Box.net, the online file hosting and sharing service that allows users to store, access and share files remotely, is moving further into the collaboration space.
Founded in 2005 as a Software as a Service offering, Box was originally the antidote to the ftp and file sharing problem, with an attractively presented simple content management system.
Sporting their beautifully intuitive user interface that the most technophobic user would have a hard time failing to operate, Box is now offering increased functionality around its core file hosting and sharing.
The ease of use hallmark that their current 50,000 users enjoy using has now been augmented with some useful collaboration components.
This includes the following new functionality:
Profile pages for each user with information about their current role, projects, contact information and ability to upload your mugshot.
An improved user interface layout – Instead of just seeing folders and files, users now see the people sharing those same files. Box's intention is to visually change the paradigm from a file management system to a team workspace. These enhanced team workspaces features the ability to create a shared workspace specific discussion area.
Broad updates – view the latest activity across all the shared content and instantly see the newest comments, discussions, edits and uploaded documents.
None of this is rocket science: what's always been intriguing to me is how simply and well Box execute their enhancements, with well thought through user interface that separate them out in a crowded market.
Box have shadow IT written all over them for larger companies: it's a classic credit card expensed file management solution that for a modest outlay will provide instant utility and functionality.
Sharepoint users should definitely consider Box as an alternative to the shared drive document graveyard problem where appropriate.
Compare this with yesterday's SAP Business Suite 7 announcements, beautifully covered by Dennis Howlett on ZDNet. For those toiling within the alphabet soup application world, (ERP, CRM etc) which is not noted for the great beauty of its user interface designs, Box provides an immediate low cost fix for small teams. (And in true 2.0 fashion it will work on your iPhone, something that was a debating point with SAP.)
I'm comparing apples to oranges because of course SAP provide a robust end to end business solution with their industrial strength software, nevertheless the glacial pace of implementation and new features makes Box and its competitors very attractive, even if only as a stop gap in some cases.
Oracle's momentum with Social CRM and SAP's just announced Business Suite 7 are going to be powerful tools in the future, but you can start using Box right now and get surprisingly sophisticated functionality.
Box mostly caters to small and medium sized businesses, but interestingly their VP of Business Development Karen Appleton and Jen Grant (VP of Marketing and a recent hire from Google's applications team) told me earlier this week this includes lawyers, companies with 'capital' at the end of their name, architects and various creative shops, all of which would be pretty security conscious.
'Open Box' is this platform's open api which now boasts an impressive roster of connectable data from other web applications and services. CAD drawings from Autodesk are importable to store for example, and ZOHO provides a full connected online office suite.
Overall Box look to be a company who will thrive in this economic downturn with a service that is very simple to understand and use - and which keeps adding useful functionality that will increasingly give vendors in the collaboration space cause for concern.