Hands on with Paper, Dropbox’s answer to Google Docs

Today Dropbox took the wraps off of Paperits new collaborative editing software. It builds on the company’s acquisition of Hackpad, which led to the introduction earlier this year of a beta product it then called Notes. After we wrote about Paper earlier today, a person with early access to the web app invited us into the beta. We’ve spent the past few hours making documents, adding comments, and trolling each other with animated stickers, and have some early thoughts to share.

If you’re editing on the desktop web, Paper is a simple, elegant place to write. It eschews the clunky, Microsoft Word-like menus and toolbars of Google Docs in favor of a Medium-like plain white page. Tap the blue “create” button inside Paper and the cursor hovers in a title field labeled “Give me a name”; type a few words and your document is named. Tab down to “and start writing” and you can begin your work.

A SIMPLE, ELEGANT PLACE TO WRITE

By default, no formatting tools are evident — as on Medium, to bring them up, you first have to highlight text. From there, you can turn your text into a headline, a list, or a to-do. You can bold your text or put it in strikethrough, but for some reason, you can’t italicize it.

dropbox paper

The more interesting thing about Paper is the way that it handles rich media: you can embed YouTube videos and SoundCloud files simply by pasting in the URL, or tap the “+” button next to any paragraph to access a menu that will let you add photos, tables, or links to other Dropbox files, among other things. It all looks great, and I imagine that creative types who work on teams will appreciate having rich media embedded in the documents they’re working on rather than in a series of infinite tabs.dropbox paper

Collaboration works much as it does on Google Docs: you can invite friends and colleagues to your document, choosing to give them comment-only privileges or full editing capabilities. You comment by clicking a thought bubble to the right of the post, and you can either choose text or stickers from one of seven collections. (Many of them are animated and quite cute.)

Paper feels smooth and fast on the desktop web, but the mobile web version still has some kinks to work out. Browsing documents works fine, but I encountered a number of hiccups with editing — having to tap buttons multiple times to get them to work, or sometimes, in the case of sticker comments, failing to post them at all. This is beta software, so some of this is to be expected, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dropbox waits to launch Paper to its entire user base until it has high-performance native mobile apps ready to go.

EXISTING OPTIONS ARE ALREADY PRETTY GOOD

The most interesting question around Paper is whether it will matter. I wrote recently about Dropbox’s struggle to pivot from a low-value file syncing company into a high-value enterprise collaboration company, despite four years and countless millions of dollars spent on products like Mailbox and Carousel that it seems to have all but abandoned. Unlike file syncing, where Dropbox first made its name, collaborative software is a space where existing options are already pretty good. Paper in its current incarnation is little more than Google Docs with Medium’s interface and Dropbox’s storage. If Dropbox is intent on becoming the future of workplace collaboration, it’s going to have to move much farther away from the present.

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