Do You Really Need an App Just for Sharing Files?

If you’re looking for a way to store your files online, it can quickly get confusing trying to find the best app. We recently rounded up a number of great apps for syncing your files to your other devices and the cloud, then followed up with a list of apps for sharing files online. There’s a bit of crossover between the two, and among each category many of the apps share very similar features. If you don’t already have a file sharing or syncing app you love, it can be rather tough to decide which is the best for you.

But then, why would you need both an app to sync files and an app to share files? Wouldn’t one be enough?

Surely Dropbox is enough

Dropbox: Syncing your files, and sharing them too

When it comes to saving your files online, Dropbox is easily the 800lb gorilla in the room. Storing your files in the cloud was nothing new when Dropbox came out, but Dropbox redefined the very idea of cloud storage with its dead-simple approach to syncing files. It gives you a folder where you can keep all of the files you want synced, and it keeps them synced in the background with all of your devices and their web app. It’s one of a few apps I absolutely could not live without, and I’ve been a Pro subscriber for several years now. It’s simply great.

I use Dropbox mainly to keep files synced between my computers and the cloud, so I can access my own files anywhere. I also share folders with friends and colleagues so we can work on the same files. Seamless shared folder syncing is easily one of Dropbox’ best features. And Dropbox even lets you share individual files from any folder, and has a Public folder that automatically shares everything in it with the world. But to share a file, you’d have to save it in Dropbox, right-click on the file, select Dropbox>Get Link, then copy the long link that opens in your browser and share it with your friends. It’s not exactly simple or intuitive. Plus, if you shared the file publicly, you’ll have to always keep that file in the same place in your Dropbox if you want others to still be able to find it.

Perhaps we do need a better solution

It's hard to argue with 1 click simplicity

CloudApp and Droplr, and other similar file sharing apps, are totally different. Sure, file sync and file sharing apps both store your files online. But file sync apps like Dropbox are mostly designed to help you manage your own local files like you would other files saved on your computer. File sharing apps, on the other hand, are designed to make it as simple as possible to share files online.

These apps usually have a menubar app that lets you just drag-and-drop a file to their icon. It’ll then automatically upload the file and save a short link to your clipboard. All you need to do to share a file – any file – is to drag it to the icon, then press CMD-V or Ctrl-V to send the link to anyone. That’s it.

Depending on the service, they’ll also let you share links you drag from your browser to their icon, and many let you share text notes or code snippets easily. They often offer easy ways to upload screenshots directly, or send files directly from certain apps. CloudApp, for one, is built into a number of apps such as Sparrow, so you can share files directly. And on their web sites, file sharing apps usually let you see how many people visited the things you’ve shared.

In short, they’re built around sharing. You don’t have to even remember you shared the files ever again. They just live on in their service without your attention. You don’t even have to see them cluttering up your hard drive, or worry if you can safely delete a file you shared long ago. Now, the service could go out of business in the future, but that’s a risk you take with both sync and sharing apps.

For the most part, the pros of a sharing app are strong enough for it to make sense to keep both around. Perhaps if you share a very large file that a sharing service won’t accept, using a Dropbox link would make sense, and would be easily worth the trouble. But for sharing random text notes and images, file sharing tools are much simpler to use.

Or perhaps we won’t need separate sharing apps…

Twitter keeps adding the features everyone else hacked in

Then, there’s the other side of the coin. Most of us use sharing apps to share images, links, notes, and other little files on social networks. But Facebook lets you share images, videos, and notes directly, and Twitter recently added image sharing. So is there still enough reason to use a separate sharing service?

That might depend on your needs. If you want to share images on only one network, then using their native sharing might make more sense. But if you want to, say, share a picture on Facebook and Twitter, then a sharing service would make much more sense. Plus, it’s hard to argue with sharing tools’ drag-and-drop simplicity, which makes them much quicker to use than Facebook’s convoluted image sharing tool.

Conclusion

I’ve been a happy Dropbox user for years now, but I’ve also used CloudApp and Droplr increasingly over the past couple years. To me, they’re perfectly complementary services, and neither could replace the other. Dropbox could, perhaps, change their app to make sharing individual files easier, but it seems to make the most sense for Dropbox to stay focused on being the best online storage and sync app, and for CloudApp and Droplr to keep being the best ways to share small files and images online when you just need a one-off sharing tool.

Your needs might be different. If you don’t share files all the time, then Dropbox sharing might fit the bill for you. And if you don’t use multiple devices and have no need for file sync, then just using a file sharing tool might be enough. It’s nice to have enough selection today, though, to not have to stick with one tool if you need both functions.


  • Tim

    Dude, what is up with all the file sharing posts lately?

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Well, we’d planned the two roundups of file sync and file sharing apps, then Droplr Pro came out so I reviewed it, and wrote up this op-ed. We’ve got one more article coming up, and then we’ll be off file sharing for a while :)

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  • Fry

    Who cares? File sharing apps are interesting! …although yes, I shall stick to my Dropbox public folder.

  • http://goringeaccountants.co.uk London Accountant

    FYI – If you use DropBox (like I do) on a iDevice then CloudOn is an essential addon for being able to then view/edit office files. Sharing the files is just not enough if you then cant do anything with them on a secondary device.

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  • http://www.hashtagaccountants.co.uk/ Hashtag Accountants

    I have a Dropbox account and think it is more than enough, it’s not really a problem sharing a link for a download.

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