Dropbox today announces a trio of improvements to its datastore API, which lets developers sync and store data outside of files (such as settings, contacts, other user-generated stuff), as the cloud company works to expands its ambitions as the platform of choice for developers building apps that need to store any significant amount of data.
The new datastore features include:
- Shared datastores, which lets apps share data between users
- Local datastores, which enable Dropbox-powered apps to store data offline and sync them later
- Datastore webhooks to keep apps in sync with the Dropboxes connected with them.
"These are the most-requested features our developers wanted," says Dropbox Developer Advocate Leah Culver.
Shared datastores are crucial to Dropbox's platform growth, Culver says, because it enables the kind of thing where an app -- a to-do list, for example -- can let users invite their friends and coworkers to see their data (the list, in this example) and contribute to it, adding a crucial social element that helps apps build adoption. After all, if an app lets you invite your friends, it makes it that much more likely that both of you will check it out.
The shared datastores API comes with a very blunt control for IT departments: An app can be set to either use shared datastores with any Dropbox account out on the whole entire world wide web, or only with those set up within a Dropbox for Business domain. But controls on who can access what shared data don't get any more granular, so no there's no setting permissions for an app to only share between certain teams or groups, for instance. At least, not yet: Culver reminds us that this is Dropbox's first-ever API for sharing one set of data between multiple people and that the future is still being written.
Equally important are those local datastores. If you're using an app somewhere without connectivity, like an airplane, it keeps the data safely tucked away on the device until a Dropbox account can be authenticated andsafely shunted up to the cloud. A conflict resolution algorithm that Dropbox is very proud of makes sure nothing is lost or overwritten that shouldn't be.
This kind of thing has been baked into mobile apps for years, but it's always been hacked together despite Dropbox, rather than being facilitated by the company.
"A lot of our developers have implemented this themselves, but maybe some better than others," Culver says. Now, there's an officially Dropbox-sanctioned way to get there.
The thing that bothers me about these announcements, speaking from an enterprise perspective, is that the real value proposition for these developers is access to the millions of users already taking advantage of the API. Which is great, except that most of those millions are consumers. The enterprise controls on the shared datastores, especially, seem like like an afterthought.
There's certainly nothing wrong with this approach, and at least some of these apps taking advantage of the new features will find their way into enterprise usage. But I doubt this will help Dropbox win the hearts and minds of the kind of enterprise developers that are swelling the ranks of the likes of competitor Box.