Dropbox has piqued some developers’ interest with the Datastore application programming interface (API) it announced Tuesday. From a purely technical point of view, it seems neat. The jury is out, though, over whether it will get much use.
Developers hanging around at the Dropbox DBX conference on Tuesday sounded impressed with the announcement that Dropbox can now manage and serve up structured bits of data — such as the latest high scores in a video game and the settings of a given application — for a bevy of devices. The ability to update data on the client and server side after reconnecting an offline device was especially compelling.
But think for a moment about the kinds of companies that would feel comfortable storing data on Dropbox. Game companies would be interested, especially those offering multiplayer experiences, because players could set new targets when they find out their competitors reach new highs. Perhaps collaboration tools would be helped along by storing and pushing data via the Datastore API, because keeping team members on top of everything with up-to-the-minute information is the whole point of those tools.
While real-time capability is great, the new API might only appeal to a limited subset of developers. After all, not all applications need to feature the latest data in order to be of value to users.
However, for the ones that do need that kind of technology, as their data accumulates into seriously large volumes, Dropbox could be sitting pretty. Companies that want to enable immediate communication of information — in text documents, spreadsheets, digital whiteboards, instant messages and so on — could get assistance from the Datastore API. Their developers wouldn’t have to work as hard on building such functions and could focus on more important tasks.
Happy users would be compelled to become paying customers. That could motivate Dropbox to bet more of its business on the data-provider model and start charging developers for API calls — a nice revenue boost for a company with unclear finances. (As a rule, Dropbox declines to say how many paying customers they have.) At the moment, charging developers for API use is not on the roadmap, although it’s possible some service would make developers pay up in the future, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston told reporters after his keynote.
Until then, Dropbox might have to overcome additional hurdles to get developers using the new Datastore API. Security, for instance, is already a hot-button issue for the storage and sharing of full files on Dropbox — IBM banned it, as my colleague Barb Darrow reported — and one would think security and regulatory compliance would be a part of any conversation about moving raw data back and forth. That’s why certain companies might hesitate to call on the Datastore API to handle confidential or sensitive data.
But give the company some time. Developers heard about the API for the first time Tuesday. Dropbox partners haven’t even started using it, said Ruchi Sanghvi, the company’s vice president of operations. Perhaps it will emerge as the solution to a set of narrowly tailored problems.