Web Based File Sharing

I did a search on Google for the exact same header as this blog features, and I did find some honorable mentions, but most of the stuff I found, was really quite rubbish to be honest with you. I don’t want to point any fingers here though, so instead of shaming individual vendors, I thought I’d walk you through how a good web based file sharing system should be built instead.

1. You don’t need an app!

I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. If your “web based” file sharing  system requires you to download “an app”, either for your iPhone, or your Android, it’s rubbish. There are no good reasons why a seasoned developer can’t create a truly web based file sharing system today, which is entirely built using HTML5 and open standards. If your favourite “web based” file sharing system tries to get you to download an “app”, either from Google or Apple’s AppStore, you should simply walk away. The reason is that the guy(s) who created this rubbish, have absolutely no idea about how to create software, what so ever.

2. It has to be Open Source

In the web based file sharing space, obviously security is a big issues. Some of the file sharing systems I found, were not open source. This means it’s impossible to scrutinise the code, and verify that it’s actually secure. Unless it’s open source, you must assume that it contains hundreds of security holes, each the size of a galaxy! Period! If you don’t believe me, go ask any geek that knows what he’s talking about for a second opinion. Unless he’s a complete moron, he’ll agree with me!

3. You don’t need folders

This is one point where I actually couldn’t find a single web based file sharing system that had understood. Not even the ones which I considered to be good seemed to understand this. To organise files according to folders, is a ridiculous idea, seriously! Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know we’ve been doing this for decades, in Windows, Linux and on our Macs – It still doesn’t make it a good idea! It simply implies humanity’s stupidity should never be underestimated! “Folders” are probably the stupidest idea Steve Jobs ever had, and I know for a fact, that if he still was around today – He’d AGREE with me! Don’t believe me, then why do you think the whole idea was completely ditched in iOS …?

For one, ask yourself where you should put your vacation pictures of grandma hugging your kids, while they were on vacation? Should you put it in the “vacation album”, “children album” or “grandma album”? Unless you see the problem, you haven’t used a file sharing system for a long time …

A much better way to organise your files, is to allow your users to describe their own files, adding “meta data” to them, and in the description allow for adding #hash_tags. This is the way Twitter works, and it allows you to tag a status update with multiple categories. For the above example for instance, I could tag the same photo with both #vacation, #grandma and #children. If I later wanted to view all pictures of grandma, I could simply search for #grandma, and it would show me all pictures of grandma. In fact, in general terms, Twitter is a very good UX in general to apply to file sharing!

4. There exist no privacy without self-hosting

To be honest, most of the web based file sharing systems I found, allowed for self hosting. However, sorry DropBox and Google Disc, you’re simply not going to cut it here. The reason is that every single person on the planet, has files, they don’t want anybody else to gain access to. My favourite example in this space are lawyers. Do you honestly expect a lawyer to being able to acquire the important clients, if he puts his files and documents into DropBox? How do you think a seriously rich guy is going to respond if his lawyer stuffs his private files into DropBox?

Google Disc, DropBox, etc – Must basically be assumed is spyware. Some people are OK with that. Most people who knows the value of information, and haven’t still had half of their brains removed, will agree with me, period! If you’re OK with putting private data about your children into the hands of Google, such that they can sell it to insurance companies, 20 years from now, or God knows what – I am perfectly fine with that. However, to me, Google Disc and DropBox is the equivalent of a train crash; Interesting to watch, but not a thing you’d particularly much enjoy experiencing first hand yourself!

5. I am biased (shameless plug)

OK, I admit it. I’ve created my own web based file sharing system. Mostly because I was offended by most of the alternative solutions out there. Sulphur Five, which is my system, might be immature compared to most of the other solutions in this space, but it is open source, allows for self hosting, takes security really, really, really seriously – And is not based upon “folders”, but rather tagging, to allow for people to organise their files, and categorise the same file into multiple categories. And believe me when I say this …

I will NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER build “an app” for it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In fact, I think I’d rather eat my own liver, before I create “an app” for it! Below is a screenshot of it, and you can find the installation instructions over here


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