Sitedrop: Design-Conscious File Sharing

Sadly, much of the work done by those in the creative arts isn’t terribly creative. This isn’t because all the talented designers, musicians, film-makers and photographers out there aren’t capable of producing works of stunning originality. It is actually due to the irritatingly small amount of time that they can dedicate to making beautiful things, and the frustratingly large volume of time dedicated to the trials associated with a service-based profession.

One such trial is the toing and froing of work between the professional and the client. Many of the platforms that are technically capable of performing this task are not focused on the client-facing niche of file sharing, and as a result, few prioritize both straightforward operation and high quality presentation.

This is why I think the concept of Sitedrop, a new beta hot off the Betaworks press, makes sense. Based on Dropbox for storage and hosting, Sitedrop wants to make the delivery of your work within a beautiful interface as simple as moving a file. Is that too much to ask? Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

Connecting

Sitedrop’s commitment to simplicity is impressive right from the off. As a Dropbox user, you merely need to connect your account, and choose a Sitedrop sub-domain, in order to get started. The required structure of folders and files is then implanted into your Dropbox — at which point, you’re pretty much ready to go.

Your Dropbox account is the only thing you'll need in order to play with Sitedrop.

Your Dropbox account is the only thing you’ll need in order to play with Sitedrop.

Among Sitedrop’s additions is a folder named after your newly created site. Files placed in here are published instantly, while folders act as pages and are automatically added to the live site’s main menu.

So, what we have here is, in essence, a simple flat-file CMS.

Dashboard

However, unlike a flat-file CMS, Sitedrop does actually have an admin area…of sorts. Your dashboard mostly serves the purpose of displaying your installed sites (as well as the number of files in each), and offering the opportunity to start new ones, but there are a few settings to be played with here.

Each site's settings can be adjusted via Sitedrop's dashboard.

Each site’s settings can be adjusted via Sitedrop’s dashboard.

Each site can be password protected, its URL can be changed, and the default order in which files should be displayed can be adjusted here, too.

The Front End

The front end of Sitedrop is an equally unfussy affair. The design is contrasty, with the look and feel of an understated, sidebar-equipped tumblog. Files are visually separated by backgrounds of marginally differing shades, and the fonts used are clear and modern. In some senses, it is a shame that other design options aren’t available — particularly with professional branding in mind — but that may be the price paid for such a straightforward setup.

The design of Sitedrop is simple, yet classy.

The design of Sitedrop is simple, yet classy.

Hovering over the ever-present Sitedrop logo in the bottom right-hand corner reveals a mini menu. Here, you can switch from the default (by name) file sorting order, and you can also enable visitors to upload files via the front end.

Compatibility

Sitedrop advertizes itself as a catch-all product, and in terms of pure file sharing, it is. Pretty much anything can be deposited in the Special Folder, and some kind of preview icon will be generated. There are, however, a few formats which are supported in terms of full previews, and they are supported nicely.

Markdown is translated to HTML nicely.

Markdown is nicely translated to HTML.

Markdown documents are converted accurately into HTML, and single images fill the width of the site’s main column. Groups of images listed next to one another form galleries (handsome ones, I should add) and videos from sites like Vimeo and YouTube can be embedded just by uploading their URLs. The same applies to music playlists from platforms such as SoundCloud and Rdio, and uploaded music files can be played inline.

Rdio and Soundcloud playlists are automatically embedded.

Rdio and Soundcloud playlists are automatically embedded.

Even VCFs — the most commonly used contact file format — preview as neat digital business cards.

vCard files are beautifully presented, too.

vCard files are beautifully presented, too.

It’s all very sleek, and all very hands-free.

It’s a shame, then, that full preview support for PDFs, and other non-Markdown text documents, is lacking. I understand why flashier forms of media have been given priority, but I’d like to think that the staple file formats we all use on a daily basis will be given support in future updates.

Lightbox

Sitedrop is also equipped with another form of presentation — a classy lightbox-like gallery view — which is used either when a visitor clicks on a listed file, or visits a file’s individual URL. In this view, you navigate using the direction keys or the large, on-screen arrows: left and right to flick between files within a folder, up to return to the list of files.

The gallery view is used to present individual files.

The gallery view is used to present individual files.

This style of navigation means that uploaded folders of files can act as self-contained presentations, featuring all the types of media mentioned above.

The gallery also incorporates an uncomplicated commenting system. This may seem to be an unremarkable feature, but I suspect that the simplicity and in-context location of Sitedrop’s comments will work very well with clients.

This commenting system sits just below each file.

This commenting system sits just below each file.

Equally, visitors have the opportunity to show their approval by clicking on the heart-shaped icon below each file, which is useful if you’re seeking a client’s opinion on a group of mockups or concepts.

Verdict

Even at this very early current stage of development, Sitedrop feels like an accomplished file sharing product. It presents files in what is, unquestionably, a professionally classy design, without really needing any user input. It also happens to be pretty dummy-proof — a fact that is not relevant to AppStorm readers, I realize!

Yet, I get the sense that Sitedrop doesn’t know what it wants to be. It can function as a sharing platform for professional creatives, but you could also use it to host a portfolio or publish a Markdown-formatted blog.

Perhaps this ambiguity is an intentional move, with the idea of allowing users to experiment and find the best use. If that is the case, I’m more than happy to be Sitedrop‘s guinea pig.


Summary

Simple Dropbox-powered file sharing, with nice presentation. Still somewhat experimental.

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