When you are invited to a new dropbox folder, the icon folder is smiling
Stowe Boyd via
Ross Piper, former SVP of enterprise strategy and alliances at Salesforce, has joined Dropbox in a new position — VP of enterprise strategy — to move the company aggressively into the enterprise space.
Note that Dropbox has had a lot of success in the past year or so, since it provided management tools for IT departments to manage the cloud-based file sync-and-share capabilities it offers, but faces strong competition from established players like EMC and Box.
All this according to CIO Journal’s Michael Hickins, who comments on new tools released earlier this month at the Dropbox developer conference and Piper’s hiring
check out today’s Short Takes at GigaOM Research
Dropbox is slowly taking over parts of my life that I had allotted to Google or Apple. Facebook may be the social layer at the moment, but when Dropbox owns the productivity layer — watch out. I’d totally buy shares in Dropbox if they were available.
It’s been a period of changes, and I am contemplating a few large ones.
A Three-Part Mind: GigaOM Research, stoweboyd.com and underpaidgenius.com
I stepped into the role of lead researcher (‘curator’) for GigaOM Research’s Social focus area back in early December, and as a result, I’ve been capturing a great deal of my thnking about social business, social tools in the business setting, and the future of work, over there. And there is a lot going on in that sector. [Note that GigaOM Pro has been renamed GigaOM Research, although the subdomain is still pro.gigaom.com.]
Probably because of that reorientation more of the writing that used to find its way to underpaidgenius.com is winding up here, on stoweboyd.com. There are a few reasons, but the most critical factor is this: I don’t think I can effectively and meaningfully discuss the impacts of technology on business, media, and society without including a great deal from other disciplines, especially cognitive science and psychology, economics, and even politics. By politics I don’t mean handicapping who will be voted in as dogcatcher, but I do mean the political issues that shape the contours of our increasingly webified world culture. This means more of my mutterings here will have a strong element of social criticism. So be it. I will be more gonzo here, from now on: there will be more of what I believe, here, and not just what I am observing.
One side effect is that underpaidgenius become a place to see what I am cooking, eating, watching, reading, and listening to, along with handicapping the dogcatcher election. However, everything else is now fair game for stoweboyd.com, so brace yourself.
[I am also writing at beaconstreets.com, but that is local activism for a more walkable Beacon NY, where I live. Nothing much is going to change there.]
A New Generation Of Gear
I am reaching the end of a gear generation. I currently write almost exclusively on a 2011-era 10” MacBook Air. It has been the best laptop I’ve had, following on in the tradition of four or five other macbooks that preceded it. I have an iPhone 4S, which is a good smartphone. I had a first generation iPad until recently, but found it really difficult to integrate into my world: it was not a good writing solution, was roughly the size and weight of my Air, and lacked a good keyboard. I had to lug around a bluetooth keyboard if I was traveling with it, and that made it less appealing than the Air. Lastly, I have a 2006 Apple Cinema display on my desk, and the Air can drive the monitor well, with great resolution. However, the monitor is so old that iTunes’s HDCP-encoded movies won’t play on it.
Recently, I had a discussion with Per Håkansson about his set up, and I am tempted to experiment with something similar to his, which is fairly radical.
I don’t like phone calls. I mean, I am perfectly happy to have a synchronous audio-only conversation with someone if we’ve arranged to do so. But otherwise, I’d rather not. If you’re a pal, and it’s urgent, text me or tweet me. If necessary, I’ll call you back, but If it’s not urgent, use text, email, or twitter.
The iPhone is a convenient form factor since it’s small enough to put in my pocket, but it’s too small for almost everything, like writing, or reading anything more sophisticated than an email or a Kindlized text-only book. It’s ok for maps, I grant you.
So, I am contemplating eliminating my cell phone and Air, and transitioning to two devices:
(I say ‘proximal’, because these are not primarily mobile devices: they are the devices we keep on our person. They are always with us, even in the home or office.) The Mini will be fully loaded, with wifi and cellular, and I plan to switch to using Google Voice as my only ‘phone number’.
I already use Google Voice as my voice mail, and as a way to make calls when I am sitting at my desk. The only oddball case will be walking down the street with my Mini in my jacket pocket or in my backpack when the ‘phone’ rings. I guess I will have to get used to keeping my Mini earphones plugged in. That’s the part we’ll have to see about. I can easily see myself walking along, texting on the Mini.
The biggest difference in this set up is that I won’t be walking around with two devices — iPhone and Air — when I leave my office for any length of time. I will just have the Mini. No adapter to connect the phone to the Air. No tethering the iPhone to provide data connection for the Air. Today, I am stuck with schlepping two devices whenever I travel.
One interesting wrinkle is that I will be able to use the same Logitech keyboard for both the Mini and the iMac, which would make going back and forth easier. And of course, with Dropbox, all my files are available on both devices, although I don’t keep much in my files except photos, and things to read, watch, or listen to.
So: I plan to buy the Mini early next week and move the iMac back to my office around the same time. I will keep the iPhone and the Air for a few months, just to see if it all works.
