Dropbox File Sharing via Links: An Unfair Advantage?

As I said: I love Dropbox. No doubt about it.

So now the folks at TechCrunch and Fast Company are positively giddy over Dropbox announcing the ability to share files via links, by passing a unique URL to your intended recipient.

Which looks like it could be quite valuable for:

  • ad-hoc sharing (where I don’t want to go through the trouble of setting up a shared Dropbox folder)
  • for sharing with people who don’t use Dropbox (e.g. because they sit behind a corporate firewall).

Fast Company is even taking Microsoft and others to task for not coming up with this seemingly and elegant solution. Now that’s kind of a low blow.

Because Microsoft would not be able to deliver this type of minimal solution even if they tried. The reason is simple: This type of file-sharing will not always work and can get users into all sorts of quandaries, among them:

  • Versioning mishaps, where you have an old link and I have created a new version in the meantime. And where I naively expect you to see the new version. But you don’t.
  • Same for deletion.
  • Forwarding mishaps, where you may have forwarded the link to a third party, who now has access to the file, but I really didn’t mean for that to happen. Think of how often you have had that happen with forwarded emails.
  • Keeping track of the URLs that you have sent me so I can retrieve the files later on.
  • If you send me several files then I will have to manually remember several storage locations. Unless you zip, of course. What a drag.

So here’s the dilemma: Microsoft could never deliver such an “incomplete” solution to their customers, because their reputation (and their cost basis for the support hotline) are on the line.

Dropbox, on the other hand, can just push ahead and deliver a solution that adds value but will not always work. Maybe users adapt and learn how to work with the potential limitations. Maybe users push back and then you pull the feature. No biggie, it’s a young product and most users are still early adopters.

Sounds like an unfair advantage for the insurgent over the incumbent!

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