Build vs. Buy

Earlier this week, a non-technical friend of mine on "the list"1 asked whether anyone had experience using Dropbox. She said she needed to free up space on her phone and thought she could use it to offload photos and share them from there.

Now, admittedly, my use case for Dropbox (or its alternatives) is quite different. I'm primarily using them to have universal2 access to files. I often use it as a poor man's GitHub for throwaway ideas that I want to access from work or home. Even so, I thought using Dropbox would be a real disappointment for her. I guess it is one of their selling points but it seems like a bolt on. At $10 a month for 1 TB of storage, I would point someone at Flickr. Even their ad-free solution is only $50 a year for the same storage amount and they have a large set of photo specific features that Dropbox can't compete with.3

It was helpful thinking about this, if only to confirm that in this case buying a service from Flickr far outweighs the costs of rolling my own, even if I use only a fraction of the capabilities they provide.

Some others on the list brought up issues such as privacy and data ownership. Personally, if someone at Flickr wants to see pictures of my last/lost weekend in Las Vegas, more power to them. I do realize though, that this is a real and growing concern. The Fappening definitely brought these issues to a wider range of people.

So this got me thinking... What would it look like to have a "social media appliance"? User selectable applications that allowed them to manage and share information and documents, friend discovery, consuming data from friend shares, etc. Moving from a Facebook-centric spoke and hub model to a peer to peer model, with integration points to existing services as they allow.

I know this is hardly a revolutionary idea, but all attempts so far have failed. Even Ello, with all its beta program bluster, is hardly touched in my social circles. What combination of features, security, privacy, and ease of use would such a solution need to embody to gain any traction?

Stay tuned...

  1. "the list" is an email list I belong to. Just a small group of really smart people, some technical, some not so much, who know each other through various vectors and like to chit chat throughout the day. A very low signal to noise ratio. It's tried to morph into a chat room but has resisted the push so far.

  2. Well, nearly universal. Nike has blocked access to the Dropbox client, so I need to use the web client there
  3. Disclosure: I have a grandfathered in Flickr Pro account which is cheaper by half with unlimited storage.