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.

Recent Enterprise File Sync and Sharing News

Here is a brief round-up of some recent news from the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing market segment.

EFSS Application Security

MobileIron published a whitepaper, titled “State of App Security”, that includes results of a survey conducted with its customers. The survey and white paper are briefly summarized in this post.
Survey respondents were asked to list the cloud applications that had been blacklisted by their IT departments. Of the top ten apps listed, five were EFSS solutions: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and SugarSync.
It’s important to note that all of these blacklisted apps are consumer-oriented and their vendors do offer business versions that are not commonly blacklisted because they include better security features. However, the unauthorized or “shadow” use of consumer EFSS solutions within businesses continues to pose significant information security risks.

Dropbox Doubles Down on Business

Dropbox made several product and business strategy announcements at its inaugural customer event, Dropbox Open, which was held on November 4th, in San Francisco. Most were directly relevant to the company’s increasing focus on businesses, rather than consumers. They are  briefly summarized in this Dropbox post, but here’s the skinny on a few.
First, it’s clear why Dropbox is doubling down on its efforts to win over organizations. The company announced that it has signed up around 50,000 new organizations as paying Dropbox Business customers in the last year. Dropbox now claims to have 150,000 business customers; that’s organizations, not seats. The company stated that business is it’s fastest growing target market.
To underscore the point, Dropbox announced a new product, Dropbox Enterprise, which “provides the same core security features, admin capabilities, and modern collaboration tools as Dropbox Business — plus new deployment tools, advanced controls, and services and support designed specifically for large organizations.”
Dropbox also announced three new administrative features that will be included in Dropbox Business as well as in Dropbox Enterprise. The new capabilities ‒ suspended user state, sign in as user, and custom branding ‒ are available now through the company’s Early Access program, with no general release date given.
Dropbox is going down the same road that Box has already traveled. It started with a consumer grade product, added functionality to make it more attractive and useful for small and medium businesses, and now is incorporating the robust security and control features that IT departments in large enterprises demand. The big question now is can Dropbox overtake Box in the EFSS market?

Google Drive Adds New Features

Google announced three new capabilities that are intended to improve the usability of Google Drive. These new features apply to all Google Drive users, not just business employees.
It’s now possible to receive a notification from the application on your Android or iOS device when someone has shared a file or folder with you. Previously, those notifications were made via email. The new notifications are actionable; clicking the link will take you to the document or folder that has bee shared.
Google Drive users can now request and grant access to a file or folder to which a link has been sent, but the owner forgot to extend access rights. The feature is mobile friendly. Android users can request access with a single tap. File and folder owners can instantly be notified of the request and provide access from their Android or iOS device.
Finally, it’s now possible to preview files stored on Google Drive on Android devices even if you don’t have a Google account. That feature has been available in Web browsers for a while and makes sense in that context. It’s hard to imagine why an Android device owner wouldn’t have a Google account, but, apparently, its is a problem and Google chose to address it.

Syncplicity Plays Catch-Up on Mobile Security

Syncplicity announced partnerships with AirWatch and MobileIron to help customers secure files on mobile devices. It should be safe to assume that the integration with AirWatch had been ready (or nearly so) for quite a while, since both were owned by EMC until it spun off Syncplicity a couple of months ago. At any rate, these partnerships merely bring Syncplicity even with its competitors, who have had similar partnerships or their own mobile device containerization capabilities for some time now.

Box Expands Its European Presence

Box has opened two new offices in Europe in the last 3 weeks, one in Amsterdam and another in Stockholm. This continental presence is crucial to Box as it seeks to grow by expanding overseas sales efforts. However, the new offices also raise questions about how Box (and competitors) will deal with the recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement that had been in place between the European Union and the United States.

ownCloud Brings Control of Open Source EFSS On-Premises

ownCloud announced the newest version (8.2) of its open source EFFS offering, which moves it to a hybrid model. With ownCloud 8.2, it’s now possible for customers to deliver security and control of their files residing in the cloud through an on-premises adminstrative console.

Linoma GoDrive Customers Gain Mobile Access

In another transformation to a vendor’s existing EFSS model, Linoma Software unveiled its GoAnywhere mobile apps for its GoDrive on-premises EFSS solution. Linoma customers can now access files residing in GoDrive from iOS and Android mobile devices. While files and folder are encrypted during transit, Linoma does not secure files while they are on a mobile device. However, they do provide an administrative capability to deactivate and wipe files and folders from devices that have been lost or stolen.

Dropbox Paper is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Last week, I wrote about the commoditization of the enterprise file sharing market and how pure play vendors are being forced to evolve their offerings to stay alive. My post focused on Hightail (originally YouSendIt) and its announcement of Spaces – a specialized file sharing, annotating and publishing offering for creative professionals.
Dropbox also made a product announcement last week, albeit quietly. The company has expanded beta testing of Paper, a new offering that was released in a highly limited beta, in March, under the name Notes.  Like Hightail’s new offering, Dropbox’s illustrates how they are responding to the functional parity that vendors have achieved with basic file sharing offerings and to their rapid downward price movement.

