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It’s hardly news that enterprise file sharing technology has become commoditized. That process has very visibly played out in the tech media over several months now. However, most of the articles written have assumed that pure play file sharing startups have a bleak future, if any, as Microsoft, Google, Citrix and other platform vendors continue to commoditize both functionality and pricing.
Reality begs to differ. Box has convincingly moved beyond commodity file sharing by offering ready-made, industry-specific solutions and a developer platform chock full of APIs for organizations that prefer to build their own applications using Box technology. Accellion and Egnyte have focused on the sharing of content in hybrid environments that combine cloud-based and on-premises file storage.
Hightail Makes Its Move
Hightail is another enterprise file sharing pure play that was supposed to be put out of business as a result of market consolidation. It too is still standing and has just announced a new offering, called Spaces, that essentially repositions the company from commodity file sharing to content-based collaboration for creative professionals.
Spaces is an attempt by Hightail to help people who work at ad agencies, film and music studios, and in Marketing departments to not only share, but also to give and get feedback on audio and visual files. Collaborators can make annotations directly on visual files and comment in-context of one of its elements. Comments on audio and video files are also made in context, as they appear in the track’s timeline.
Spaces is really a project management tool for creatives, albeit one with only lightweight task management functionality. Individuals can establish a collaborative space in which the creative artifacts related to a specific project are shared, annotated and commented on, and distributed in final form. There is also a dashboard that lets the owner/administrator of the space monitor activities taken by it members on its assets, including comments made and downloads of files.
Darwin’s Theories at Work
Hightail is a clear example of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and specialization at work. From its inception (as YouSendIt, in 2004) the company has evolved from a provider of technology for sharing large digital files to one that also stored those files in the cloud. Now Hightail is specializing to ensure its continuing existing. Its CEO, Ranjith Kumaran, recently acknowledged that roughly 80% of the company’s revenue comes from creative agencies and firms, so focusing the company to serve those customers was a logical move.
Hightail is certainly not the first company to start as a purveyor of a general technology and then specialize to survive. It’s not even the first in the context-centric collaboration space. As noted above, Box has also created industry-specific solutions. The real question is whether or not this pivot will provide Hightail with a niche that is large enough for the company to not only sustain its current level of operations, but to grow as well.
We’ve Seen This Movie Before
Central Desktop may well serve as a historical example of Hightail’s future. In 2011, Central Desktop launched SocialBridge, a new offering that repositioned the company from the generic social collaboration space to the same niche that Hightail has selected – creative and marketing agencies. While Central Desktop saw some success and growth as a result, it sold itself three and a half years later to PGi, who wanted to augment its existing solution for real-time meetings into a more holistic collaboration offering.
Hightail’s evolution may take a similar path. Adobe could combine assets from its Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings to create something similar to Hightail Spaces, but Adobe could also choose to buy Hightail. One of Adobe’s traditional foes, such as Corel or Quark, could acquire Hightail in an effort to better compete Adobe. It’s even possible that Apple could want to buy Hightail to augment its existing offerings for creative professionals.
Whatever happens to Hightail down the road, they’ve made a move this week that they needed to do to stick around a while longer as an independent company. They’ve also demonstrated that generic file sharing has become completely commoditized and that evolutionary specialization will be required of all the other pure play enterprise file sharing vendors if they want to continue in business.