How many emails have you already sent to your colleagues today to discuss a single file? How many times have you edited a document, only to realize someone else has been editing the same thing at the same time? The answer to both of these questions is probably “a lot,” but if you’re a Dropbox user, file collaboration is about to become a lot less migraine-inducing.
Today, the fast-growing cloud-storage company is unveiling two major upgrades to its platform: the Dropbox badge–which adds a layer of powerful collaboration tools to any Microsoft file stored in a shared Dropbox folder on your desktop–and the ability for users to chat or comment in real time alongside any document uploaded to the service.
The Dropbox badge, which appears as a small button on top of any Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document in Dropbox, is something of an app itself. Click it, and you can copy a link to the file, or see past versions. What users will likely find most helpful is the ability to see when a colleague is editing a file: His or her picture will show up inside the badge, and Dropbox will also alert you with a pop-up notification. This is to prevent the frustrating disjointed or multi-version files that can occur when using collaboration services, and cut down on the number of times you have to send an email (or yell across the office) to tell someone to exit a shared document. (The badge also offers the option to update your version of the file when your coworker is finally finished.)
“We’re going to start making it easier to communicate around this content,” says Ilya Fushman, head of business and mobile products at the company. “At the end of the day, it’s really about saving people time.” Dropbox had been beta-testing the badge with enterprise users in an early-access program, which it previewed last year. Starting today, the badge feature will be available to all of the company’s 100,000 Dropbox for Business clients.
The comments feature, however, will roll out next Tuesday, March 24, on web and iOS (albeit within a similar early-access program). In a style that blends a bit of Facebook with the productivity tool Slack, any user will be able to add comments to any kind of file saved in Dropbox–be it a Word doc, a CAD file, or a JPEG–and even “@” another user to get his or her attention and input. Imagine, for example, an architect or graphic designer shooting her colleague a Dropbox link to a rendering, and the colleague being able to view it and add comments without having to open Adobe Photoshop. “We want to have one central place where you can look at these things, instead of having to go to each application,” says Fushman. “We can be the bridge.”
As Fast Company explores next week in a feature story about Drew Houston, Dropbox’s cofounder and CEO, this strategy is what he believes will keep his 300-million-user-strong company thriving in its increasingly fierce cloud-storage battle with the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. While these tech giants have mostly treated file storage as a commodity business–competing by offering terabytes at next-to-nothing prices–Houston thinks of the cloud differently, as a hub that can unite all of our digital stuff and the conversations we have around it. There’s a reason Dropbox has more than 1 billion shared files and folders and integrates with more than 300,000 apps and companies.
“There’s a fundamental problem we’ve been thinking about, which is, your stuff and the conversations around it are completely separate,” said Houston in December when discussing the new features in their early stages. “We’re all kinds of overwhelmed and drowning.”
Be sure to check back on Monday, March 23, to find out what else Houston has planned to help solve your productivity pains.
*A previous version of this article stated that Dropbox badge would launch publicly next week. The company has clarified that the feature is available today, and the article has been updated accordingly.