I’m going to describe an idea, and you have to name the company behind it (and no cheating by reading the headline). The mission is, and I quote, “to simplify the way people work together.” It’s primarily a collaboration tool, where teams—especially at small businesses, but eventually anyone—work together in a single, shared space to get things done. You can create documents, chat, and keep everything in an easily searchable repository. Got it yet?
Nope, it’s not Slack. Or Evernote. Or Google Docs. Or Box. Or Lync. It’s Dropbox! The company that has spent almost a decade keeping all your files in perfect sync is now launching its second product, along with a re-branding of sorts. The new product is called Paper. An initial beta was called Notes, but Dropbox decided that didn’t feel big enough. Paper felt appropriately wide-ranging, says Matteus Pan, a product manager at Dropbox. “We love the name because physical paper is simple, it’s flexible, it’s a creative service.”
More broadly, Dropbox doesn’t want you to think of it as a storage company anymore. It’s hoping to leave files behind at long last. It’s a collaboration company now. A lot of people know Dropbox, and a lot of people will try Paper as a result, but Dropbox is late to this party. And it’s hard to tell how much ground it can make up—even if it does look pretty sleek.
Paper feels like a cross between Google Docs and Medium. It’s an ultra-minimal text editor—every new document offers space for a title and a body, and nothing else to look at. You go to paper.dropbox.com (which right now won’t get you anywhere unless you’re in the beta), and just start typing.
There’s some basic formatting in the document—you can write in Markdown, or use sub-heds and bold text. But that’s all obscured, in the hope you’ll turn off your internal font freak and just start typing. You can add images, too, dragging and dropping them around the page or making one full-bleed on the page with a single click. If you write lines of code, it’ll automatically format and style them as code. Or create a to-do list, and assign tasks to other people by @-mentioning them in the document. Or paste a Dropbox-stored file in, and it’ll automatically be available to everyone shared on your Paper document.
As 'all your files everywhere' has become utterly commoditized, Dropbox is looking for new ways to figure out how to extend its competency into new places.The whole goal of Paper is to make creating, maintaining, and sharing these kinds of documents easier. Lots of people can be in a single document simultaneously, each working in the same or different spots. Step-by-step version history is available, and each user gets a running feed of changes made to documents they’re involved with. It all sounds a lot like Google Docs, really, right down to the nested comments that can run down the right side of your document. The dashboard of documents you’ve opened and created looks familiar too. But Paper at least has stickers (even wizard-rainbow stickers) and emoji, which is nice.
Dropbox also takes the collaboration bits a little further. Each person is represented by a cursor, and their name is placed next to everything they create. Dropbox calls this Attribution, and says it makes it easier to figure out who did what, and when. You can look at the list of people you’ve shared the document with, to see who’s opened it and who’s slacking. When you go to your dashboard, you’ll see who’s currently in every document. “That makes this really be a collaborative work hub,” Pan says. He says early teams love knowing who’s working on what, that quickly. You can’t hide from Dropbox Paper.
The big upside here is search. Dropbox is really good at file search, and by putting everything in Paper it gets even better. You can search the content of documents, the documents attached to those documents, and all the way down the list. Or search by user to find that weird document Julie sent you that was helpfully named Untitled.