Of all the things I love about Dropbox—incredibly seamless integration with OS X and Windows; automated back up and revision history; access to my files on multiple devices, wherever I am; sharing photos with my parents through the free account I set up for them—there is one I value the most: that every year Dropbox charges me $99 to use their service.
When Gmail launched in 2004, it invited 1,000 people they felt were influencers. They allowed these influencers to invite a limited number of their friends and family to the service, and continued to increase the invitation limit until eventually a market that had had enough time to build to the point where invitations were being sold for $100 each collapsed.
While Google was slowly scaling its product, it continued to improve one of its key offerings: an unheard of storage limit. Initially 25× their competitors’ storage capacities, the number continued to increase until it had decupled.
Today, few people worry about sending the photos they shot on their DSLR to their grandparents. One email can contain multiple Photoshop documents, rather than multiple emails containing single Photoshop documents. Documents can be retrieved years after they were received.
Google changed the way email works in the world. I no longer approach email the same way I did seven years ago. But, I’m uncomfortable. I don’t pay for Gmail. And while—unlike some products as of late—I do not fear it will be shut down any time soon, I do not like who holds the power in this relationship. I agreed to Gmail’s Terms of Service, and like everyone else I am sure, I did not like what I read.1
My point is, Google has all of the control. Should they decide their product would benefit its customers by providing, say, more personal information gleaned from my daily correspondences, that is what they will do. I, too, receive benefit from this relationship. But I do not have control over what the cost of that benefit will be.
Mailbox is interesting. No, I’m not using it, but I sure get why people are. The approach it takes is so human. I can imagine my brother and sister, two prototypical computer users, getting a lot of benefit from using Mailbox.
Today, Mailbox holds little appeal to me. This is because I don’t need a new front-end for my email. I need a new back-end.
To me, the most interesting element of Mailbox’s current offering is its server. Sure, right now it is simply facilitating the sorting of email, but imagine if it became smart. If it could read my email and perform actions based on its understanding of my behaviours, turning the way I naturally approach my email into my very own digital secretary. If it interfaced with other services I use, preventing me from missing that email regarding a task I have in my task management tool, or forwarding the address to a party I was invited to on Facebook to my Google Maps iPhone app.
And that’s before Dropbox enters the equation; with the ability to store all of my photo attachments in my Photos folder, backed up on Dropbox’s servers and available in gallery form to anyone I share them with. Or referencing a document saved in Dropbox rather than adding a file attachment, tracking its changes and backing up each revision. Or sharing a file larger than any other email service could pass through its servers.
Dropbox gives its users 2 GB of free storage. That is certainly more than most email users today need to archive all of their email attachments. Combining that 2 GB of file storage capacity with a full-fledged cloud-based email service would attract a lot of casual users. Dropbox has established its own referral/invitation strategy, which benefits all three parties involved in the transaction. Implementing the same strategy to a product as compelling as ad-free email could surely drive their growth over the next few years, if not longer.
And then, of course, we come to the most exciting part. Dropbox would charge for it. In my mind, it would make sense to simply add the email service to their existing pricing tiers in an effort to improve their overall product. Adding lower tiers, more consumer-friendly tiers, could convert many free-mail users into paying email customers.
I could see my parents paying for it.
And I would be comfortable, knowing that Dropbox—a company I pay money to host, sync, and back up my files and emails—would not want to fuck up and lose me as a customer.
- Of course I didn’t actually read it. Come on, now. ↩