Saturday, January 08, 2011

Google Docs Fail

I've been selling digital editions of An Engineer's to Silicon Valley Startups by simply e-mailing the files to customers. The compressed version of the book is only 800KB, so it fits easily as an attachment via e-mail.

Independent Cycle Touring, however, is a graphics and layout heavy book. The highly compressed version of the book came to 11MB. This exceeded the 10MB attachment limit of gmail and other online services. Furthermore, it would use up my gmail quota in rapid order, not to mention the cumbersome nature of attaching a file to every e-mail sent.

My initial thoughts was to simply upload the file to Google Docs and Spreadsheets as a PDF, and then add users to the access control list with each sale. Not only would this eliminate the need to send e-mail attachments, it would also allow me to update the book online and have all my customers immediately have access to the latest version of the book! What's not to like about that?!

This worked well during the beta-period, and during the initial launch period. However, over the holidays something broke Google Docs and Spreadsheet, and Google stopped allowing me access to my own file! I would get a "This web-site is not available" whenever I tried to click through to my book. OK, maybe I exceeded the access control list limit or some such. I uploaded a new copy. Same thing! Since I had paying customers, I was in a bind.

Fortunately, a startup named Dropbox offers very similar service to what GDrive was originally intended to serve. Unlike Google's product, Dropbox works for my own file and has a bigger free quota than Docs and Spreadsheets. Even better, each customer that installs Dropbox gives myself and him free disk quota. Even better, rather than use the web-interface to upload, I can just drag and drop new versions of the file on disk. I'm pleased as heck.

I've often said that it's a good thing that big companies screw up. Otherwise, startups won't be able to compete. And Google: you might want to consider having a "file a bug" button somewhere on Docs and Spreadsheets. Otherwise, the only way I know how to file a bug is to write it up on my external blog for everyone to see. In the mean time, my guess is I will continue to use Dropbox to distribute the digital version of Independent Cycle Touring.
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