Yet Another Collaborative Authoring Tool?

Most commentators, including Gigaom’s Nathaniel Mott in his article from last week, described Paper as “a collaborative writing tool”. They compared it to Google Docs, Microsoft Office (especially its Word and OneNote components) and startup Quip. For sure, Paper has similar functionality to those products, and it allows people to write and edit documents together in real-time. However, I don’t believe that is the main point of Dropbox’s beta product. Instead, Paper is intended to be used as a lightweight case management tool.
Case Management is a discipline that brings resources, including relevant content, related to a single instance of a business process or an initiative into a common place – the case folder. While many think of Case Management as a digital technology, its principles were established in business activities that were wholly paper-based.
Think of an insurance claim years ago, where a customer filled out a paper claim form, and it  was then routed throughout the insurance company in a paper folder. As the process continued, additional paper documents, perhaps even printed photographs, were added to the folder. The last documents to go into the folder were the final claim decision letter to the customer and a copy of the check, if a payment was made on the claim.
Today, that same insurance claim process is likely to generate and use a mix of paper-based and electronic documents, although insurance companies are slowly moving as much of the process online as possible. However, the concept of organizing information related to the claim into a single folder remains, although the folder is now likely to be an electronic artifact, not a paper one.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Take another look at Dropbox’s beta Paper. Do you see it? Paper is a single point of organization for new content, files stored in Dropbox (and other repositories), existing Web content and discussions on all of those things. It’s a meta-document that acts like a case folder.
Paper enables lightweight case management, not the industrial-strength, production kind needed to handle high-volume, transactional business processes like insurance claims. Paper is case management for small teams, whose work might follow a pattern over time, but does not conform to a well-defined, repeatable process.
Working on a new software product at an early-stage startup with only a few coworkers? Start a new document in Paper, then add the functional and technical requirements, business projections, marketing assets, sales collateral, even the code for the software. Everything that is relevant to the product is one place in which it can be shared, viewed, commented on, discussed, edited and used for decision making. Just like a case folder in Case Management.

A New Way of Working

Still not convinced? Dropbox Product Manager Matteus Pan recently said:
“Work today is really fragmented…teams have really wanted a single surface to bring all of [their] ideas into a single place.” “Creation and collaboration are only half the problem,” he said. “The other half is how information is organized and retrieved across an entire company.”
That sounds like case management to me, but not the old-school type that you are likely more familiar with. Instead, Paper reflects the newer principles of Adaptive Case Management.
Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is a newer technology set that has been evolving from Production Case Management (PCM) over the last few years. ACM helps people deal with volatile processes by including collaboration tools alongside the workflow tools that are the backbone of PCM.
Dropbox Paper may be viewed as an extreme example of ACM, one which relies completely on the manual control of work rather than automating parts of it. In that regard, Paper takes its cues from enterprise social software, which is also designed to enable human coordination of emergent work, rather than the automation of stable processes. As Paper is more widely used in the current beta and beyond, it will be interesting to see if its adoption is stunted by the same obstacles that have limited the wholesale changes to established ways of working that social software requires.

Crashing Waves

I have not yet seen a demo of Dropbox Paper, but the screenshots, textual descriptions and comments from Dropbox employees that I have absorbed are enough to reveal that the product is more than just another collaborative authoring tool. If I was asked to make a comparison between Paper and another existing or previous tool, I would say that it reminds me of Google Wave, not Docs or Microsoft Office. Like Wave, Paper is a blank canvas on which you can collaborate with team members and work with multiple content types related to a single idea or business process in one place.
Google Wave was a powerful, but unintuitive tool that failed to get market traction. Will Paper suffer the same fate? Perhaps, but Dropbox hopes that the world is now ready for this new way to work. In fact, Dropbox is, in some regards, staking its continued existence on just that, as it tries to differentiate itself from other purveyors of commoditized file sharing services.

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.

How this Instagram-for-doctors is helping the ebola fight

Doctors without Borders, the esteemed non-profit that sends medics into developing countries, has found an unlikely ally in the war against ebola. It’s using Figure 1, a social network that bills itself as the “Instagram for doctors,” to recruit physicians to the cause. Figure 1 is giving Doctors without Borders free advertising in order to raise awareness of the mounting ebola crisis and prod potential volunteers to help in whatever way they can.

A nurse helps an ebola patient in Doctors without Borders' Figure 1 ad

A nurse helps an ebola patient in Doctors without Borders’ Figure 1 ad

The app pinned this picture of a nurse in New Guinea to the top of its feed, putting it front and center of its users. “It got a crazy amount of attention, over 15,000 views in 24 hours, which for us is quite good,” Figure 1 co-founder Dr. Greg Levy said. “All kinds of favorites and comments.”

Figure 1 was started to make it easy for doctors to educate themselves about new illnesses, procedures, and technology. Doctors and med students peruse a feed of injury and ailment images uploaded by other doctors, with all patient identifying features blurred.

“We had studied workflow behaviors of young physicians, keeping track of cases by taking pictures with their phones and sharing with their colleagues,” Figure 1 co-founder Dr. Josh Landy said. “We took a workflow that already existed and gave them away to have it searchable and protect patient privacy.”

