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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

'That is what it does'

By Ezra Klein

I'm a big fan of Dropbox, a service that easily allows you to store large amounts of data in a folder you -- or others you give the password to -- can access from any computer connected to the Internet. So I was interested to see Brad DeLong quote this Quora thread on why Dropbox succeeded where so many similar products failed. This answer contains a lot of wisdom, I think:

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.

By Ezra Klein  | February 1, 2011; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Tech  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Senate vs. the future
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Comments

Yeah, this is a huge problem in the tech industry. I don't want a fancy tivo that I have to pay a monthly fee for, I just want a freaking VCR that uses a hard drive instead of tape and the industry won't give it to me.

Posted by: koalatek | February 1, 2011 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Dropbox does do several technical things very well, and supports certain "advanced" features. It knows when you only change a file slightly, and only sends the changes to the server. It supports symbolic links in unix-like systems (including Mac OS X), as well as Windows systems. It allows you to share with others, whether they have a dropbox account or not.

Other companies and projects have tried to implement this, usually with less success - not necessarily because they tried to be more complicated, but because their implementations weren't quite as efficient or reliable.

But fundamentally, Brad DeLong is right. None of these advanced features that Dropbox has implemented interferes in the slightest with the core function - that the user seamlessly works with the folder concept that the user has already come to understand, and magically syncs in near real time when the user is online, and queues the task for later when the user is offline.

Posted by: shanehuang | February 1, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Similarly, here is the Rands in Repose post that convinced me that dropbox was the answer: http://randsinrepose.com/archives/2008/11/25/dumbing_down_the_cloud.html. As you can tell just from the link, it makes exactly the same point as DeLong.

Posted by: lindsaypolak | February 1, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Similarly, here is the Rands in Repose post that convinced me that dropbox was the answer: http://randsinrepose.com/archives/2008/11/25/dumbing_down_the_cloud.html. As you can tell just from the link, it makes exactly the same point as DeLong - most people (even Rands, a tech-head) just want something that is intuitive and solves all their problems.

Posted by: lindsaypolak | February 1, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Well said, Ezra. It's true in almost every area of life that bells and whistles are just one more thing that can break or go wrong.

Posted by: csdiego | February 1, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I hate bells and whistles, I just want to throw the user manual away.

Posted by: jimward21 | February 1, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot of companies forget this simple rule to their detriment. IMHO, being lean and mean is what initially made Firefox and iTunes great pieces of software. Now you have Genius, Ping, Personas and all this other crap that I don't use and does nothing but slow everything down.

Posted by: Nylund154 | February 1, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to you all. It is terrific! Public folder worked perfectly the first try.

Posted by: denim39 | February 1, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Great points, shanehuang. It's easy to confuse ease of use with simplicity in implementation, but it can be much more work and require more attention to detail.

Dropbox's strength is that it has put its effort into perfecting existing features rather then adding half-baked new ones.

Posted by: dpurp | February 1, 2011 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Another bit of genius is in how they get their users to promote the service for them. Dropbox gives you 2GB free but if you promote the service (and take advantage of their freebie promotions) you can get up to 16 GB free.

Here's how to get 3.4 GB free at signup.

2 GB standard
500 MB http://db.tt/bCprooI (Sign up using this link and you get an extra 500MB)
250 MB https://www.dropbox.com/gs
640 MB https://www.dropbox.com/free
--------
3.4 GB

*This is my referral link. You get 500MB bonus instead of the standard 250MB because I have a student email address.

Posted by: barfoo | February 2, 2011 3:31 AM | Report abuse

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