Box.net Creates “News Feed” for Business Documents in the Cloud, Takes On Microsoft in Collaborative Software
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Carbonite and EMC’s Mozy. These days, such services even make it possible to browse your files online and load specific files back to your computer. The key difference between Box.net’s service and online backup services, says Levie, is that Box.net is all about sharing information with the right people, not just putting it on the cloud.
To demonstrate the point, he pulled out his iPad and brought up Box.net’s app, and logged into his company account. “This is a stream of all the information that’s being updated within my Box network,” Levie said, pointing to a feed of updates running down the iPad page. “Ben updated an engineering product document. Menaka added a new marketing dashboard update. Shawn downloaded the e-mail activity file. It’s a view of everything that is going on with the content of our business, and all of the different projects and teams and contracts being signed and marketing assets. So the real value is not just getting to your own data, but to all of the data that is meant to be seen by you.”
Of course, users of the iPad app can also call up the documents themselves: the app can display Word files, PowerPoints, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, and images. So if your office’s workflow centers around documents like these, it’s possible to go through much of your day using nothing but the Box.net app.
At least three factors have prepared the market for a content sharing service like Box.net, in Levie’s view. The first is the rise of a new generation of workers weaned on Facebook and Twitter and the iPhone. “We have all these amazing widgets for communicating in real time, yet when we get to the workplace it’s the opposite of that,” he says. “We have limited access, we’re behind a VPN [virtual private network], it’s not easy to share or use information. We want to build software that makes all of that extremely easy.”
Second is the fact that organizations have a growing need to share content across the boundaries of their internal networks. Systems like SharePoint were designed to be accessible only to people working within a company’s network of Windows computers. But “we may be collaborating with different partners and vendors and clients who are outside our firewall,” says Levie. “SharePoint hasn’t solved the problem with external sharing and collaboration, and that is where we are seeing business going today.”
Thirdly, there’s the growing comfort among IT administrators, whether in large, small, or medium-sized businesses, with cloud technologies. Amazon Web Services and Google Apps have been around for half a decade now. These services “have really shown that the cloud can be as reliable and secure and up-to-date—and way more scalable—than your internal systems,” says Levie. “A lot of IT departments are starting to get behind that, and I think we are the beneficiaries of a lot of education in that category.”
But if Box.net’s timing was good, the company has also made some wise engineering decisions. The biggest was probably the creation of an extensive application programming interface (API) allowing outside developers to build applications that access data stored on Box.net’s servers. Released shortly after the company’s launch—even before cloud storage utilities like Amazon’s S3 service existed—the API got developers thinking about … Next Page »