Meet Tonido, the Company Dedicated to Making “Personal Cloud” a Reality

If you’ve ever wanted a way to make sure your music, videos, photos, and more are accessible wherever you are, but you didn’t want to use yet another cloud service, you’ve likely heard of Tonido. It’s an app that turns your computer into your own private cloud, one that we’ve looked at in the past here at AppStorm. It’s grown up since then, with a much cleaner design, and in the mean time an increasing number of companies have launched cloud services to let users store their media online.

We’ve had the chance recently to talk with Madhan Kanagavel, Tonido’s founder, about his company’s apps, devices, and the future of digital media. He brings an interesting perspective to the discussion on the future of the cloud, so this is one article you might want to save to your Instapaper queue to pore over later.

Thanks for taking the time to do the interview with us. Could you start off by telling us a bit about your company’s history, and where Tonido’s name came from?

Great to be here as well.

Our company was incorporated in 2008 and we started the actual development of Tonido in 2009.

We were originally using Google’s peer-to-peer photo sharing software, Hello from Picasa, to share photos among our team. Google shut it down the product on May 2008, which inspired us to create Tonido. We decided to create software that enable users to run their own personal cloud to access, share, and sync their personal files and media with their own devices, and without relying on a 3rd party.

Tonido’s name (pronounced Toni-doe, kind of like Tornado) sounded cool and more importantly the domain name was available. We also needed it to be unique enough so that it stands out. Some have said Tonido can be expanded to “Ton I Do“. Also, we are proud of coining the term “Personal Cloud”, Which is currently being used by pretty much app on the internet. Unfortunately, we didn’t trademark the term 🙂

Tonido HQ

Tonido HQ

When every other company seems to be focused on hosted services both for the enterprise and for consumers, why are you focused on helping people host their own data?

Public cloud storage and hosted services — even though useful — are not the panacea for storing and managing terabytes of data that a typical user accumulates over time. Then, there’s issues of ownership, privacy, and security, which many people forget to take into account when storing critical personal information in public cloud services.

A few years back, it was inconceivable that a company like Google would shut down an offering. Now news of web apps getting shut down seems to be a daily occurrence. And that’s not all: the web used to be built around open standards, working towards an open web where everything worked together. Now, it is all about walled gardens and who controls the data.

The tide is slowly changing now. Smart customers and businesses are realizing now that all is not well with public online services. It is always good to have control over one’s critical data, and total reliance on public online services is a bad idea. Our accelerating growth confirms this small shift in people attitude. Currently, we are adding 3000 devices per day to our Personal Cloud network and the growth is accelerating month-to-month.

But much needs to be done to create awareness among mainstream customers. We think independent media and journalists should take up this cause. A few companies controlling everybody’s data is bad for society as a whole. It is happening already.

What’s your biggest focus with Tonido: the app itself, or the TonidoPlug?

As a software company, our primary focus is with the Tonido software. This software is identical whether running on the desktop (Windows, Mac, or Linux), the TonidoPlug, or on other NAS hardware. So when we focus on the software, all platforms running the Tonido software automatically benefit, including the TonidoPlug.

How is developing a hardware product different from a software product, and what has your team learned from making the TonidoPlug?

Developing hardware is much harder than just writing software, as there are many more variables. Usually, hardware products are developed by big companies with deep pockets or external funding. Managing to pull it off without those kinds of resources is a major achievement for our company. We have realized, though, that the hard things in hardware product development are still the same as in software, ie. getting the user experience right.

What’s the biggest problem you encounter with users hosting their own content from home? Slow upload speeds, router problems, or something else?

Initially, network connectivity was the biggest hurdle to Tonido, but we solved that with our global relay infrastructure, which takes out the guesswork of network configuration and automagically makes things “just work”. Now the product is ready for mainstream customers, and anyone can setup Tonido in few seconds.

Our user retention rate is very high. Once our customers use Tonido a few times, they usually stick to it and make Tonido part of their daily workflow. Now, our biggest problem is to create awareness about Tonido. It is more of a marketing problem than a product problem.

Let’s go back to early 2007, before the iPhone, iPad, and Android were released. Would a product like Tonido be as popular without today’s portable device culture?

Certainly, Tonido owes much of its popularity to the advent of mobile devices and the fact we make mobile access functionality front and center. Having portable and powerful mobile devices has sparked the need to get access to content anywhere and anytime and there are no signs of that abating. The other reason Tonido is important is that most mobile devices have limited storage, thus limiting how much one can store on the device itself. Tonido essentially removes any such local storage limits on your device.

If there was one thing you could change about media licensing today, especially for videos, what would it be?

We think media companies (Disney, Viacom, and the like) should create transparent pricing for their assets and make the media assets available for anybody from end customers, small players like Tonido, all the way to massive internet companies like Google and Spotify, rather than cutting private deals. It will serve them well in the long term and encourages competition in streaming services/distribution business. If distribution companies make the content as a commodity, the best way to strike back is to make the distribution business a commodity by having transparent pricing. Finally, transparent pricing will foster competition, expand the market and benefit every stakeholder in an equitable way: content owner, distributor and end customer.

We also wish that there were far fewer video formats, and that they’re all supported universally among most devices. mp4 is definitely popular, but still is not the only format that is used.

Tonido’s design today looks a lot cleaner than it did when we originally reviewed it. How important do you feel design is to your work?

It is a very important — if not the most important aspect — of the software. We have spent a lot of time working on getting the user experience right, redoing the mobile and web user interfaces several times. For example: we have rewritten the web interface about 5 times since original release, and overhauled the iOS and Android apps twice or thrice. From our point of view, design is really about the user experience.

Tonido in action

Tonido in action

What apps does your team use while working on Tonido and the TonidoPlug?

Our company runs on Skype, Visual Studio, XCode, Eclipse, Netbeans, FileZilla, Putty, SVN, VirtualBox, Microsoft Office, Gmail and Notepad++.

Streaming media services like Netflix and Spotify are designed around “renting” media instead of purchasing it. Do you think in the future it’ll be uncommon to have your own personal, non-rented collection of movies and music?

The future for mainstream music/videos is certainly moving towards the rented model. Most people aren’t interested in having a copy of each movie they watch in their personal collection. However, we still see users continuing to maintain their personal media collections and definitely continue to have the need to view it anywhere and on any device. Also people don’t realize the pitfalls of rented model such as:

  • What happens to your streaming service if you cannot pay for a month?
  • If you are family of 5, will you buy subscription for each member?
  • Is the pricing right for developing countries from where majority of the new internet users are coming?
  • What if the streaming services decide to arbitrarily raise the pricing from $9.99 to $99.99?

Philosophically, it is similar to owning a house or renting a house. Customers will realize it more as the time goes by.

That’s a Wrap.

We’d like to say a special thank you to Madhan Kanagavel for taking the time to do the interview with us, and the whole Tonido team for their work on their apps. It’s neat to see a team focused on making it easier to host your own cloud services, rather than making us upload our stuff to yet another service.

If you haven’t tried out Tonido lately, be sure to give it a shot. It’s a great way to stream your media to all of your devices, no matter where you are.