Dropbox has expanded beta testing of Paper, a new offering that was released in a highly limited beta, in March, under the name Notes. Dropbox’s new offering illustrates how they are responding to the functional parity that vendors have achieved with basic file sharing offerings and to their rapid downward price movement.
Paper is a solution Dropbox had been working on that enables teams to collaborate on different projects. The product is essentially exactly what it sounds like, a piece of virtual paper where teams can write things down. The digital pages can also handle things like YouTube videos, Google docs, and images, all of which automatically appear embedded on the page when added.
At the start, Dropbox made the product available to a limited number of beta users. Since then, beta users have created over one million Paper documents for everything from feature ideas and code for apps to design ideas for a new website. Today, Dropbox is opening the beta up to the public for anyone to use, with no waitlist, and it’s launching apps for both iOS and Android so teams can collaborate on the go as well. There are also a few new features coming to the service that will make the collaboration experience with Paper even better.
On the feature side of things, improvements since October include enhanced tables, image galleries, and desktop, web, and mobile notifications.
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Table columns and sizes can be customized to meet your needs, and images can be added to documents by simply dragging and dropping them there. Need two images side by side? You can just drop another one in the same spot, and Dropbox will instantly handle the resizing work and put them together in the document for you. Need four? The same process will work, and you’ll have a gallery with all four images together. Click on one in the group and you can look at it full-size.
When you do leave a comment, you can @message another member of your team, just as you might in something like Slack, or even social sites like Facebook or Twitter. Similar to those services, messages now show up now in a notification center where you can quickly see who has commented on something, what they’ve said, and easily reply. You can also see tasks as they’re assigned to you. Tapping on the notification on mobile will even bring you right to that portion of the document on your phone, even when you’re not at the office.
The mobile apps are a huge part of the news as well. Dropbox’s new iOS and Android apps offer the vast majority of Paper’s features. It’s relatively unusual to see a company release both and iOS and Android app on the same day, but Cacioppo says that doing so was something that was exceptionally important to the team, in part because of how the apps will ultimately be used.
“Developing the two apps simultaneously and releasing them simultaneously was really important to us,” she says. “We heard from early users that the ways the apps are set up if not everyone on the team had them they just wouldn’t work as well.”
Speaking of everyone on your team having the app, beta versions of both apps are available now from the App Store and Google Play. You can also check out Paper on the web now on Dropbox’s website.
Most commentators, described Paper as “a collaborative writing tool”. They compared it to Google Docs, Microsoft Office (especially its Word and OneNote components) and startup Quip. For sure, Paper has similar functionality to those products, and it allows people to write and edit documents together in real-time. However, I don’t believe that is the main point of Dropbox’s product. Instead, Paper is intended to be used as a lightweight case management tool.
Case Management is a discipline that brings resources, including relevant content, related to a single instance of a business process or an initiative into a common place – the case folder. While many think of Case Management as a digital technology, its principles were established in business activities that were wholly paper-based.
Think of an insurance claim years ago, where a customer filled out a paper claim form, and it was then routed throughout the insurance company in a paper folder. As the process continued, additional paper documents, perhaps even printed photographs, were added to the folder. The last documents to go into the folder were the final claim decision letter to the customer and a copy of the check, if a payment was made on the claim.
Today, that same insurance claim process is likely to generate and use a mix of paper-based and electronic documents, although insurance companies are slowly moving as much of the process online as possible. However, the concept of organizing information related to the claim into a single folder remains, although the folder is now likely to be an electronic artifact, not a paper one.
Google Wave was a powerful, but un-intuitive tool that failed to get market traction. Will Paper suffer the same fate? Perhaps, but Dropbox hopes that the world is now ready for this new way to work. In fact, Dropbox is, in some regards, staking its continued existence on just that, as it tries to differentiate itself from other purveyors of commoditized file sharing services.