Cloud Storage

What's next for Dropbox?

April 14, 2014: 6:17 PM ET

The file-syncing startup has launched a suite of new tools designed to capture a greater share of your online life.

Dropbox-logo

FORTUNE -- Last week, cloud file storage company Dropbox unveiled an array of new tools designed to capture a greater share of your online life.

The new applications included tweaked versions of Mailbox, the e-mail app Dropbox acquired last year, and Carousel, a photo application for iOS and Android that lets its users browse and share images stored in their cloud accounts.

What CEO Drew Houston dubbed "Chapter Two" for his company seems to be a push to evolve well beyond its core business of file-sharing. Last year's purchase of Mailbox appeared to be a tack-on acquisition at the time, albeit one that made sense given both services are based around cloud-based data transfer.

But Carousel is Dropbox's third app, and it feels like a serious attempt to expand what the definition of Dropbox is to its 275 million users. It's not just about ditching traditional storage mediums -- the reason Houston co-founded Dropbox to begin with -- it's about making Dropbox "a home for all of your important stuff," as Houston describes it.

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In Houston's eyes, that means broadening Dropbox's feature set but taking those features and focusing them into different experiences.

"It's hard to do something well in just one app, so with something like Carousel, we're very much putting the focus on offering a good experience with your photos," he said last week. Facebook (FB) appears to be taking the same approach to product expansion.

I wouldn't be surprised if Dropbox continued in this vein. After all, file-syncing itself can only be so compelling. Uber is currently redefining what it means to "Uber," having expanded from picking up and dropping off passengers to, more recently, a "Rush" online delivery service being tested in Manhattan, a service CEO Travis Kalanick has repeatedly hinted at. Likewise, Dropbox as a service and a verb has the potential to apply to an entire suite of cloud-based utility services.

For now, it may just store and sync your Word Documents, but what if, say, Dropbox offered a free, built-in dedicated word processor that had the ease of use of Microsoft Word and emulated the collaboration of the cloud word processor Quip? Users could chat inside the app as they highlight, make instant edits, and so on. Dropbox engagement would go through the roof.

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Indeed, Dropbox wouldn't just be a feature, or even a set of features -- a criticism the company has received. Instead, it would be a compelling productivity suite people spend quality time in, enterprise or otherwise.

As Dropbox looks to redefine itself, the recent appointment of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors may represent a temporary challenge.

The move is controversial, given that Rice helped justify warrantless wiretapping by the NSA and now holds one of just four director positions on the board of a company responsible for loads of sensitive user data. It drew the ire of Internet protesters, who took to cyberspace last week to denounce the move, launching an online petition and using Twitter to lobby Dropbox to drop Rice from its board. Some protesters have even threatened to ditch Dropbox and built a "Drop Dropbox" protest page, calling Rice's selection "deeply disturbing."

Houston doesn't see it that way, of course: "She has all these incredible leadership experiences in different contexts, so she can make all these connections that no one else we had talked to could," Houston told Fortune last week, referring to Rice's political track record and current roles, including a position at Stanford University as a professor of political science.

Last Friday, he reiterated Dropbox's mission to keep user data safe and secure: "We should have been clearer that none of this is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment to our Board," Houston added in a blog post.

What Rice brings to Dropbox is years of experience around privacy, surveillance, and international affairs, all of which probably seemed compelling to Houston. Assuming she watches out for the best interests of Dropbox and its users, Rice could prove to be an asset to the startup as it continues to expand globally. If Rice doesn't, well, she could always be dropped.

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