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Is Box.net Collaborative Enough?

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Box.net has announced a new round of funding that brought in close to $50mil USD. Watching some of the comments on twitter it was clear that some don’t think they have a feature set that rises to the level of true collaboration. It reminds me of another argument not so long ago when industry experts argued that SharePoint wasn’t really ECM. The accepted position today seems to be that SharePoint is “enough ECM” for most. I believe what the team over at Box.net have tapped into is the same thing in collaboration. At the end of the day – it matters much more what paying customers think about the completeness of a feature set than the arbitrary boundaries of analysts and competitors.

As we learned from SharePoint the first rule in overtaking a market is solve the most pervasive problem first – rudimentary file sharing – and they have done a fine job with that. With this investment they plan to drive hard into the mobile space without the baggage of legacy licensing models, backward compatibility, upgrades or analysts expectations. Sure taking on SharePoint in the enterprise is audacious – but even with the VC’s to answer to they are in a much better position to take risks than the larger, older and far less nimble old world players.

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13 Responses

  1. What, no shout out for being half of the argument?


  2. sorry Pie – next time I’ll be sure to mention you.

  3. If, as you say:

    it matters much more what paying customers think about the completeness of a feature set than the arbitrary boundaries of analysts and competitors

    let’s ask the question of how many paying customers box.net have, and more importantly, how are they using the tool? For simple file sharing or for “true collaboration” (a term I think needs better definition)?

    • I could not agree more with you. Collaboration is really nice round term which covers a lot of “air” for analyst. I read recently nice post about the history of collaboration. It was started back in ninety’s by Lotus, than eRoom ruled the realm and out of nowhere sharepoint appeared and sacked the competitors and now we keep hearing about social collaboration (facebook for enterprise like yammer.com or discuorsehq.com)

      Basic collaboration is at the end of the day limited to: file exchange and version control plus some fancy addons.

      I would go so far as to say that the business users as opposed to customer (the buyer) do not really care what “collaboration” is. They do not care if this is sharepoint, documentum, box.net, alfresco, yammer or whatever as long as their basic everyday problems are solved in the least intrusive way.

      That is why I think that for some enterprises BOX.net will be appealing since it will meet their basic requirements. One would be really surprised to find out how many enterprises still use share drive for hmm… “collaboration”

  4. BTW – I’ve seen http://www.discoursehq.com – it’s much more then just collaboration. I think that they are onto something building their tool on top of existing business social graph (in their case LinkedIn).

  5. great discussion.
    I was asked on twitter by the aforementioned @piewords for a definition of collaboration. I offered up ” more than 1 person contributing to a common product”. Then I looked it up on dictionary.com and was pleased to see I was right:) – except for the alternative definition referring to being a traitor supporting an occupying force in your own country. I am thinking of a 1/2 dozen cracks about Microsoft and Sharepoint I could make right now but….

    There is no fixed list of features. The key is the system must facilitate the joint creation, not just consumption of work. That can take many forms in features common to content management, such as version control but newsfeeds, datatables, project plans and calendars are all tangential capabilities that enrich the core of being able to access the same work products.(file sharing)

    The “paying” versus free use is a great question because at the end of the day it is revenue that will determine box.net’s long term viability. An equally interesting question to ask is what do the users think they are paying for. IF they call it collaboration – who am I to argue but the question should also be directed at those paying Microsoft IBM , OT ,etc.. I think the varied answers there are as much an indicator as it is for box. I may address that it another post…

    • I’m comfortable with that definition, but have to point out the obvious – that box.net does very little to support “joint creation” of files (let alone supporting anything else on your list – newsfeeds, datatables, project plans, calendars, etc.).

      To follow on from what Marcin said above about file shares – box.net is basically little more than a slightly different take on ye olde file server, albeit one that has some extra features (activities, tagging, commenting, versions,, etc.) and is more difficult to access (can’t just “mount” Box.net as a drive then use existing/familiar tools for authoring content).

  6. yet without those things here we are typing about it and wondering what we would do with $50 mil.

    Again – solve the most pervasive problem first – Sharepoint solved for it in on-premise model. The next major player (maybe MS again) will solve for it in the cloud with no infrastructure or IT spend to access it. I agree with you – many features missing but will not having them hurt adoption with a barrier to entry so low?

    • I doubt it, but then I never said I doubted Box.net’s ability to do well for their specific use case (file sharing). What I did comment on was the gushing fanbois who were touting Box.net as the One True Answer to Social Enterprise Collaboration Systems (that’s “SECS”, for all you #crapronym fans).

      I see that as a significant overstatement of what Box.net actually does today, and while they may extend their capabilities in that direction in the future, I try to avoid speculation (except for entertainment purposes of course – entertainment trumps all!). As an implementer on the receiving end I’ve been burnt too many times by naively believing vendor marketing hype.

  7. Peter, what ever shall we do with you? You don’t even have all the features for Box correct (they do have folder synchronization for paying customers).

    Why do I like Box? Simple, they have a solid foundation, they know where the market it going, and they are working to get there. They aren’t a collaboration platform, but they are a collaborative tool. They also aren’t a full-fledged Content Management System yet, but they have many of the basics completed.

    My guess is that in 2-3 years, Box will be a cloud-based Content Management System that people can use as both an application and as an ECM platform. They aren’t there yet.

    I’m a fan of their potential. I tell people to watch them. I’m not telling people to switch now.


  8. Pie, not sure which comments you’re reading – nowhere did I say that Box doesn’t support folder synchronisation. What I said was:

    (can’t just “mount” Box.net as a drive then use existing/familiar tools for authoring content)

    which is true, for both free and paid versions of the service. Box doesn’t even support WebDAV, for goodness’ sake! (and before anyone jumps to conclusions, no I am not advocating WebDAV as some kind of wondrous panacea – but to not support it or any alternative is to not even achieve lowest common denominator content management functionality)

    While synchronisation is one potential workaround for the lack of “real” filesystem-mount facilities, the wheels start falling off as concurrent edits become increasingly likely (and bullet-proof conflict detection is Hard – take a look at what CouchDB gave up in order to achieve what is, imvho, the gold standard in this realm). I think we’d both agree that the brave new world of collaboration makes concurrent modification of assets more likely, not less (e.g. given the enhancements in Office 2010 in that area).

    Now I’d love to dive into the minutiae of this (or any other) technical capability of a CMS, but all that stuff is overshadowed by the bigger issue that I’m really trying to draw attention to – and that’s that a number of CMS / ECM Illuminati are espousing a rather rose-coloured view of Box that’s quite at odds with their (usually well-reasoned) cynicism about other players in the content management space. It’s strikingly incongruous to me and also quite disappointing – I guess even curmudgeons can be dazzled from time-to-time by shiny baubles that are backed by the right kind of marketing buzz…

    And again I want to be crystal clear: I do not doubt Box.net’s ability to do well for their specific use case (file sharing). What I do have doubts about is whether Box is really the One True Answer to SECS, as is being trumpeted by Box themselves and their groupie fanbois. Will they get there in 2, 5, 10 years? Possibly. Are they close to meeting those claims today? Not even remotely!


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