Online storage service Box.net is sporting a new look Thursday. It's part of a bigger change to woo small to medium-size businesses toward using it as the go-to way to transfer files between colleagues and clients. The changes will trickle down to users of its free, consumer-facing, 1 GB service too.
Instead of going for a desktop software solution, which I'm told is in the works, the company has redesigned its user experience to let employees and managers alike monitor usage and activity around files and folders. Collaborators on a project can see what others have open, the edits they've made, or changes to the file structure. All of these actions are then listed in each individual user's profile in a brand new information feed.
To go hand in hand with this, users can now leave threaded comments on any file. These can be left in project folders or accompany a file when it's moved elsewhere. Jen Grant, Box's VP of marketing, tells me this was done on purpose to give users control over conversations that might exist long after a certain file or project workspace is no longer necessary.
Grant says that, along with the new look, one of the new things Box is trying to do is make it easier to control what users can do with files. For instance you can now very easily set ownership permissions on a single file, or a group of files based on who you're collaborating with. You're also now able to lock out a file from editing, which means your collaborators will be able to see it and open it for viewing, but will be unable to make any changes.
These features, along with the activity flow will be making their way to the service's iPhone application, and onto other platforms like the BlackBerry in the coming months. Grant says the team is hard at work trying to bring the mobile platform up to snuff with all the things you're able to do on the Web front-end.
One thing I think has yet to be addressed with this update, and what may be holding many businesses from relying on online file storage services is a way to continue that work flow when offline. Competing services like Dropbox let you upload, download and collaborate on files through a Web interface, but also mirror those files right on your local machine in a virtual folder.
As we've seen recently with the Quickbooks outage, and last February's Amazon S3 downtime, inaccessible data can bring things to a screeching halt. When applied to something as simple as a PowerPoint presentation or an ongoing project, people are going to want a hybrid solution that lets them get work done even if they're not able to get at their online files.
Until that happens, the company is expecting users to be happy enough downloading files for editing then re-uploading them when through. Either that, or working on them right inside the application with files that work with the company's OpenBox API.