In the words of Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, sharing documents and other files online is “bafflingly, still really difficult.” I mean, clearly it’s doable through email and, yes, services such as Dropbox, but it’s still kind of a pain. With a new feature launching today, Houston and his team are trying to make things as absolutely simple as possible. And it looks like they’ve succeeded.
Houston and Product Manager Ivan Kirigin demonstrated the feature to TechCrunch Editor Eric Eldon and me last week. It was one of those demos that flew by — in a good way. Now, if you want to share a file in Dropbox, you just click on the file, then click on “Get Link”, and Dropbox will automatically generate a custom URL. You can share that URL via email or however else you like, and whoever clicks on it will be able to view the file in their browser. Simple, and also the first easy way for Dropbox users to share files with people who don’t have Dropbox accounts.
There are other things worth pointing out beyond the basic functionality. One is that the experience is simple for both the person viewing the file and the person sharing it. There’s no complicated upload process — you just need to drag something into your Dropbox folder (assuming it isn’t there already), and then it takes two clicks to get the URL. The Dropbox team showed us that it’s not just about documents, but also photos, videos, and even folders. You can also share files from the Dropbox mobile app, and view them in a mobile browser. (Dropbox has already quietly launched the feature in its mobile apps.) Oh, and there’s an option for deleting a file that you’ve previously shared.
Houston says the team spent a lot of time trying to create a beautiful viewing experience (in fact, a spokesperson tells me that Kirigin, engineer Makinde Adeagbo, and designer Jon Ying have been working on this for more than a year). He also imagines that this could be applicable to a broad range of use cases, from coach wanting to share photos with their team to a professor sharing the class syllabus with students.
One current drawback is the lack of security features, aside from the link itself — as long as someone has that link, they can view the file. On the bright side, that means their viewing experience is as easy as Houston wants it to be. He also notes that guessing a long, randomized URL is incredibly difficult. However, he wants to add more security eventually, like optional password protection.
You can read more about the links feature here. Eldon and I were actually so taken with it that we’re going to be encouraging companies to follow Dropbox’s lead. So startups and PR people: Please use Dropbox links to share press materials with us.