On Dropbox, Slack pings and Twitter moderation

How hard is it to do things? Often it turns out to be pretty hard.

There’s an infamous Hacker News thread about Dropbox that crops up whenever there’s a conversation about how difficult it would be to build a replacement for a well-known service. The forum note, which you can read here, comes from back in 2007, when Dropbox was a “YC app” that had a very simple pitch: “Throw away your USB drive.”

The poster argues that what Dropbox built at the time was something potential users could replicate “quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem,” provided they are on Linux. The commenter helpfully included instructions for Windows and Mac as well.

This is my last Exchange for some time. Starting Monday, I am on leave for a few months.

Thankfully, my amazing colleague Anna Heim — who already co-writes with me weekly — will be at the helm.

Back soon! — Alex

Perhaps the comment was right at the time; Dropbox’s core user group when it was just a little YC company was likely tech heavy. Some of them must have had the chops — and interest — to build a Dropbox clone on their local machine.

It was a small group in the end. Dropbox grew to become a massive company, went public and in its most recent quarter (Q3 2022) posted $591.0 million worth of revenue. That’s nearly $200 million per month.

The real argument that we might pick with the Hacker News scribbler is that building a single piece of software for one’s own use may be, at times, doable as an alternative to using a paid, hosted service. Hats off to folks who tinker, build and write their own code; may you make really cool things that are beloved.

But for us who don’t get paid to noodle with code, we’re going to use services that abstract away the technical challenges, as well as all the complicated company-building work that comes with highly usable and portable digital systems.