Social networking, when developed for a particular profession, can sometimes create substantial value for their users. And as the Figure 1 – Doctors without Borders partnership shows, it can also create an unparalleled opportunity to reach a wide swath of such professionals.

As Figure 1’s user base grows, so does its power to reach medical professionals. Figure 1 has 150,000 doctors on the app, so it still has a ways to go. There aren’t a ton of up-to-date numbers on how many doctors are in the U.S., but the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics puts it at roughly 700,000.

The initial positive reaction to the Figure 1 ebola ad convinced Doctors without Borders to expand its partnership. The app is now helping it advertise new types of health techniques in Papa New Guinea. To combat tuberculosis, drones are bringing specimens from remote rural areas to the nearest hospitals for testing. Showing that activity to doctors in the U.S. keeps them abreast of the latest technology and — in theory — piques their interest in joining Doctors without Borders.

The drones that send TB specimen from rural areas in Papa New Guinea

The drones that send TB specimen from rural areas in Papa New Guinea

Secret tries to save itself by imitating Yik Yak

Secret’s “dramatic” app update (which I foreshadowed earlier this month) has arrived. The Verge has published an in-depth look at the confessional app’s attempt to relaunch itself after user downloads and app engagement plummeted.

Secret now looks and operates a whole lot more like its rising competitor Yik Yak. Images no longer dominate the feed. Instead, it’s primarily text-based, with the pictures appearing as thumbnails. It has turned away from the media emphasis of its nemesis Whisper and has abolished the website that curated the popular Secrets.

Power Secret users (if there are any left) will cheer about the new addition of one-to-one messaging. In the first version of Secret, users wanted a chatting tool so badly they turned en masse to alternative service Anonyfish, which was created to address the hole in the Secret product. But now when someone posts a Secret, others can directly chat them, keeping their anonymity.

The biggest change in Secret’s relaunch is that users’ feeds will be divided into “friends” and “nearby” instead of “friends” and “explore.” The nearby function shows posts from anyone within set locations, like cities or universities. “It’s more important what is said than who said it,” Secret CEO David Byttow told The Verge. “Our goal is to facilitate conversation — either in a physical location, or socially, with your friends.”

That’s a total ripoff of Yik Yak’s core function, but before you scoff at the move you should know Secret isn’t the only one doing so. Twitter previewed a nearly identical feature itself during its recent earnings call and is reportedly working with Foursquare to power it. Take a look at the three product comparisons: Yik Yak first, Twitter second, and Secret third. See some similarities?

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location-based post tool

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

Screenshot of Secret's new feed, via The Verge

Screenshot of Secret’s new feed, via The Verge

Yik Yak clearly has these other social apps on the run, lest they get overtaken by a newcomer. Since Yik Yak’s appearance, it has skyrocketed through the app download charts, gone viral in college communities (much the way [company]Facebook[/company] did), and raised $62 million from WhatsApp backer Sequoia in late November. Its location-feed premise is by no means proven, but it has shown enough traction to worry far bigger companies.

When I wrote a feature on Yik Yak in October, I asked “Could Yik Yak be the real winner among anonymity apps?” It looks as if the answer may be yes.

Rumored Twitter-Foursquare partnership shows Yik Yak is a threat

Twitter is reportedly teaming up with Foursquare to power location-based tweets, according to Business Insider.  Location features are key to Twitter’s product roadmap, because the company believes such contextual information will make the service more useful for people.

But there’s lots of product changes that would make Twitter more useful to people, particularly new user onboarding tools. So why is Twitter focusing on location-based tweeting, arguably a departure from its core service, now?

It may have to do with new competitor Yik Yak. Yik Yak spread virally through colleges with a product that’s similar to Twitter, except your feed is composed of posts from people near your location. The app has had a stunning rise through the charts, and just raised $62 million in new funding from Sequoia (the main backer of WhatsApp). Although it’s frequently grouped in with the Secrets and Whispers of the world, Yik Yak sees Twitter as its big competitor. With Twitter now taking geolocation so seriously, it appears the feeling is mutual.

BI didn’t get the scoop on what, exactly, the Foursquare-enabled Twitter feature would look like, but sources told the publication we could see it as early as the first quarter of 2015.

We can look to Twitter’s recent Analyst Call for some idea. During that time, Twitter showcased a wide array of preview products — ones it was planning but hadn’t finished building. Location-based tweet organization was one such feature.

In the slides Twitter showed, people could navigate to micro tweet areas, seeing all the tweets coming out of, say, Grand Central Terminal or Olive Garden, Times Square. Yik Yak’s Peek Anywhere tool is similar, although it’s based on pin dropping, as you can see below:

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

 

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location based post tool

It was hard to tell from the Analyst Call, where a ton of product previews were dumped, how much Twitter was prioritizing this feature. But if it’s working alongside Foursquare to introduce it as early as January – March 2015, it’s clear this matters. It will be one of the biggest changes to Twitter’s product since its inception. And if users adopt it, it could pose significant problems for Yik Yak.