Open ... and Shut In the realm of digital overlords, Google just took one more step toward being the lord of all.
While Google+ has failed to draw crowds as a social network, Google has made collaboration through existing networks exceptionally easy. This week Google introduced the ability to send supersized email attachments of up to 10GB. In so doing, Google has simultaneously driven a small spike into the heart of file-syncing services like Dropbox, while also reestablishing the lowly inbox as ground zero for content storage and collaboration.
I love Dropbox, and have used it in both the personal and corporate contexts. At work, it's a great way to share folders with colleagues as we collaborate on presentations or other files. It's also a convenient way to keep a digital storage locker across my different devices.
But it's primarily at home that I use Dropbox, and almost always to share large files with friends. The downside to this approach is that, as easy as it is to get started with Dropbox, and as well as Dropbox explains why and how people should use it, it's simply not as easy or familiar as email. With Google's slick integration of Google Drive with Gmail, I suspect my use of Dropbox will plummet, as it's simply easier to "email" the files to friends rather than sending them links to those files.
Yes, when I send a 10GB "attachment" through Google's new Gmail feature, I'm really sending them a link to a Google Drive-hosted file, the same as Dropbox. But the Google's seamless integration sets its approach apart, and it's what I'll be using with my non-techie friends.
I doubt I'm alone. Most of the non-tech world still hasn't discovered Dropbox, and likely won't need to given that many already use their email as a file system of sorts.
As Bruce Schneier writes, today's technology user "pledges allegiance to the United States of Convenience". While Apple takes the pain out of the mobile experience by seamlessly integrating hardware and software, Google is going a step further by integrating our digital existence across disparate devices through its sync services, Gmail, Google Drive, and more. By embedding file storage deep into Gmail, Google is giving users one more compelling reason to store their content in Google's cloud, knowing that sharing such content is as easy as email.
Rory O'Driscoll, partner with Scale Venture Partners and an investor in Box, a file-sync service, saw this coming, writing back in June 2012:
Google, Microsoft and Apple won’t just roll over and die. They will compete hard, using tight technical integration with their existing products and financial bundling to drive adoption. If this is just another feature war, this strategy will work.
If it is an architecture shift, and the opportunity is indeed for an independent cloud-based file system, the old guard’s strategy, with the inevitable “installed base” driven trade-offs, will fail. The trade-offs will cripple the functionality of the offerings in a market where the best product will be the one that is file type agnostic and takes advantage of what a cloud based architecture can offer.
He's right, but also wrong. Google has enabled the tight integration of cloud storage sync into Gmail, just as he predicted. But Google also enables users to embed links to Box, Dropbox, or other storage systems. It just happens to be one-click easier with its own Drive service.
That click, I believe, will be enough.
Perhaps it won't challenge Box as much as Dropbox, given that Box is more focused on enterprise users, and a shared file system hosted in the cloud makes more sense for enterprises than home users. But it's definitely a challenge to both, as it makes content collaboration as easy as email, a collaboration metaphor that is widely understood.
Google doesn't always get things right. It fails far more often than it succeeds. But when it succeeds, as I believe it will with this integration, it succeeds at grand scale. Simplicity wins in today's tech battles, and Google just delivered up to 10GB per email of simplicity. ®
Matt Asay is vice president of corporate strategy at 10gen, the MongoDB company. Previously he was SVP of business development at Nodeable, which was acquired in October 2012. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe (now part of Facebook) and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register. You can follow him on Twitter @mjasay.