Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Friday, January 12, 2007

File Uploads

Every now and then we all face a common problem poorly solved by today's applications: You want to send a big file to another person (or you want them to download it). For files several megabytes long (or larger) email is not the right tool (as email servers will reject send attempts larger than a few megabytes).

IM applications like MSN Messenger or Jabber might solve the problem, but only if you and your friend have that software installed and have a user account. But there is still another catch: This transfer happens between peers, so both you and your friend need to be online during the whole transfer.

To fix this, some applications like Pando can help, as they provide a multiplatform solution that does not require you both to be online while the transfer takes place. However, you both still need to download and install Pando client.

Upload centers allow you to upload files to be shared with the rest of the world. No user registration is required for some of them but some limits on the file size are enforced. At any rate, maybe you only want to share your file with a few people and these upload centers offer poor or no access control at all.

The type of solution I am thinking about involves a web server and some glue code on it. The idea is quite simple:
  1. You use your browser to upload the file to a server. (The fancy version may include an applet or flash app to offer a progress bar and maybe drag and drop support).
  2. You obtain a random and difficult to write and difficult to remember URL, similar to the ones Google Docs uses for publishing spreadsheets. (This ensures a casual user will not discover any document URL by chance).
  3. You send an email to your friend containing that weird URL.
  4. Your friend clicks on that URL to retrieve the file (again using just a regular browser).
  5. Files are kept for a limitted time on the server (to insure not a lot of storage is required and to lower the probability a curious attacker could get a file not intended for him by just guessing right a URL).
No new software to install on either the sender or the receiver is required. No user account needs to be created. And of course, no clear business model behind to make a commercial success out of it (you still can publish some adds on the system web pages).

A somehow similar system, but with user accounts is called File-O-matic and it is being used by Nova Scotia canadian authorities.

So I have some work to do over the weekend ...

Update: A bit late but here you have a sample (up to 2MB)

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