Personal file storage, sharing and syncing is one of those categories of technology problems that, despite all efforts, no one ever seems to get right. Most of the current offerings, even the better ones, leave something to be desired.
You’re always being asked to jump through one hoop or another: If you’re not constantly uploading and downloading files that you amend or need to amend, you’re being forced to use some special peer-to-peer software. But one service that comes pretty close to getting it all right is DropBox, which is available via a public beta today (of which there are 200 available for GigaOM readers using the code “om200.”)
Dropbox is basically an intelligent combination of Box.net, dot.mac and Microsoft’s FolderShare syncing service. It makes online storage and sharing of files dead simple — as simple as dragging files into specially market local folders.
The concept was cooked up by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, MIT dropouts and Y Combinator alumni who are running their three-person startup out of a studio apartment in San Francisco. For the past few months they’ve been working on polishing DropBox, the desktop software (client) and an online service.
The software, once downloaded, is simple to install (it works on both Windows and Mac) and integrates with the file browser. It runs quietly in the background. You create folders inside the DropBox folder and then just drag and drop them. And the files are constantly synced with your online storage locker — any time a file is changed, the changes are sent to the online folders, which can be accessed via a web browser even if your home machine is shut off.
What’s really cool is that the system keeps revised versions of the files as backup, just in case you accidentally erase or damage the “live” version of a document. You can click and share the “URLs” of every file with anyone by simply sending them an email (a feature that opens up viral growth opportunities for DropBox).
I met with Houston and Ferdowsi over the weekend and discussed their business plans. Once DropBox comes out of beta, they want to charge for storage — a refreshing thought amidst all the irrational chanting of “free.” The duo is looking to expand DropBox’s appeal to beyond the early adopters.
While it seems that everyone wants to develop a better syncing or storage or sharing technology, the population at large doesn’t seem to care, and is happy carrying (and losing) their files on their USB sticks or emailing them to themselves. When I noted that to the two young cofounders, they agreed. Their success, they said, lies in the ability to change mainstream behavior, and they are confident that the relative ease of use of their offering will win the masses over. To that we say good luck. DropBox is pretty good.