Jens Krämer

Dear Cloud Storage Providers,

 |  cloud-storage, thoughts

please make using your services less painful. If you need some inspiration, check out how Email works.

Too Many Apps, Too Many Accounts

On my phone I have one email application. It can handle any number of accounts with any number of email providers. I am free to choose which mail app, and which providers I use, and I can exchange emails with everybody else who also has an email address. One app.

On my phone I have a folder full of cloud syncing apps. Each app serves a single provider, syncing exactly one local folder to what these service providers like to call “the cloud”. In fact these are many different clouds, and they are surrounded by high walls. Proprietary apps, desktop clients and web frontends are the tiny gates through which these providers force you whenever you want to do something with your data.

Just try to send a file to somebody using a different cloud storage provider, or simply transfer a file from your Google Drive to your Dropbox. It’s a manual process, and it involves downloading the file from Google, sending it to the Dropbox app, which will then upload it to Dropbox.

These companies could easily exchange multiple Gigabits per second between their datacenters, but still abuse their users’ devices, bandwidth and time by making them act as the sole interoperability layer between them.

If this was email, you had to manually copy emails between the Gmail and Hotmail apps whenever you wanted to forward a message you received on your Gmail address to somebody with a Hotmail account. And of course it would be impossible to send email to a Yahoo address with either app, because for that you need a Yahoo account and their email app. Sounds ridiculous? It is.

It Could Be So Easy

Simply commit to the goal of making cloud storage as easy and ubiquituous as email, and then actually work together to establish a set of open standards, that enable any interested party to implement compliant clients and servers to provide or use cloud storage services.

In fact, email is such a great example of how a true cloud service can and should work. By signing up with one of many email service providers I instantly get access to the whole network. I can as well become my very own service provider - all it takes is setting up a few services that implement public and well-known standards. Everybody can do that, it’s totally open, nobody left behind.

The whole email system is a mesh of interoperating services that together provide a huge network which, for exactly that reason, has been one of the building blocks of the internet for decades. Compare that to the mess that is cloud storage - islands and isolated services everywhere. The ultimate fallback is still email - people email files or pointers to files around to circumvent the fences and borders built by their providers.

And then there goes Google and requires receivers of their sharing links to sign in before they get the file. This is wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to start. And it makes these links useless for any but the simplest use case1.

So What?

I’m using ownCloud on a rented server for several years now, it’s reliable, accessible from all my devices, data is stored on an encrypted partition. Sharing stuff with people is a breeze and it does not require logins or sign ups.

So that’s nice and all, but the real reason why I mention that is this: Federated Cloud Sharing in Owncloud 8.1.

They can actually share files between different owncloud instances - without sending them through the client! Rocket science!

This is exactly the kind of innovation that’s needed in this field. And they did not only implement something that works between different instances of the same software, but they attempt to make this an open standard to enable interoperability between different cloud storage providers.

Needless to say it’s the open source based, small players, who try to achieve what the big players intentionally left out.

  1. Thumbs up to Dropbox who generate sharing links that actually fulfill their purpose without forcing the receiver to sign up.