Places to store those digital goods
Seattle Times technology reporter
Jim Laurel and Serena Glover left Microsoft six years ago to take a break.
Their time off ended in 2004, however, when they and three others sensed an opportunity they couldn't overlook.
After doing research, the group found that digital content — photos, videos, music and more — was about to explode and create opportunities for startups.
The team spent the next two years developing a product that would help manage the explosion. The result: Twango, launched in April. The Redmond-based company gives consumers a place to easily store all of their digital goods, including photos, documents, videos, songs and other files that come from mobile phones, friends or other devices.
Some are calling this idea of a one-stop storage place for all of the above a "digital locker." Others call it a cloud or hard drive in the sky.
Keith Mallinson, an analyst with The Yankee Group, said a locker is compelling because there's no reason to store the data on the PC; it restricts where you can view your photos, videos and other content. It also restricts how much you can store.
"Hosted in the sky has some potential," Mallinson said. "Your typical PC doesn't have the storage capacity to accommodate your entire DVD library. There's no reason why it could go that way."
Twango and at least two other Seattle-area companies are attempting to turn the idea into a business.
Seattle's Mixxer, backed by investors of social-networking site MySpace.com, launched a site last week that incorporates mobile phones and social networking. Bellevue-based GoGoMo has a service that stores content from your phones and other devices.
A number of other companies are already in this business. Kodak EasyShare, Flickr, Shutterfly and others give users a place to store their photos; iTunes offers music management; and YouTube gives a place to store and share videos. Another handful offers general storage space online without special features.
All of these companies, which loosely fall into the locker category, solve portions of the content puzzle. The new generation of lockers seem to have bigger ambitions by bringing silos of digital information into one location.
For Twango, the idea made sense because its research showed a number of conditions that were falling into place, Glover said:
• Wider availability of broadband Internet access.
• Increasing sales of digital content.
• Falling prices of devices such as video recorders and mobile phones.
• More people generating their own content.
Observing consumer behavior in the past year shows the impact of these trends. Last year, nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared with others a file from their computer, such as a song, video, picture or game, and 22 percent had downloaded music, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
GoGoMo said its research shows revenue from the sale of digital content in the U.S. is expected to leap from $2.4 billion in 2003 to an estimated $15.1 billion in 2008.
"There could be room for a digital locker," said Adrian Smith, a venture capitalist at Bellevue's Ignition Partners, which does not have stakes in any of the three companies.
He said the amount of content we juggle today is manageable, but "we have our mobile phone, our TiVo, our PC and our iPods. One or two more, and there might be a tipping point."
Looking at his own situation, Smith said possibly 100 gigabytes of his 250-gigabyte hard drive on his home computer are dedicated to photos. Having someone else store that might make sense, he said, especially if he starts compiling videos.
"Add videos to that, and it will go through the roof."
Twango, GoGoMo and Mixxer are all trying to solve these issues and make money in a slightly different ways.
Twango, which released its initial version in April, provides 250 megabytes of usage a month with unlimited storage. The site, available at www.twango.com, allows users to store content by sending it to an e-mail address.
If you shoot a photo with a camera phone, for instance, you can e-mail it to your designated Twango address. The photo uploads to the site. Same goes for attachments. If someone e-mails several photos, you can forward them to the address, and the images are added to the locker.
The e-mail address can be altered slightly to designate other considerations, such as whether it is a private or public photo, what folder it belongs in, or where the photo was taken.
"We thought, 'How do we make it as easy for people as possible to send photos from phones?' " Laurel said. "The universal uploader is e-mail. We use e-mail to control Twango."
Once the content is in someone's account, it can be public, shared among friends (who have the appropriate e-mail address) or private.
Laurel, one of the founders, said since the site launched recently, Twango is waiting to see how it will be used. Most likely it will charge for storage at some point and make money from printing photos, creating back-up disks or ads.
GoGoMo and Mixxer have more retail-focused business models.
Jeff Davis, who was part of InfoSpace's senior-management team from 1999 to 2002, founded GoGoMo in 2005. Davis said digital content in mobile devices should be simple to use, from browsing to download and payment.
The locker, at gogomo.com, allows uploads of all sorts of content, from photos to music and wallpapers. Users can also buy content such as games or ringtones, but GoGoMo doesn't charge for the storage.
"We believe it's the next wave and in 12 to 18 months," Davis said. "People will have a locker, and they will need one to manage digital goods."
One key feature of GoGoMo's service is that it manages the content rights for the owner. Once the content has been uploaded to the locker, it will fall into one of many categories. Pass the cursor over the title, and up pops a bubble that says where the content can be used — the iPod, the phone, the PC — and whether or not it can be shared.
Davis said this is important because of all the legal issues surrounding digital content. Many consumers don't know, for instance, whether they can play on their cellphone music stored on their computer.
"The battle in the next round is not around the store and purchasing of the content," Davis said. "It's about the service, it's about managing their goods, whether it is promotional or user-generated and then whether they can consume them across multiple devices."
Davis hopes to partner with a wide variety of companies, including those media companies and broadband service providers to attract users to the GoGoMo locker.
Mixxer, available at www.mixxer.com, allows consumers to upload ringtones, wallpapers and music to the locker to access from a mobile phone. It lets you share them or keep them private, and you can also purchase new content. Storage is limited to 100 megabytes.
Photos from your computer can be uploaded to the site, which knows what kind of phone you have and how the photo should be formatted. From there, users log in to their cellphone, go to the browser and view the content.
"Our belief is that the PC and the mobile device have different purposes," said Mixxer CEO Bill Bryant. "We want the Web to be used for discovery and the management of the platform, and the mobile device to be used for the personalization and immediacy that the phone represents."
The object, Bryant said, is to provide access to lockers from both the PC and phone and make them interchangeable.
The new Mixxer service launched last week after combining the products of two companies — 3GUpload and MoPhone, which merged earlier this year. In later versions, users are expected to be able to stream music from the locker to their mobile phone. The service now only supports play lists that can be downloaded to the phone and played.
Mixxer makes money by offering subscription services for a certain amount of ringtones a month.
"I think the user has to have a value proposition associated with locker space. What do I do with it? How do I access it and what's the point of providing locker space?" Bryant said.
Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|What||Provides unlimited storage free. Sells ringtones and other mobile- phone content.||Provides online storage to share and manage documents, photos, music and video.||Provides storage online to share and manage for all types of content, including documents, photos, music and video.|
|Employees||5||10||50, with 14 in Seattle and 36 in Indianapolis|
|Who||CEO Jeff Davis||Five co-founders: Jim Laurel, Mike Laurel, Philip Carmichael, Randy Kerr and Serena Glover.||CEO Bill Bryant|
|Usage||Provides digital locker to store and share photos, music, ringtones, wallpapers and other content for mobile devices.||Unlimited overall storage, but limited to 250 megabytes a month||Provides 100 megabytes of storage. Sells mobile content.|
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company