Departing the File Platform

How Dropbox and Box are Diverging, and Why

Stowe Boyd
Oct 8, 2019 · 3 min read

As you probably know — if you’ve been reading my recent posts here — I recently attended the Dropbox Work In Progress event and the Boxworks 19 event. Both companies have made big announcements about their product direction, which I summarize in the chart, below:

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The Divergence

The Dropbox Spaces announcement is a massive bet on becoming a foreground work platform, rather than just a background file platform. Spaces are a context for work, which, yes, includes syncing and sharing files. However, those files — and other information and links — are now managed in spaces, not folders. This positions Dropbox as a content-centric work platform, without a direct competitor, really.

Meanwhile, Box has repositioned itself around being an enterprise-scale ‘cloud content management’ vendor, built on a bottom-to-top security architecture (Box Sheild) and a new take on knowledge-worker-centric workflow (Box Relay). Yes, this is centered on files, and syncing and sharing them, but the real emphasis is keeping them secure in the cloud. Box winds up, on one hand, challenging legacy contentment and document management solutions like Documentum, and on the other hand, cloud tools like Microsoft’s Flow. Notably, Box does not really line up at present as a competitor to Dropbox Spaces.

As just one example, Box Notes — which might seem like a competitor to Dropbox Paper — does not support tasks, just checklists. Checklists look like tasks, but they lack the task model below the hood — assignment, due dates, and other attributes — that make up a work management system.

While Box could add functionality that might look like Dropbox Spaces — I got some hints of that at the event — it seems that they are focused obsessively on security and workflow, and if anything is going to get added it’s more likely to be machine learning to support workflow and analytics.

Likewise, Dropbox might consider adding workflow or higher levels of security, but it would likely be linked to helping people get their jobs done rather than keeping the enterprise running.

Years ago I influenced Google to change the name of Google for Enterprise to Google for Work, because I had written this —

— and Google wanted to be side-by-side with people doing work. (Or at least they did until Diane Green showed up and largely derailed their efforts on cooperative work tools.)

I think I see the same distinction between Box and Dropbox. Box is committing itself to support enterprises in doing business (and especially in regulated industries or the regulated parts of businesses), and Dropbox is focused on helping people do their work (especially knowledge workers cooperating in teams). These are two ends of a spectrum, and the ends are moving apart, it seems.

So Dropbox Spaces, the first work platform, will be competing with other sorts of work management tools, and presumably, other work platforms to come. But that may not include Box.

And Box moves away from being ‘just’ a file platform into being an enterprise content platform, and will compete most directly with companies like Microsoft and Google and their ecosystems. Which may not include Dropbox as a competitor.

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Stowe Boyd

Written by

Work ecologist. Founder, Work Futures. The ecology of work and the anthropology of the future.

GigaOm

GigaOm

GigaOm is the leading global voice on emerging technologies. We help transform enterprises with insight and guidance in an AI-enriched, data-driven world.

Stowe Boyd

Written by

Work ecologist. Founder, Work Futures. The ecology of work and the anthropology of the future.

GigaOm

GigaOm

GigaOm is the leading global voice on emerging technologies. We help transform enterprises with insight and guidance in an AI-enriched, data-driven world.

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