Kent asked “Where’s my G-Drive?” where he pondered what it would be like to have your computer dropboxed (verbing the noun). He went on to dream of a time when your computer was essentially just a thin client connecting to a remote server run by Google, and a all your data was stored there. He listed off some really cool use cases, and then went on to explain why they weren’t a possibility yet. Bandwidth, privacy, space, etc.
But he’s thinking small. He’s also not ignoring some fundamental human concepts, and also why Dropbox is successful.
First, let’s look at why Dropbox is successful: automatic syncing. I can be on my computer, move to my iPhone, and still have all the files. Move to my laptop, and the files are there as well. You can even log onto their website into your account and access your files.
None of this is data backup. It’s all syncing. Once you realize *why* Dropbox is successful, you realize what you are actually looking for. You are looking for a device that intelligently syncs your data across all your devices without needing to sacrifice bandwidth, eliminating privacy concerns, and not requiring massive amounts of storage.
So, let’s move on, and discover what *the* service will be that takes the throne.
First, it will focus on syncing intelligently. This doesn’t mean syncing everything all the time, but syncing what you use. There are things my iPhone can’t open that I sync via Dropbox. It’s useless to download this. It’s also useless to sync this over the web when my phone and computer are on the same network. So, the idea is to sync, but only when needed. Sync-on-Read. Bandwidth here is an issue, sure. But only in speed, and frankly, when your living in an era when streaming HD movies is a reality and common place, it’s not a big concern. Let’s just say, Sync-on-Read is no more a problem then the current Sync-on-Save model currently in place. Also, once something is synced, it can be stored locally.
Next, since you only sync when you read, that means you need to connect to machine that holds the data. The downside here is that you need to connect to your home machine to access the data, and the machine needs to be powered on. But, I venture to guess that anyone using a system like this would keep their computers on anyways. After all, a computer shut off can’t sync regardless. Of course, you could also ensure that the system will figure out where it can get the file. If I have a file on multiple machines, and the main machine is off, the software can still grab the data.
The benefit to this is you still get to store you data locally. Local storage isn’t going away. People want their data. Sure, they want backups, but if their internet goes down, they don’t want to lose access to the data. And adding more data to the system is easy. Just add another hard drive like you do now. Also, the service provider need not store the data remotely. They just need to keep track of your various machines, and make sure machine A can speak with machine B. This eliminates privacy concerns. Instead of worrying how much disk space to rent, you just handle it yourself.
Essentially, you turn this from a push environment into a pull. You aren’t handed data, you ask for it. The service provider would manage things like figuring out which file is the latest copy, and keep track of local copies in case something changed and you didn’t want.
Kent’s original plan was “Install G-Drive, Tell G-Drive which files to sync, Wait 3 days for the magic to happen, That’s it.” In my plan, the idea can essentially be “Install G-Drive” and that’s it. Take your phone with you, and have access to the file. Technically speaking, it’s not incredibly difficult. It’s making the workflow easy. Dropbox easy.
Who will deliver this? Apple has the best opportunity to do something like this. They have the complete infrastructure, from hardware to software, to handle something like this. Controlling the entire pipeline, it’s really just a willingness on their part that is needed. Consider for a moment that they already have MobileMe which handles a lot of this. Microsoft can do this. Live Mesh and SkyDrive were initial attempts at this field, but still, it’s not a complete end to end solution like what I discussed. Google, if anything, is the one company farthest behind on this. They have various services, like Picasa, that already handle online storage. The problem is syncing everything together across the OS. MS and Apple both have their own operating systems and phone platforms they can use to bring it all together. Google is missing out (and while Android is awesome, it’s missing it’s older cousin, a Google OS that is actively being pushed).
Could Dropbox deliver? Maybe. At the software end, I think they could pivot fast enough and release a product like the one I discussed quickest. Will they? I don’t know. They’d have to charge for the service, and would someone want to pay for this? I would. A couple bucks a month to have all my computers synced like this easily would be nice.
I’d love to leave everything at home, and go, and not worry about forgetting to sync up the pictures this Christmas while I’m at my mother’s. If I want to show her videos, I shouldn’t have to plan that in advance.
Cloud storage is an excellent idea, don’t get me wrong. But I’d much rather have proper syncing first.