I’ve been using Dropbox for about a month now, the free service. I had been looking for automated backup software/options and found Dropbox useful enough for daily use. It’s a worthwile service, even the free version with 2gb of storage. Set a dropbox folder and the files are automatically updated and backed up to your Dropbox account online. If files are lost locally like, say, in a sudden hard drive crash, just reinstall dropbox and your files are automatically synced back to your new hard drive. Sharing files with others is a snap and accessing your own files remotely is also just as easy with a web interface to your dropbox.
Similarly, after trying Squarespace yesterday, I found it an excellent, well put together service. It’s a sort of web publishing platform with slick tools for smooth editing of layout and content. Unlike a traditional webhost, you aren’t dealing with software on a web server and all the headaches that can come with that package. No mysql databases, wordpress installs, etc. Editing the look of the site is incredibly easy, so easy in fact, it makes editing traditional WordPress design’s CSS seem arcane by comparison. It should be that easy to edit the design of any WordPress theme and perhaps it will be if the smart people developing it take any clues. If you wanted a reliable, easy way to maintain a publishing website, Squarespace is a great package.
The problem with both of these serices is that they’re locked into a use that is very narrow. Both have per month charges and both, while being very easy to use, are limited in their scope as services. This is by design and is probably what makes them such stable and appealing applications. But it is precisely this narrow focus that I find frustrating. I already pay for webhosting. I have SSH access to a virtual private server and while this more traditional setup requires more know how and maintenence, it also has more freedom. I am not stuck with a very cookie cutter web publishing app (however good that cookie is). There are many packages I can install through my web panel and I have installed other open source web apps such as Ampache (a music streaming app). I would love to have more space for my Dropbox account, but that would require at least $10 extra a month. I have plenty of storage space on my hosting account, so why not be able to install Dropbox as a software package on my own account? Yes that would mean giving up the support and reliability of using Dropbox’s official service, and I realize most people would not be interested. I don’t even think it needs be open source either. I would be willing to purchase Dropbox as a software package just like I might purchase a traditional software package. There would be less support, but the tradeoff would be the flexibility to use that software how I wanted.
As we see more apps ‘in the cloud’, I wonder how many more projects we’ll see like Dropbox and Squarespace. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the developers of both projects have done an excellent job and deserve making a good living selling their services. I merely wonder if there can’t be another option for people like me who basically rent a computer in the cloud. I have my personal computer, which I maintain and use as I see fit. Then I have a computer in the cloud, if you will. I mainly use it for web publishing, yes, but even in the 5 years or so I’ve been renting this space, I have seen more projects developed to use this space in creative ways. Maybe an idea for a new web service wouldn’t be to sell high capacity hosting for web publishing, but a sort of renting your own computer in the clouds for your personal use. Your own Ampache-like service, for instance, or photo publishing, or Dropbox like software, or any other type of web service you might find useful for yourself. You pay one monthly fee to rent the cloud computer, but instead of a traditional web host with difficult to master command line interface, you have a user friendly Squarespace-like interface to manage your cloud software. Hmmmm.. maybe I’m describing a Web OS, which has been attempted. I’m not sure. I get use out of the software I’ve installed on my hosting account and I think with the right controls and price, some people, at least, might be find that type of service useful.
It’s a service I would like in any case. In the meantime I’ll keep using the free Dropbox and backing up my photos and videos to my hosting account via other software on my machine. But if if anyone from Dropbox ever reads this, I’d be willing to put my money where my mouth is and pay for a boxed version of the software I could install on my own account. Until then, it’s free Dropbox for me.