WeTransfer Moves Toward File Transfer as a Microservice

It shouldn’t be news that enterprise file storage, sync, and sharing software and services (EFSS) have largely become a commodity. Prices continue to fall, in part because providers’ storage costs are still decreasing. More importantly, their cost to actually transfer a file has always been negligible, even with the application of strong encryption.
With costs low and decreasing, it’s fair to ask which of the aspects of file storage, sync, and sharing creates enough value for customers that providers can charge for the service. When you stop and think about it, the sharing or transfer of the file has always been the action that the rest of the bundled offer hangs on, especially for cloud-based services. A file can’t be stored on a provider’s servers until a copy has been transferred there. Similarly, changes to files must be transferred to keep copies in sync. The vast majority of the value proposition clearly lies in the transfer (sharing) of the file.
So it makes sense for the file transfer element to be the focal point for providers’ monetization strategies. If you accept that premise, then the next logical conclusion to be made is that file transfer can be monetized as a stand-alone service. In today’s world, that service would be built and licensed as a microservice, which can be used in any application that can call a RESTful API.
WeTransfer, a company based in Amsterdam (despite claiming San Francisco as its headquarters), has announced today the first step toward the creation of such a commercially-available file transfer microservice. A new partnership makes WeTransfer’s file transfer service an option (alongside Dropbox) for delivering photos and videos purchased from Getty Image’s iStock library. WeTransfer works in the background while the customer remains in iStock.
WeTransfer has exposed its file transfer API to Getty Images only at this point, but will be able strike up similar partnerships with other providers of graphics services. Of course, WeTransfer could also license API access to any developer looking to incorporate file transfer into an application. While it isn’t clear from their statement today if and when that will happen, the possibility is very real and quite compelling.
It’s important to note that both Box and Dropbox have made their file sharing APIs commercially available to developers for several months now, so WeTransfer is playing catch up in this regard. However, WeTransfer has emphasized file sharing almost exclusively since its founding in 2009 as a web-based service that only stores a file being shared for seven days before deleting it from their servers. Dropbox, on the other hand, originally was popular because of its simple-but-effective sync feature, and Box was initially perceived as a cloud-based storage service.
The potential market for file transfer microservices is so young and large that no provider has a clear advantage at this point. The recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement (PDF) between the European Union and the United States also presents a significant challenge to file services vendors that provide file storage for a global and multinational customer base. If WeTransfer emphasizes its legacy as an easy-to-use, dependable file transfer-only service with its newly-created microservice, it could gain a larger share of the market and expand well beyond its current niche of creative professional customers.

Hightail to a Defensible Niche

It’s hardly news that enterprise file sharing technology has become commoditized. That process has very visibly played out in the tech media over several months now. However, most of the articles written have assumed that pure play file sharing startups have a bleak future, if any, as Microsoft, Google, Citrix and other platform vendors continue to commoditize both functionality and pricing.
Reality begs to differ. Box has convincingly moved beyond commodity file sharing by offering ready-made, industry-specific solutions and a developer platform chock full of APIs for organizations that prefer to build their own applications using Box technology. Accellion and Egnyte have focused on the sharing of content in hybrid environments that combine cloud-based and on-premises file storage.

Hightail Makes Its Move

Hightail is another enterprise file sharing pure play that was supposed to be put out of business as a result of market consolidation. It too is still standing and has just announced a new offering, called Spaces, that essentially repositions the company from commodity file sharing to content-based collaboration for creative professionals.
Spaces is an attempt by Hightail to help people who work at ad agencies, film and music studios, and in Marketing departments to not only share, but also to give and get feedback on audio and visual files. Collaborators can make annotations directly on visual files and comment in-context of one of its elements. Comments on audio and video files are also made in context, as they appear in the track’s timeline.

Spaces is really a project management tool for creatives, albeit one with only lightweight task management functionality. Individuals can establish a collaborative space in which the creative artifacts related to a specific project are shared, annotated and commented on, and distributed in final form. There is also a dashboard that lets the owner/administrator of the space monitor activities taken by it members on its assets, including comments made and downloads of files.

Darwin’s Theories at Work

Hightail is a clear example of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and specialization at work. From its inception (as YouSendIt, in 2004) the company has evolved from a provider of technology for sharing large digital files to one that also stored those files in the cloud. Now Hightail is specializing to ensure its continuing existing. Its CEO, Ranjith Kumaran, recently acknowledged that roughly 80% of the company’s revenue comes from creative agencies and firms, so focusing the company to serve those customers was a logical move.
Hightail is certainly not the first company to start as a purveyor of a general technology and then specialize to survive. It’s not even the first in the context-centric collaboration space. As noted above, Box has also created industry-specific solutions. The real question is whether or not this pivot will provide Hightail with a niche that is large enough for the company to not only sustain its current level of operations, but to grow as well.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Central Desktop may well serve as a historical example of Hightail’s future.  In 2011, Central Desktop launched SocialBridge, a new offering that repositioned the company from the generic social collaboration space to the same niche that Hightail has selected – creative and marketing agencies. While Central Desktop saw some success and growth as a result, it sold itself three and a half years later to PGi, who wanted to augment its existing solution for real-time meetings into a more holistic collaboration offering.
Hightail’s evolution may take a similar path. Adobe could combine assets from its Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings to create something similar to Hightail Spaces, but Adobe could also choose to buy Hightail. One of Adobe’s traditional foes, such as Corel or Quark, could acquire Hightail in an effort to better compete Adobe. It’s even possible that Apple could want to buy Hightail to augment its existing offerings for creative professionals.
Whatever happens to Hightail down the road, they’ve made a move this week that they needed to do to stick around a while longer as an independent company. They’ve also demonstrated that generic file sharing has become completely commoditized and that evolutionary specialization will be required of all the other pure play enterprise file sharing vendors if they want to continue in business.

