Dropbox’s Five Dirty Little Secrets

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Matt Smollinger

Dropbox Sharing
Dropbox: Sharing Made Easy…. or not?

Dropbox has be getting some recent press with accolades of “the cloud for the rest of us” or “superbly implemented…file synchronization service”. That’s nice for them and I’m happy for the Dropbox team that they’ve managed to build an innovative product.

But there are a few annoying issues in Dropbox that aren’t often mentioned. These are flaws that are either inherent to Dropbox’s design, or have been in since day one. I’ve been a Dropbox user since private beta, and currently pay for it, so they haven’t stopped me. They definitely put a cramp in my workflow some days, though.

So in order of increasing annoyance:

5. File revisions are hard to access

Accessing revisions of a file can be done only via the Dropbox website. But the site can be frustrating to use and makes you go through each individual file that you want to restore to an earlier version.

A better solution would be native client integration in Explorer / Finder. Why not just right-click on a file in the Dropbox folder in the native client and get an option to view revisions and restore them if needed. This is already kinda there with the “recently changed” files list. But there’s no support for restoring deleted folders (even in the web interface), and only the last 10 files are shown, which usually isn’t enough.

4. Deletions Propagate Across Shares

This one is a doozy. Share a folder to someone, and then come back to it and realize that half your files in the share are gone. Why? Because someone drag-and-dropped (moved) files instead of copying them. Now you have to painstakingly hunt through your revisions and restore all the files you need, hopefully remembering which those are!

This could be fixed by providing finer-grained controls over shares. By default, deletions should not propagate back to the original sharer, because that’s a great way to lose files. This removes the “true synchronization” feature of Dropbox, but other products (Wuala, for example) have made it work.

3. Changes Propagate Across Shares

Similar to #4, but for file changes. Dropbox should have a way to enable shares so that only the file owner’s changes get propagated. When you do change something, simply overwrite the file in the shared Dropboxes. In one-way share scenarios, people who have the read-only side of the share shouldn’t be making updates anyway.

Adding the ability to make shares read-only should fix this. Ideally, the client would manipulate the local file system to make certain folders “read only”. But even just making it so that changes aren’t synced back to your shared files would be better than what’s there now (i.e. nothing).

2. Single Folder Synchronization

When Dropbox first launched, everyone was wowed by the service’s ability to synchronize a single folder. Fast-forward to today, and it’s frustrating and limiting. SugarSync and others support synchronization of any folder. So why not Dropbox?

All Dropbox needs to do is upgrade the client and back end to support it! It’s a long overdue feature, and will enable users to sync much more easily.

Finally, our Number 1 Spot goes to:

1. Files Shared To You Count Against Your Quota

The most frustrating aspect about using Dropbox is the way it double (triple, etc.) counts files against your storage quota. When I initially started with my 2 GB free account, it got blown up by my friend who shared a number of large, high-res photos to me. These photos used up my remaining storage, and then some, and I started getting error messages about Dropbox being full and asking me to upgrade my account. I eventually upgraded for other reasons. But I thought it very annoying that one person could effectively shut down my account.

Dropbox should simply not count files towards a “sharee’s” quota. Dropbox is already collecting the money from the sharer in many cases, so why penalize others. It’s not like Dropbox is storing multiple copies of a single file in their cloud.

Closing Thoughts

Dropbox is a great solution for many, including myself. But it’s not the only cloud file storage service out there and needs to watch its competitive back. I hope Dropbox will act on users’ requests on their official forums and implement fixes for some of these problems. But that’s my list. How about yours?

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