In business, as in poker, table stakes are the value you bring that allows you to play the game. They are the features and experiences that services must offer customers to even be considered relevant. As a relatively new industry, online file sharing and storage services have so far been playing with low table stakes.
In 2013 any provider could use storage limits or encryption technology to sell its service. But file sharing has now gone mainstream and the stakes have been raised. In 2014, the file sharing industry is playing a bigger game. This is great news for users, as what used to be unique selling points for one service must become standard offerings for all.
When considering a file sharing service, there are four key features that you must now think of as table stakes. If a provider can't call this raise, they aren't playing at the same high level as everyone else.
The cloud industry currently makes a big deal of tiered storage levels and how much space you get for different dollar amounts. The promise of additional storage is the bait designed to get you to refer friends and colleagues. Running out of space is the trigger to pay more money. The new year will bring such storage shenanigans to an end for paying users.
With the average professional now creating more large files, from graphics-heavy presentations to high-resolution photography and videos, arbitrary storage limits no longer make sense. Unlimited storage as a standard paid feature will let everyone get on with what really matters without worrying about running out of space.
File sharing services like to tout phrases like "128-bit SSL" and "256-bit AES" as reasons you should choose one service over another. But these levels of data encryption are now table stakes and those who don't offer it as standard don't deserve your precious files.
That's not to say there isn't room to differentiate. Security is not just about checking the right technology boxes. It also requires having the right attitude and methodology, as my colleague Aaron Nathan recently discussed in "Three Essential Values for Securing the Cloud". Truly secure file sharing services care about the mundane checks and balances involved in maintaining a tight system. Ask the tough questions and don't let your provider pull a bluff with hifalutin-sounding table stakes.
Delight for all
Design thinking has ushered in a new Internet era, with consumer-focused sites using delightful user experiences to stand out from the crowd. Professional productivity services have so far lagged behind, seeming content to emphasize irrelevant features in an attempt to mask ill-conceived experiences.
Now that designers have taken their place alongside engineers as the rock stars of the digital world, even a service as utilitarian as file sharing must be intuitive and easy-to-use. If a file sharing service is not reaching the experience of your favorite consumer site, it's time to leave the table.
On the move
A few months back one of my younger colleagues wondered why our company's marketing made a big deal about mentioning our mobile apps. "Of course we have mobile apps," she shrugged. For her generation, mobile apps are not a differentiator, but an expected feature of any service.
At one point, providing mobile access to your online files was considered cutting edge. But then again, so was a car with electric windows, power steering and an AM radio. Just as you wouldn't buy a new car with manual window cranks, so you shouldn't sign up for a file sharing service that doesn't make the best use of your phone and tablet. And pretty soon you won't buy a car that doesn't come with its own mobile app.
Unlimited storage, robust security, great user experience and mobility are now table stakes for any file sharing service looking to attract paying customers. So where can you find differences in 2014?
Look for providers that are betting big in areas that matter to you. As a professional, this could mean more control over the files you share or greater insights into usage, but everyone has different needs. 2014 is the year to really think about what you want and find the table stakes-playing provider that makes you want to go all in.
Matte Scheinker is Hightail's Chief Product Officer and is driven by an obsession to understand the design decisions behind products and the specific human needs they address. It's a desire that guides his Hightail product strategy-every feature and experience his team creates must solve real problems. Matte lives in San Francisco with his lovely baker wife and adorable daughter. Follow Matte on Twitter at @matte.