Dropbox is continuing its journey away from being simply a file sync service into one that businesses can use for collaboration and more sophisticated information distribution. While their free service remains popular, the company is continuing to push their business creditability with the new Showcase - the centrepiece of Dropbox's new Professional offering. I spoke with Dropbox's Daniel Iversen about the new products and services.
Sharing files and folders is pretty old hat and content management systems tend to be complex. Showcase puts a fancy presentation layer over your content, including the ability to preview files even if the viewer doesn't have the right application for opening the file.
For example, if you're an artist and use Photoshop, you can place original files into Showcase and your clients can view the images without installing Photoshop.
Showcase make it possible to create an online portfolio that can be easily shared. Files can be arranged according to how you want them so you're not limited to alphabetical or time-based sorting like a traditional file system. And that can be branded so that it matches your corporate livery.
Once some files are shared using Showcase, you can receive analytics so you know which files have been accessed, how many times, by whom and other information.
"It replaces email. It replaces an FTP server. It replaces stuff like CMS landing pages," said Iversen.
In addition, as well as being able to view and download content that's shared using Showcase, viewers can leave comments. And while that's really just collaboration 101, in my view, given the company's recent move to expanding the Paper API, I suspect we'll see some expanded capability with Showcase, making it a more interactive collaboration tool.
Iversen said the company has solved the challenge of easy and attractive information distribution. While collaboration and file-sharing are mature, he said, making content attractive and easy to digest has eluded many businesses.
Dropbox Professional replaces the company's Plus product. Many of that product's users, said Iverson, were using Dropbox for work. He added that the product has a strong focus on meeting the needs of individuals, either working within larger organisations, or freelancers and consultants who form an increasing proportion of Australia's gig economy.
"It's gone from three in ten Australians being part time or casual, which has gone up from one in ten a generation ago," said Iversen.
Clearly, this is where Dropbox sees its sweet spot, at least in Australia.
Iversen said the new Dropbox Professional product gives them business-grade features including Showcase and Smart Sync.
One of the interesting challenges that has come about over recent years is that online storage now outstrips local storage. For example, the typical laptop typically has a either 256GB or 512GB of storage. But we routinely have access to 1TB of online capacity these days. Smart Sync fills the gap by providing live links to your online files, so they can be easily accessed locally (assuming you've got a decent internet connection) but they don't take up space on your local hard drive or SSD.
"Smart Sync is huge," said Iversen.
There are other features available to Dropbox Professional users.
"They get advanced sharing controls so they can share links and files that are password protected and have expiry times. It really allows you to put additional controls. They also get 120-day version history, offline mobile folders, full-text search, OCR support, remote wipe devices, and two-factor authentication".
Dollars and cents
As I've written recently, subscription software has the capacity to seriously drain your bank account if you're not careful.
Dropbox Professional costs either $279 per year or $27.99 per month - paying upfront gets you almost two months of Dropbox Professional access at no extra cost over monthly payments.
For your money, you get 1TB of storage, Smart Sync, Showcase, 120 days of file history, advanced sharing controls and priority access to online chat support.
Is this good value? That's a difficult question that will depend on your use-cases. For me, the value isn't quite there as I don't share a lot of rich content with clients. Most of my work is straight text so a pretty presentation layer isn't going to add a lot of value. And most of my clients either prefer receiving my work via email or I can directly upload into their systems.
But I can see a solid case for designers and photographers, for example, who want to share large files easily and make their work attractive.
Where does Dropbox Professional fit into the collaboration market?
Effective content sharing has been a challenge for some time. Microsoft has probably come the closest to an accepted enterprise solution wit SharePoint but it remains a challenging product to successfully deploy - mainly because many people see it as a product whereas it's really a platform upon which to build a solution.
CMS systems like Drupal and WordPress can work but lack the simplicity of simply saving files to a folder for sharing.
The killer feature of Dropbox Professional is Showcase. The storage, Smart Sync and other features are nice but can be found in other products. But Showcase has the potential to deliver on the promise many others have made of simple and attractive collaboration.