.
(C) “Everything in one place” offers a kind of insurance policy for customers (external or internal). If the team can’t complete the work for some reason, the entire project can be handed off to another development group, specifications, code, task list, test plans, documentation, and all. That dramatically changes the risk profile. The risk is no longer losing an entire six or twelve months' work. The worst case is now needing a few days or weeks for new people to look at all of the documents and code and come up to speed.
>> at the same time if you need to move to a different tool, i.e. from Assembla to some new Google Offering, you are, how would I put it... "stuck"
What I am saying is that Assembla is just a facilitator tool. It is very good, bit it is important to remember that it is more about organizational discipline than a tool. After all, folks did OK before Assembla and Microsoft hasn't fallen apart without using it even today :)
Yes, you are certainly right that discipline is critical. If people keep putting materials on their own hard drives, tools won't make any difference.
But if people are willing to be organized, then having good collaborative tools makes it possible to find things much more easily than, say, using a shared drive.
For example, with Assembla you can associate files with tickets and projects. So if you know that a document, or image file, or piece of code is associated with a task (which you usually do), to can find it quickly on the ticket, or in the activity stream for the workspace, which is much easier than hunting through directories. Plus you can find comments and other files associated with the task. You get a lot more pointers between all the related artifacts.
And yes, if everyone is at one location, it is much easier to work around these problems. But most teams have at least some people working at home, if not on several continents.