There is something almost seismic about making such a huge shift.
I’ve been motivated in part by the team at Hyper Island. I sat in on a master class led by the Hyper Island folks in NYC this week, and several (all?) of the teaching team used Minis when presenting, and the form factor looks perfect for that. Very liberating to walk around with the Mini in one hand, and not bound to a laptop on a lectern. That’s where I met Per, and learned about his similar gear switch.
I also think the Mini will be the perfect reading device, and not just for kindlized book, but anything.
I am certain I will have to invest effort into approximating the Chrome plugins I use on my Mac everyday — Asana, Buffer, and so on — but I am already certain that bookmarklets work as expected on the Mini.
One interesting side effect of this is that I would retire my Northern VA cell phone number, after two years in NY.
And this does not mean I am planning to wear an iWatch if one appears.
It will be a grand experiment. Wish me luck.
from my post at GigaOM:
Someone alerted me to Transporter, which is a just-about-to-end Kickstarter project, one that has raised $200,000 plus dollars. Transporter is a very different take on backup and sharing. As they say on the Kickstarter page,
Transporter is an online, but off-cloud storage solution for privately sharing, accessing and protecting all of your valuable files.
The premise is this: each user has a transporter — either with a built-in or attached hard drive — and these transporters can communicate. I could create a backup of my family photos on my sister’s transporter, and give her read access to the files. If my local hard drive crapped out I could simple buy a new one, and the family photos would reappear, copied back from my sister’s copy.
Note that in this scenario there is no necessity for the folks at transporter to act as a server-based intermediary, aside from verifying identities initially. And they certainly won’t be providing a back-up service.
Lastly, I could backup a copy of my personal tax records on my brother’s transporter, but in a private way. Yes, he’d have to agree to allow me to place that backup there, but I would do the same for him, and we both come out ahead.
The business model is again a sort of anti-Dropbox: no monthly fees, just the purchase price of the Transporter device, which was going for $149 at the Kickstarter, now sold out. It seems that you can still get it for $179 though, with no drive.
Go read the whole piece.
Last month, Dropbox released Dropbox Chooser, an API to make integration of Dropbox into other applications much easier. Wrike has released a new version of their team task manager to leverage Dropbox Chooser, joining Asana and others. Read the rest.
An article in Forbes has some astounding stats that give you a sense of the size and scope of Dropbox’s business.
- A billion files saved every 24 hours.
- It has 100 million users, twice as many as a year ago.
- Nearly 96 percent of its customers use Dropbox for free.
- About $500 million in revenues.
- Almost 250 employees. It started the year with 90 employees.
- A year ago when its revenues were $250 million, it was valued by private investors at over $4 billion.
Dropbox has added a feature to enhance sharing. You can indicate that others can share a folder once you’ve shared it with them. Very useful.
I am a great fan of Dropbox, the file sharing service. I keep nearly all the files that I use within Dropbox, and I share them with others in many ways. I have a Dropbox Pro 100 account, with an additional 32G from referrals, and I have the setup where I can delete files on my hard drive, but they are still accessible in the cloud.
Recently, I have been experimenting with lightweight work media tools with Dropbox integration, hoping to get the combination of Dropbox as a shared (and private) repository and the capability of coordinating work with various partners, where any files being shared would be managed in Dropbox directly.
In this concise report, I am looking at Chatbox, PandaDesk, and Refinder.
Chatbox is perhaps the lightest weight work media tool possible. It is purpose-built to add an activity stream of chat-style updates to shared Dropbox folders. It was a weekend hack, and only runs on Mac OS X.
You download the app (Mac OS X only), and once it is running you have a new icon in the Mac toolbar:
This gives access to Dropbox shared folders (which might be worthwhile all by itself), as well as those which have been chatted up recently.
Once a Dropbox shared folder is selected, a Chatbox opens for that folder:
And there is control-click access to Chatbox through the finder, too. If you select your Dropbox folder and control click you’ll see ‘Chatbox’ as an option, and that leads to the top-most Chatbox, for the entire Dropbox folder, with all subordinate chat aggregated:
You can see that the nested folders’ chats are directly accessible by clicking on the chat icon, on the right, and the folders themselves can be opened by clicking on the folders’ names, to the left.
Free, easy to install and use, but limited to Mac OS X. The folks behind the app, Oursky Liimited, haven’t updated the app in a year, but they have moved ahead with the basic idea and created PandaDesk.
After their experience with the useful but minimal Chatbox, Oursky’s team developed PandaDesk, which is a browser-based solution with more functionality.
Dropbox integration is nearly automatic: once the pairing of the Dropbox and PandaDesk is completed, each PandaDesk project automatically creates a Dropbox subfolder within a top-level Dropbox folder. In my case the toplevel folder is ‘stoweboyd.com on PandaDesk’ and the subfolders are based on the project names.
