Egnyte is a collaborative document sharing app that hopes to make inroads on the growing Web Office space. It's kind of like a mix between an online storage solution (such as Omnidrive or ElephantDrive) and a content management solution. In enterprise speak, essentially it's a knowledge management application. The company started in January 2006 and launched the Egnyte private beta in May/June '06. It launched its public beta around the time of Web 2.0 Expo, in April 2007.

Egnyte downplays the online storage aspects on its homepage, where the noted features are "sharing, automatic organization and a powerful search capability". Another feature is that Egnyte synchronizes the files on your desktop with those on the web (in the Egnyte app). So let's explore more what Egynte is and why people might use it.

Similarities to Sharepoint and Koral

I first ran into Egnyte at the Web 2.0 Expo last month in San Francisco. I visited their Expo booth and chatted to co-founder and CEO Vineet Jain about the product. Vineet had earlier described Egnyte to me in an email as "the type of solution that the big boys like Google & Microsoft would want to build", so one of my first questions was something like: what does Egnyte compete with currently? Vineet described Egnyte as like what Microsoft Sharepoint does for big business, only Egnyte focuses on small and medium businesses.

Vineet also told me that Egnyte has similarities to "Koral in the early days". R/WW readers may remember that Koral, a web 2.0 content collaboration platform, was acquired by Salesforce.com in early April 2007. Koral is now part of Salesforce ContentExchange, a product that manages all types of content in a company - both structured information (e.g. CRM data) and unstructured information (office documents, HTML, video/audio files and email, etc).

How Egnyte works and who's using it

Egnyte is cross-platform, working on Windows, Mac and Linux. To start using it, you either need to manually upload files from your desktop OR download a 6.1MB application called Egnyte Uploader, which automatically syncs files between your desktop and the Web. Both of these methods enable you to "egnyte" a document or piece of information (which basically means telling the Egnyte service to monitor it on your behalf).

In a nutshell, this is what Egnyte does for end users:

  • Synchronize data from your desktop to your workspace in the cloud
  • Automatically create file versions
  • Organize and link files and emails relating to a topic
  • Search techniques that transcend basic 'keyword search'
  • Sharing platform that consolidates and synchronizes team information

Vineet told me that right now all the data is hosted by them (in 'the cloud'), but they are contemplating "private hosting" - especially for larger companies. Currently their focus is on small-medium companies.

So who is using it now? Vineet told me that example users are MBA students and freelance professionals (especially graphic designers).

Tests

I downloaded Egnyte and gave it a spin on my Macbook. There were some usability issues getting set up - e.g. after installing the Uploader, I "egnyted" a folder; however it took a very long time for this action to be confirmed. Overall though, it is a slick app and easy to use.

Conclusion

The most compelling use case seems to be that Egnyte lets you share information with team members. However Web Office suites like Google Docs and Zoho already let you share documents and other types of information, with version control too. Egnyte does let you share folders and email, so that is a nice differentiator. It also offers tagging and search.

Egnyte is a neat service, but it's difficult to know where they should focus. It doesn't offer enough extra utility for me to use over Google Docs or Zoho, in terms of document management and online storage (even though I now run a small business). And I find Gmail's organization features to be sufficient for email. In terms of selling to large companies, it's difficult to compete against bigco solutions like Sharepoint or Google Apps.

Egnyte is targeting small-medium businesses, but still it seems like a tough product to sell when there are so many 'best of breed' apps, as well as Web Office suites, that offer similar functionality. Not forgetting that Salesforce.com, now that it has Koral, is probably a big competitor to Egnyte.

Egnyte is a well-designed product though and I like its feature set. I only really wonder whether it will find a niche in such a competitive market. What do others think?