Everything But the Kitchen Sync


Things are heating up in the consumer file-syncing space, with startups aggressively boasting about their feature adds. Boulder-based ProtectMyPhotos, which you can read about in this TechCrunch post, offered us the “exclusive” on their addition of auto-synchronization from their mobile and browser apps down to the photo (or other files) stored on a Windows PC. I replied to the pitch, asking how this was any different from Sharpcast, a company I’ve covered before. The ProtectMyPhotos team promised a demo would show me the light, and brought what seemed like the whole company on a WebEx conference call.

Basically, the key difference is ProtectMyPhotos automatically rewrites any changes you make to your photos in any of its apps to the original files. Edits, deletions, and reorganizations are reflected on an unlimited number of computers registered with the service. The company (like many other photo tools) also auto-detects any new photo files on your machines and adds them to your account. And ProtectMyPhotos CEO Cliff Shaw promises they never actually delete anything, in case you want it back.

That seems useful enough — especially if all your photos are things you want to share, and all your devices are things you want to share with. But all this automatic transfer could end up being a problem if you have something to hide, use employer-owned computers, or just want a little more privacy. Shaw says you can turn off the auto-updates if you really need to.

I asked Sharpcast CEO Gibu Thomas why his product doesn’t overwrite desktop files, and he admitted ProtectMyPhotos had identified a hole in the current Sharpcast offering. But this kind of automation will be in the next release, he said, calling it trivial. Then he got a little feisty, saying Sharpcast is the only consumer-oriented company that has implemented “push” synchronization (like a BlackBerry) to make updates appear across all the apps as soon as they are made. “I don’t think you can make the sync any better,” he said incredulously. “Would you sync it before the change?!?”
All in all, a fun little excursion into the world of synchronization. Personally, up-to-the-second photo transfer isn’t something I’ve been yearning for. But both startups say they’d like to tackle a whole lot more (though ProtectMyPhotos is a bit of a locked-in name, eh?), so we’ll have to check back with them in the future.


Gibu Thomas


I want to clarify your ‘hole in the product offering’ comment. The distinction you point out is not a hole as much as an un-implemented feature.

As you rightly point out, overwriting a file in the underlying file system can have unintended implications, and we are being thoughtful about what choices we make for the user and what not. There are merits to the usecase that the PMP guys point out, and we have a plan to address this in an elegant way. Thankfully, it is far from the hardest thing we do.

These are all details, however. The proof of the pudding ultimately is in the user experience and the market will judge any product’s merit on how much it is delighted by it.

We started Sharpcast almost 3 years ago with the goal to be a lot more than about synchronization or about photos. It is about creating a completely seamless online-offline-mobile experience, which bridges a user’s various islands of data, whether it is their various devices, or the various applications and services online or offline.

It is about having your Mac work seamlessly with your PC and the web and your Symbian phone and never never having to do the same thing twice. It is about having a powerful way to collaborate with your friends and family. It is about never having to worry about backups. It is about a lot more things than that I don’t have the space to get into here.

We have barely un-peeled the first layer of that onion. That is why it seems today like overkill to have real-time ‘push’ sync for your photos. Give us time and it will become clear why these details are important. A truly great user experience is built on the margins and these seemingly insignificant details determine what happens at the margins. This explains why the Blackberry succeeded where umpteen other corporate email solutions failed.

We are still the top of the first inning. There is a lot of game left and we are committed to creating a user experience that we wish existed, but doesn’t — and delight our users.

Meanwhile, I would encourage anyone to try out the product and send us feedback.

Also, I prefer to think of myself as scrappy rather than feisty. That’s the Sharpcast way ;)


Gibu Thomas
CEO, Sharpcast

Robert Dewey

Web-based storage (read, WebFS) is the future. It will likely be the backend to many mobile and embedded devices, allowing seamless access to data everywhere you go.

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