Box introduces Box Elements, pre-packaged content services for developers

Box introduced a new type of developer tool today called Box Elements, pre-packaged application pieces designed to deliver Box functionality with a few lines of code.

Eventually there will be three types of Elements: UI, app and services. Today, the company is launching the UI pieces, which include Content Uploader, which lets developers add drag and drop file capability into any application; Content Explorer, which lets developers insert Box file navigation in any application; Content Preview, which lets developers display any of 120 different file types inside an application including interactive video; and Content Picker, which enables developers to insert file picking capability inside an application.

While none of these sound like earth-shattering capabilities, each one would require a fair amount of development time to build from scratch. What Box is offering here is the ability to implement them quickly with little or no content expertise required.

If you think about how developers use Stripe to add payments, Box is trying to achieve the same level of simplicity with content services, according to Jeetu Patel, SVP of platform and chief strategy officer at Box.

“We always believed content is similar to payments. It would be counter-productive to think about building an eCommerce site and building a payment stack [from scratch], and it is just as illogical building a content stack,” he said.

Patel says Elements offer developers the fastest way to build apps on the Box platform and solves a real problem for programmers, who want to deliver a diverse set of experiences, but don’t want to be an expert on every piece of the application. “The challenge we’ve seen at most companies is that very few want to be a cloud content management firm, but they have pressure to build amazingly immersive experiences for internal or external audiences,” he said.

It’s important to understand that these Elements require Box on the back end, but they expose different parts of Box separate from the application itself. This is a vision that CEO Aaron Levie has been articulating for years. In an interview in 2014 with Jesse Hempel at SXSW (go to 24:45 of this video), Levie indicated that over time — he cited five years from then — you might be using Box services inside of applications without even knowing it was Box. The tools announced today are a big step toward fulfilling that vision — ahead of the timetable that Levie thought at the time.

As for pricing, that will be based on a number of options the company introduced earlier this year, which they created to provide developers with greater cost certainty and choice around how they are charged. But make no mistake, the idea here is to use this to drive revenue by using Box not only as a tool directly, but as a set of content services used across applications.

Patel says the company plans to open source each of the Box Elements in order to let developers have input into these tools with the goal of making them increasingly easy to use.