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Cloud StorageFrom month to month I check several cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive. I test them and check about any new functionality their developers might add. But still, there is not one service on the market that really rules.

Companies like the two mentioned on the previous paragraph might be more well known than others but still they are missing several features and flexibility.

The following is a list of must have´s for a cloud storage service to really lead the market:

1 – Not everything in one folder:
I have several hard drives con my computers and work on a certain way with them. I don’t want to change the way I work to be able to use a service. Dropbox works very well but having to put everything into one folder really makes me sick.
SugarSync promotes this as an advantage but they have other limitations, as I found on this thread. They still don’t support removable drives which are very common nowadays. I actually just tested the app and it shows me an error when trying to sync contents of a folder on one of my external hard drives.
I remember a couple of years ago using ZumoDrive (it was a beautiful), a service which offered exactly this but unfortunately after the company was sold to Motorola Mobility they shutdown the service :(. I tried to ask Motorola if they had any plans to re-launch it and they never replied.

2 – Support for external drives & network Drives:
A complete service should allow me to point to network & external external hard drives paths of files and folders to be synced without any hassle. When this files are added to be synced to the folder no local copying should occur, just some kind of indexing.

3 – Mapping the service to a drive letter:
Some services already offer this, the “virtual folder” with all the files that might actually be there or pulling the list of file from their original locations, would show all the contents of what is being synced online. The files could be differentiated with different icon colors to show if a file is only in the main folder or is only a “pointer” to another location (AKA Shortcut).
This folder should be able to be shared over the network too so if my family wants to backup stuff on this “special folder” we all would know that everything in there will be backed up online.

4Storage capacity plans:
Dropbox offers 100 GB for 100 USD/year, Google Drive offers 200 GB for USD 10/month and others like CrashPlan offers unlimited storage for USD 4/month (keep in mind CrashPlan is not a file sharing service its only a backup service).

I believe a nice to have pricing would be:
50 GB > USD 3/month.
100 GB > USD 5/month.
200 GB > USD 9/month.
500 GB > USD 15/month.
Unlimited > USD 25/month.

Annual Payments could be offered for the main two cheaper plans to avoid payment costs.

Of course the storage capacity includes unlimited transfers (no caps). Although if because from a commercial point of view this is not possible. Sharing with other customers from the same service could be unlimited and sharing with users that don’t have the service (direct links) could be limited to lets say 200 GB a month transfer. If more is required then extra transfer GB´s could be purchased. This would prevent the miss usage of the service although of course if unlimited transfer for all users could be offered would be even better from a practical and marketing point of view.

5 – Permissions:
Although not everybody will use this functionality its nice to be able to assign different type of permissions to each folder (if required). If I want to share a pictures folder with all my family I could allow them for example:
– View only: permissions (nobody cant edit, move or delete anything).
– Collaborate: would allow anyone to add or move pictures to different folders but not to delete anything.
– Full Control: would permit this users to do the same things I would do, including deletion.

I think this is one of the most important aspects of  the service. People are skeptical to upload stuff to any online cloud service without first being sure that nobody (not even the administrator of the service) would ever be able to see the file name nor the content of the files they upload. Some providers like CrashPlan and Spider Oak make a really solid statement about this “Zero-Knowledge” privacy policy. But others like Dropbox for example state that some people at Dropbox might have access to your files and folder “for support purposes”. The ideal service would give all the power to the user, they should be able to assign their own key before the data is transferred outside their computers. If sharing needs to be done then a sharing key should be provisioned by the user and then shared to the person who will need to access that specific shared folder.

Shared folder space accountability:

Most of the services that allow file sharing will count shared space also as own used spaced. For example if I share a folder of 100 GB of pictures with my family members, they would also need at least a 100 GB plan because the space of my shared folder will also count towards the capacity of their hired plan. This is not good, if I am already paying for my 100 GB and I want to share something with my family, then they should be able to even have a free account (if available) or the smallest plan (50 GB) and their storage shouldn’t be affected at all with what is shared with them.

8Remote Wipe:
It would be nice to have the possibility of remote wiping a specific computer in case it gets stolen. All computer names where the application is installed should be showed online after login into the providers website. By removing and confirming by email that you want to really delete that computer the whole content from “the service” will be erased on the selected PC.

9Send files by email:
A nice functionality to have and it has been requested on the Dropbox Votebox for some time now, is to be able to send emails to your “magic folder”. When you sign up, the service would assign you a unique email address just for your usage. Anybody that would have this email address would be able to send an email with for example attachments to that address. The system will process the received email the following way: It would create a folder name inside a unique folder called “Email Attachments” and would create a folder named with the date “29-03-13” + sender email address, Inside this folder all the attachments would be available.

10See file contents online:
The platform should allow you to view and even possibly edit certain type of files. It would be great for example to be able to view pictures online, with possibility to view them as galleries like Dropbox does, etc.  Word, Excel, PDF´s and more could be viewed online making the platform more complete. Integration with other already developed services as Google Docs or Microsoft Online services for some file types could work.

Having statistics on how many shared folders I have and with whom, or knowing how many times a publicly shared file has been accessed would be nice information to have and would allow the user to have better control of their files and service.

12File extension exclusion:
If you want to sync a big folder but you want to keep out from syncing specific file types it would be great to define on each folder if one or more file types should be excluded.

13 – DirectSync:
I´ve been testing AeroFS a Dropbox-like service without any “middle man” servers. This tool (still in beta) works as Dropbox (centralizing everything in a folder), but the nice thing is that if you want to share files or folders with another friend who also has AeroFS the synchronization will take place directly between your two computers, no middle server intervenes in the process. This is a great functionality but the ideal service would allow to share any folder without having to copy the files first to the “centralized one”. Also permissions as described on point 5 would be needed. CrashPlan also offers this service and I´ve been doing some tests today with good results, the free version already allows you to backup to a friends computer. They will encrypt everything from the moment the data gets out from your computer so your friend will never know what you are backing up on theirs. As I commented before the only bad side is that CrashPlan is only a backup service and not a file sharing service. You can take a look on how this works with CrashPlan on the following link.

14 – Personal Safe Folder:
Some files we use on our computer could be more sensitive than others. If we could define a password to a specific folder so that every time we need to access that folder a password will be prompted wouldn’t be nice and secure?

15 – Worldwide fast access:
For the service to be reliable and fast, servers or CDN´s distributed around the world are a must. This way anybody living on any country or travelling will always access their files as quickly as their connection allows them to.

16 – Unlimited devices:
One account should allow you to configure unlimited computers, tablets, smartphones with the service. Logically all information you have on your service should be accessible from any of these devices.

17 – File Versioning:
Versioning of files should be offered with every plan. Being able to recover versions of a certain file up to 30 days from their last modification/deletion.

18 – Improvements:
The ideal service will listen to what the users require. Its frustrating to see how people ask for improvements in systems like Votebox (Dropbox suggestions) and the company doesn’t do anything. Doing polls or asking the users to participate and vote which are the next big changes the service could adopt would be a nice way to offer what the users expect from the service.

For now I am using a free version (16 GB) of Dropbox for general files, Google Drive for backing up all my pictures and now I am testing CrashPlan to backup all my stuff as an offsite solution. Lets see if any other new service offers the ideal service described in this post 🙂

What do you think? Am I missing any functionality the ideal online storage service should have? Feel free to share your ideas below.