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Meet Dropbox Paper, Dropbox’s New Approach To Collaboration

The online-storage kingpin is revealing details about its tool for team-based document creation.

For months, Dropbox has been teasing something it’s been working on: “a new way for teams to write together.” It’s been quietly testing the service with a small group of users and hasn’t told the rest of us much about it other than its name, Dropbox Notes.

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Now the company is ready to reveal more about the upcoming offering, which it’s rolling out to a larger–but still closed–group of beta testers. And one of the things it’s revealing is that the service has a new name, Dropbox Paper.

The name “Paper” is already in use by a couple of high-profile apps: FiftyThree’s nifty creativity and brainstorming tool and Facebook’s inventive (though possibly dormant) alternate interface for iOS. But even if it doesn’t get any points for originality, it’s a pretty good way of explaining what Dropbox has come up with. Dropbox Paper gives coworkers blank pages that they can work together to fill with words, pictures, and elements brought in from Dropbox storage and external apps such as Google Docs.

That may sound like a word processor, but Paper isn’t trying to come within a country mile of competing with Microsoft Word (which recently added new collaborative features of its own). There are no conventional formatting features–even the ability to change the font. Instead, the emphasis is on making it as easy as possible for small creative teams to share information and ideas. It reminds me a bit of the excellent Quip–but only a little bit.

Dropbox Paper integrates with the rest of Dropbox mainly by letting you paste in links to documents you’ve deposited on the storage service, whereupon they instantly turn into embedded previews. It does the same for YouTube videos, Google Docs and Sheets files, and other external elements. It also aims to be smart about automatically formatting items such as snippets of programming code. (Dropbox sees teams that include engineers as likely early adopters for the service.)

Like Twitter, Facebook, and Slack, Paper lets you use @mentions to notify other people that you’re talking about them in a document. You can leave comments on items in a document–which can incorporate adorable animated stickers created by Dropbox’s own designers, such as a wizard brandishing a rainbow. There’s also a dash of project management in the form of the ability to create checklist items that you (or your coworkers) can check off as they’re completed.

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Paper could be an important product for Dropbox, which is still in the process of figuring out how to turn its massive popularity into a big, sustainable, and profitable business. (Once the service formally launches, at least some of the companies that use it will presumably pay for the privilege.) This first version feels like an intriguing rough draft rather than a fully baked product, but that’s the idea. As Dropbox’s Christina Cacioppo told me, “We’re being very conscious about iterating in public and changing the product as we go, and learning from users, at Dropbox scale.”

About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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