Obsessed with free space

Being a 90’s kid, I remember being concerned about the amount of free space I get when signing up for free services. My first email account was from Hotmail. They offered free storage from 2 to 4 mb, I remember having to periodically clear my inbox so emails don’t get bounced. Then came Gmail, which offered a whooping 1GB when it was first released. The ethos was that you don’t have to delete your emails ever again. So in those days, there was valid concern then about the size of email accounts, and bigger = better seems to be the adage. But nowadays, services are throwing practically unlimited storage to the average user so most people never have to worry about running out of space. But even though I know I will probably never use up half of the given free storage, I can’t help the mentality that more storage means it’s better.

It all started when cloud storage was introduced. Dropbox was very popular because of its convenience. It provides 2GB of free storage for any user. That seems decent. Then shortly after, substitutes start to pop up everywhere. I personally signed up for two other services at the same time: Sugarsync and Box.com. The latter actually provided a promotional 50GB for life. What I was thinking when I signed up was: More space can’t possibly hurt.

However, although space wasn’t an issue anymore, there was a new problem: these services don’t work well together. I suddenly needed to remember where I had stored my files. I find myself myself asking “Did I store it in dropbox, or was it in sugarsync or was it in box?!” and sometimes I have to log into all three services just to find out which one I used to store my file. I suppose it works fine if you compartmentalize your files so that perhaps all your hobbyist documents go to one and all your other personal document goes to the other but it takes a lot of organisational skill to ensure things don’t get mixed up. Backing up using two different file storage system is also not trivial. One option would be to duplicate files on both services, but that would imply having two copies of the same file on your desktop, a huge redundancy. Keeping both files up to date is also another problem. The solution to duplicated files is to have only one copy of the file, but have a symbolic link in the other watched folder. This solves the problem of having two copies of the same file. But the problem is when a file is changed, the syncing software doesn’t recognise that the file that the symbolic link is pointing to has changed. So it doesn’t upload the newer version, causing inconsistency issue. This problem occurs in Windows, I am not sure if it exists for Linux since the symbolic link implementation is slightly different. But if one is using Windows, there is no easy solution at the moment.

Since each service provides a certain set of features, it’s sensible to use each services for a particular purpose rather than coalescing all the space together. For example, when box first came out, it did not have a desktop program to automatically watch a folder and upload change file. Even though it provided 50GB of file storage, it was difficult utilising the storage. There was a hack to mount the drive onto the desktop and so it will act like an external hard drive. But it was unstable and it didn’t work after awhile. So I abandoned it. I primarily used Box to archive some of the files, so that I have access to them over the internet.

Fast forward to 2013, a few other services were born. A few worth mentioning are Tresorit and Copy. Tresorit aims to tackle the problem of schronising private data with focus on privacy and security of the files, Copy aims to allow sharing of media such as Photos without the parties involved paying the full storage ‘cost’.

Recently, I learned that flickr decides to offer 1TB of storage for all its user (free users included) in order to compete with other services such as Facebook etc. At first I was like “WOW, I need to get this.” But upon further analysis, I unveiled the catch behind this offer. The caveat is that daily upload is capped at 300MB.  To put it in perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether flickr had offered 1TB or 9999TB, because to utilise 1TB fully, one would need to use flickr for at least 3334 days ~ 9 years. At the rate technology is progressing now, that’s like a lifetime. I am willing to bet that in the next 9 years, there will be other services that can match the offer flickr is making or even provide something better. It is an ingenious marketing strategy to attracting people with the 1TB. It is analogous to advertising free burger, knowing that people would flock to the store and queue up for hours just for a burger that cost less than £2. It is not so much about the burger than it is about the publicity.

Not only has flickr provided virtually unlimited storage, picasa in collaboration with google plus photo, has changed to allow users to upload unlimited pictures that are under a certain size. In my opinion, it is essentially the same concept as flickr, but without the gimmick.

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