The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Stuff That Works — Dropbox

I’ve been a big fan of Dropbox since I first heard about it and signed up. I used it just about every day, in fact. It’s one of those apps I put in category I call “Stuff That Works.”

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So, I got a bit of a chuckle out of this explanation of why Dropbox succeeded where others have failed. [Via Ezra Klein.]

Well, let’s take a step back and think about the sync problem and what the ideal solution for it would do:

  • There would be a folder.
  • You’d put your stuff in it.
  • It would sync.

They built that.

Why didn’t anyone else build that? I have no idea.

“But,” you may ask, “so much more you could do! What about task management, calendaring, customized dashboards, virtual white boarding. More than just folders and files!”

No, shut up. People don’t use that crap. They just want a folder. A folder that syncs.

“But,” you may say, “this is valuable data…certainly users will feel more comfortable tying their data to Windows Live, Apple Mobile Me, or a name they already know.”

No, shut up. Not a single person on Earth wakes up in the morning worried about deriving more value from their Windows Live login. People already trust folders. And Dropbox looks just like a folder. One that syncs.

“But,” you may say, “folders are so 1995. why not leverage the full power of the web? With HTML 5 you can drag and drop files, you can build intergalactic dashboards of stats showing how much storage you are using, you can publish your files as RSS feeds and tweets, and you can add your company logo!”

No, shut up. Most of the world doesn’t sit in front of their browser all day. If they do, it is IE 6 at work that they are not allowed to upgrade. Browsers suck for these kinds of things. Their stuff is already in folders. They just want a folder. That syncs.

That is what it does.

Funny, but I agree. “Shut up.” First of all, I don’t want to pay for another service like, Apple’s MobileMe, and frankly I haven’t the time or inclination to figure out Windows Live. Nor do I need or want to configure another RSS feed to get dumped into Google Reader with the rest of the feeds I already don’t have time to check regularly. And why would I want to tweet my files anyway?

Wanna know what happens when you make something with so many bells and whistles that nobody quite knows what to do with them all? Google Wave, which was shuttered less than a year after being opened to the general public, is a good example.

We tried using it at work. We had conference calls about it. We exchanged emails about it. But we never quite figured out how it worked, what we needed it for, what we were supposed to do with it, or what we could do with it that we couldn’t do with anything else.

This PC Magazine post about Google Wave’s demise is a kind of counterpoint to above bit about Dropbox’s succes.

The now-deceased Google Wave was an interesting idea, but the company never should have let developers control the conversation.

When developers start cheering, everyone else should go running for the door. I still remember the wild enthusiasm Google Wave’s introduction was met with at the company’s I/O conference. What, I wondered, were all those people cheering about? Had Google just solved world hunger, figured out how to convert search queries into oil? No, nothing of the sort. The search giant had simply introduced a new paradigm for workgroup interactivity.

…It wasn’t until weeks later when I finally got invited to the Wave sandbox that I realized Google Wave was like that first Erector Set you got as a kid. It’s shiny, full of parts, and is essentially an amazing box full of opportunities—but you have to realize (read: build) them all yourself.

It’s not that there is no interface in Wave. It’s there, but early on, I had no idea what to do with it. Today’s Wave is a little bit easier to understand, but you still need to make some big decisions to get started.

There’s the scary “Blank Wave,” which drops you into what looks like an IM window. Any time I tried this, I wondered why I wouldn’t simply go to AIM instead.

There’s Discussion, which looks like a cross between an instant message windows and a word processing document (with far fewer features). There’s also Task Tracking, Meeting, Document, and the fuzzy “Brainstorm”

I think Brainstorming was always at the heart of Google Wave and probably why Google Developers dreamed the thing up in the first place. I bet they kept meeting, instant messaging, white-boarding, having hallway meetings, but often worried that their best ideas were getting lost in the ether. Google Wave would help bring them all together, but without the sometimes constricting boundaries of traditional, task-based applications.

That was the thing about Google Wave, and probably what was so innovative. Parts of it resembled apps you knew, but all of it was far more malleable and purposely porous. You could bring people in so they could ride the wave of ideas and information and leave when they needed. The Wave just continued until? Until what?

That explains why, when I finally got an invite to Google Wave, I logged in, looked around, logged out…and never returned.

I signed up for a free 2GB Dropbox account. For that, they gave me a folder that synchs. I put my stuff in it, and my stuff synched. I created folders within the Dropbox folder. They synched too. No learning curve, and nothing for me to break or otherwise screw up.

In fact, I use it for work all the time. In fact, I was so impressed with Dropbox, I recommended it to a couple of my coworkers who were looking for a simple way to share documents between their work and home computers. Now, not only are my co-workers using it, some share Dropbox folders with others to make collaborating easier.

I could use VPN if for work, if I set up on my home computer and my laptop. But frankly, Dropbox is easier. I just save any files I want to be able to work on at home or anywhere else, I put it in the folder I’ve created for work-related stuff in my Dropbox folder. Boom. Done. Now I can access it on all the computers I use, and my iPhone.

Not only does it work, it works with other stuff too. I use a handful of apps that are very handy with Dropbox. For example, I take notes with Notational Velocity, which synchronizes easily with Dropbox. (It also synchs with Simplenote, which synchs with ResophNotes on Windows, so I always have my notes with me)

About the only draw back is that you’d better make sure you’ve got the hard drive space to spare. I’ve never used all of the 2GB in my free account. But my home computer, which is about five years old, has a hard drive that was pretty big when I bought it — but is now rather small compared to new ones that come with several hundred gigs of storage. So, every once in a while I have to go through my Dropbox folder and toss stuff out, or move it to the external hard drive at home.

(About the only feature I would add to the Dropbox desktop app is one from the iPhone app. On the iPhone app, you can mark files as favorites. Only favorites are downloaded to the phone, for offline access. Maybe this would work with desktop apps, maybe not. If not, can live without it.)

Anyway, take my advice (as well as that of the guy quoted above), if you need an easy way to share files across platforms, get Dropbox. It’s a folder, and it synchs.

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