This is a project called Work Media Reports. On the left is the activity stream, where I’ve done just about all that can be done in PandaDesk. At the bottom, you see what happens when I add a file to the associated Dropbox folder on my hard drive: it appears in the project, and can be commented on. I next created a task and assigned it to myself. At the top I created an update and attached a file from my desktop: note that the file was automatically added to the associated Dropbox folder, as well.
To the right there are a few project capabilities, like an announcement for the project (I didn’t add one), a list of team members (I am a solo on this one), an address for posting emails directly to the project, a control to change notifications, and a control to archive or delete the project.
PandaDesk supports messages (updates), tasks, and files: the minimal viable work media feature set, and has a truly seamless integration with Dropbox.
I am a bit concerned that Oursky still hasn’t implemented a search feature, which suggests that their momentum on the project may be slowing. However, it is a free, intuitive, and lightweight work media tool, well-suited to small teams or anyone who wants a work media layer residing on top of Dropbox.
I think if you left it up to Leo Sauermann, the innovator behind Refinder, he wouldn’t even classify the tool as being a work media solution. He is more interested in helping users manage and share complex collections of information, and as a result his Refinder app doesn’t have projects as its main contextual division, but collections.
To the left is a list of the most recent collections (or projects, the way I think of them), an my activity stream in the middle. At the top center is a field to create a ‘thing’ — such as adding a task — and placing it in one or more collections. These information objects — including tasks, updates, bookmarks, files, questions, locations, contacts, organizations, and topics — can also be created within the context of a collection.
Some aspects of the tool show how young it is. For example, you can create contacts (or ‘persons’) but you can’t associate email addresses or phone numbers with them. Topics are treated as if they are bits of information like tasks or updates, but they really are stand-ins for tags, so I have been told that topics are going to be totally reworked in a later version.
A Refinder collection has various controls in the top (as shown in the bottom in the image above), such as an email address for sending email to the project, and the ability to connect various apps to the collection. As you can see, I have connected Dropbox to this one. Other apps include Google Docs, RSS feeds, and Twitter streams, which I have not experiemented with, yet.
Each collection has its own activity stream, and controls to filter and sort the items in the collection and different displays. In this collection I have added a few files — either directly, by email, or via the Dropbox integration — and added notes and tasks.
The Dropbox integration works on a collection basis: you attach a specific Dropbox folder with a specific collection, and a background task periodically runs, adding any files to the collection. However, files added to the collection directly — by uploading from your desktop or by email attachment — are added to the private store of the collection, and NOT added to the Dropbox folder. My sense is that most people will want all files to be placed in the Dropbox folder if one is set up to be linked to a collection.
Because Refinder is more a semantic information management tool, a great deal of its functionality is oriented toward filtering and selecting multiple information items, and adding them to collections, or associating them to other ‘things’. Locations, for example, are managed as independent things, which can subsequently be associated with persons, or organizations. But this is harder for my head to get around than simply having location information in each person or organization item, without all the semantic networking.
Conside the example below, where I have selected two notes in my Ungrounded Research collection:
In the current implementation, I can related these items to any sort of object, like a file or a task. One obvious use case is to tag these things, and Refinder’s Topics can be used in that way, but they don’t feel like tags. For example, they aren’t displayed like tags at the foot of the items: you have to click on the refinder icon at the bottom, and then you are shown a list of all related things. I would rather have plain vanilla tags — which I would use all the time — rather than a totally general way to relate anything to anything.
Refinder is perhaps miscast as a work media tool in this analysis, but it would make a perfectly credible entrant in the market for light weight work media tools, given a few tweaks.
The Dropbox integration works as advertised, although I think that making it more uniform — so that all files added to a collection by whatever means would wind up in the associated Dropbox folder — but those wanting that model can simply add the files to the Dropbox folder, and all’s well. I haven’t explored the other integrations, but they are the one that many people would want, and shows a way that the tool could be extended to support other integrations, as well.
Some of the ‘things’ are at an immature level, or not well thought out for the work media context. Topics in particular need to be either simplifed into tags, or maybe tags could be added independently.
In the few weeks since I have been experimenting with Refinder, the team has implemented several new capabilities — such as the email posting feature — which suggests that the product has momentum, and is likely to become more mature very quickly, as new users start to recommend desired product features, as well.
Dropbox has developed a large ecosystem of developers building a broad range of solutions. In my personal use, I share folders with apps on my iPad (like Notability), my iPhone (like Nebulous), and tools like those reveiwed above on my Mac. The ability to get at the bits and pieces across all these devices and tools is extremely helpful to me, but basically means I have to operate at the file level with Dropbox.
I would like to see lightweight tools like these that integrate with the other critical information tangles in my work life, like Google Calendar. Just as I have a Dropbox folder associated with every project in my work media tool, why can’t I have a corresponding calendar for events? Or a Google calendar task list for tasks? Or capture bookmarks with a specific tag from my Pocket account (formerly Read It Later)?
My life is a collation of information in dozens of tools, instead of a single tool to capture and control all the information in my world. So tangled things, loosely coupled is the way to go (with apologies to David Weinberger).