If 2013 was the year in which we finally understood the cloud, this year will be all about making the most of storing and sharing files online. As a professional user of a file sharing service, now is the time to think about what you really need from your cloud provider in 2014, starting with these five major themes.
Thanks to Edward Snowden's NSA leaks, metadata became one of 2013's biggest issues. Metadata is all the information that surrounds a file, including the filename, when it was uploaded, who it was shared with and when it was accessed. The NSA's widespread metadata collection program proves such information can be extremely useful, or so they claim.
Even if you're not a government agent, knowing who has viewed or downloaded a file you shared is valuable information. If you're a salesperson, you know it's a good time to pick up the phone if you've seen that a prospect has viewed the product brochure you sent. The ability to track everything that happens to your shared files could become your most powerful tool in 2014.
Security and control
Though security and control may seem like the same thing, they are actually two different yet equally important ways of protecting your files. Security means data encryption and the back-end systems and technology that your provider uses to safeguard your information from evildoers. Most legitimate services offer similarly high levels of security so if your provider is more exposed than Miley Cyrus' tongue, move your important files to a more secure alternative.
Control is about protecting what you share. To prevent someone from maliciously or accidentally leaking confidential information, you need sharing controls for your particularly sensitive files. So if, for example (and not something I actually did last year), you CC new people on an email thread, but forget that it contains a link to a confidential file, because you safeguarded your files, these unintended recipients will also need to enter a password or confirm their identity before they can view the file.
The average person's need for control tends to change depending on circumstance. It's like how the share-all Facebook generation turns to Snapchat for those more (ahem) discrete moments. And though the media loves to foresee the demise of Facebook in the popularity of such apps, the reality is that people use a range of products to meet different needs.
Think about where your files are stored. You probably use a few consumer storage services like Dropbox or Flickr, alongside more professional services like Hightail. And of course, you have at least one email account that stores all those important attachments, not to mention your various devices. The number of places you have to search to find your most important files just keeps growing every year.
In 2014, services need to be realistic about this trend. There won't be one cloud to rule them all. File sharing providers will need to become cloudnostic (yes, I did make up another unnecessary buzzword) and let you quickly and easily search all your cloud services, from email to storage accounts, in order to find and share any file with ease.
Thanks to 2013's deluge of high-res selfies, average file sizes are increasing. The arbitrary storage limits set by cloud storage providers no longer make sense, so in 2014 unlimited storage will become the standard offering for all paid accounts.
This will bring an end to the game of watching a storage meter or forcing your family to sign up in order to earn additional space. You will simply be able to get on with what really matters without worrying about running out of room. Meanwhile providers will have to focus on offering you more for your money than a few measly gigs of virtual space.
Design thinking has ushered in a new Internet era. Where once, all we cared about was fast loading speeds, we now demand delightful user experiences. Designers have joined engineers as the rock stars of the digital world, so even a service as utilitarian as file sharing should be intuitive and easy-to-use. If your chosen product is not providing an experience equivalent to your favorite consumer site, it's time to leave the table.
Metadata, personal control, cloudnostic access, unlimited storage and delightful user experiences are the five major cloud themes that will change how you work in 2014. And as the industry becomes ever more mainstream, we'll even stop using the word "cloud".
Just as the ubiquity of online shopping means we no longer say "e-retailers", so "cloud" will hopefully be gone from our tech lexicon by the time 2015 rolls around. Tune in this time next year for my follow-up post: The cloud is dead, long live the cloud!