Creative Tip: Go Looking For Inspiration In All the Wrong Places

I suppose you could say this is the second article in my series of counter-intuitive tips, the first being the one in which I advised everyone to lie to themselves in order to get more work done. This time around, the tips I’m providing don’t involve any self-deception, but they still offer indirect means to a completely normal and much sought-after goal: improving your creative work.

Contractors, freelancers and people who work in a number of different offices at larger companies know all about doing a survey of the competition to not only provide a frame of reference against which they can measure their own work, but also to find new sources of inspiration from which to borrow. But borrowing from other players in your field can not only make things stale quickly, it can also sometimes be legally tricky. Here are some healthy, if unusual, alternatives. Read More about Creative Tip: Go Looking For Inspiration In All the Wrong Places

NaNoWriMo is Nearly Upon Us: Are You Participating?

nano_09_blk_support_120x90November is almost here, and that means it’s also nearly time for NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the abbreviated term. It’s an event run by Office of Letters and Light, a not-for-profit organization that takes as its primary focus encouraging young people to write through various education-based programs.

The goal is for participants to write an entire 50,000-word novel, from start to finish, within the space of a single month. Sound challenging? It should, unless you’re Stephen King, who seems able to match that kind of production without even meaning to. It’s free to enter, although donations are encouraged to help the organization pursue its charitable goals. Read More about NaNoWriMo is Nearly Upon Us: Are You Participating?

Weekly App Store Picks: September 26, 2009

As another week draws to a close, the App Store expands even further with a torrent of new toys and tools. As ever, I’ve hand-picked four recent iPhone releases for you to take a look at.

This week I’ve given our picks a creative vibe, selecting four different apps that let you engage with your artistic and cultural side. My top pick for the week is Xewton Music Studio, plus I’ve been looking at Snapture, GraffitiGeo and McSweeney’s.

Xewton Music Studio ($19.99)

app_icon_xewtonArmed with an iPhone, there’s never been so much choice for making music on the move. Despite all the choice, the recording app I keep coming back to is FourTrack. It’s a fully-featured 4 track recorder, complete with bouncing, panning, metronome and Wi-Fi sharing.

When it comes to full on audio sequencing and sketching out bigger ideas, I head for Intua’s BeatMaker. The app costs twenty bucks, but for producers it’s definitely worth it: this is about as close to Ableton Live as you’ll get on your iPhone.

Now it looks like I might be adding Xewton Music Studio to my iPhone audio app lineup. Rather than put the focus on electronica, like Beatmaker, Music Studio is essentially a sequencer designed with traditional composers and songwriters in mind.

Xewton Music Studio includes 21 instruments, a 128-track sequencer, piano-roll note editor, real-time effects and lots more. Although the app may well take some time to learn, it’s powerful enough to potentially become a useful composition tool for many musicians.

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Business Card Alternatives For the Real World

business_cardsSo you’re a web worker, but you still meet people in meatspace that you want to network with, and making them type an email into their phone or handing them a plain jane business card either feels awkward or isn’t getting results.

There are other things you can do, things that are far more representative of your trade than a lifeless rectangular slip of paper with some contact information printed upon it. That’s not to say that all rectangular slips of paper are without merit, just that most traditional ones just aren’t getting the job done like they used to, following the demise of the Rolodex. Here are some alternatives you may want to consider. Read More about Business Card Alternatives For the Real World

Weekend Vid Picks: Just Mad About Those Mad Men Parodies!

While you can hardly say that the AMC hit drama Mad Men isn’t on the public radar, the fact is that it has a lot smaller viewership than, say, CSI: Miami. But all that’s going to change in the next few days, as the 1960s-set rumination on advertising and America is not only up for a bajillion Emmys on Sunday, but (probably more of note) stars Jon Hamm and January Jones will be on Monday’s Oprah.
Which means that now is as good a time for compiling some Mad Men parodies. Because, oh, there have been parodies…
The latest one I’ve seen is courtesy of, oddly, former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre, and co-stars Nate Cordry (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Rob Delaney (Coma, Period). The extremely NSFW (for language) short resets Sterling Cooper in the present day — and in Boston.

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