Sharpcast is launching an invite-only private beta of it's much-anticipated Project Hummingbird product, with full public launch to follow this Spring. The product has been re-named SugarSync and with it you will be able to sync and backup your files and media across all of your computers, the web and mobile phone. Sharpcast CEO Gibu Thomas described this to me in an interview as "the holy grail".Today
ReadWriteWeb was given exclusive early access to the beta of SugarSync. As well as the first look, we have 1,500 beta invites for our readers (details at the end of this post).
At the end of 2006 ReadWriteWeb named Sharpcast as our Most Promising Web Company, because it was solving a big problem - syncing data across Web, desktop and other devices. At the time we wrote that "if Sharpcast can successfully roll out its Project Hummingbird in 2007 - which will sync all types of data - then it will be hitting a very sweet spot in the world of Internet-connected data." Well it's a bit late in arriving, but today we can finally check out if Sharpcast lives up to its promise.
SugarSync was built on a platform called Sharpcast Universal Synchronization Platform, which Sharpcast plans to make available to mobile phone operators and others. Sharpcast claims that SugarSync is "the only comprehensive synchronization service that offers real-time sync and backup of your data across all of your computers, the web and your phone." The SugarSync beta is, we're told, only a subset of what the platform will eventually do.
Sharpcast first made its name in 2006-07 as a sync manager for photos. That was always meant to be a proof of concept of the more extensive file sync functionality. With SugarSync, you download a desktop app to your computer(s), but you can also access it online at sugarsync.com and on your mobile at m.sugarsync.com.
Mobile access in general has been beefed up, with special mobile applications for different media types. In the beta, there is a downloadable gallery application for photos, enabling you to (for example) view and share your Picasa photos from your phone, or wirelessly sync camera phone photos back to your Vista gallery. Currently there are mobile apps available at m.sugarsync.com for Blackberry and Windows Smartphones; with J2ME, Symbian and Brew clients in development. Mobile apps for music and video syncing/streaming are coming soon too.
The private beta SugarSync is Windows-only at this point, but the Mac version is coming soon and will certainly be there on public launch. Linux will also eventually be supported.
How SugarSync Works
The real beauty of SugarSync is that it's real-time - so when you update something on the cloud, it is automatically synced to your computer (and vice versa). The way this works is that SugarSync monitors files on your computer and keeps a synchronized copy of them on their secure central server. For the Web and mobile access, you basically receive a personal website where you can access your data - the company says that this is securely backed up in two carrier grade data centers.
Users get 1 GB of data free and there will be premium options available for more data. However note that during the beta period, you can get up to 11 GB of storage for free.
Sharpcast CTO Ben Strong, the architect of the Sharpcast Universal Sync platform which SugarSync is built on, told ReadWriteWeb that SugarSync aims to be "a system that combines the best attributes of the online vault and remote access solutions." By online vault, he means online storage solutions such as Windows Live Drive; and by remote access solutions he means products like GoToMyPC and Soonr.
Strong told us:
"We want access through any web browser and automatic backup plus great integration with our desktop applications and access to the most recent version of the files on our computers. And the pieces must be fully integrated, so that changes made in the vault are fully reflected on all our computers and devices. And to top it off, we need to be able to easily publish media from our vault to social networks and content sites like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube."
It's taken about 4 years for Sharpcast to come up with this sync platform and the product now known as SugarSync. Also, as noted above, some of the features mentioned (such as social network syncing) are not yet available in the beta. So some of this theory won't be seen in the wild for months, but it is a big problem that Sharpcast is tackling.
As of now, Strong said that SugarSync supports "a broad array of consumer data types, including both files (e.g., documents and media), and database-resident objects (e.g., contacts, calendars, and playlists), with the ability to easily add new data types without modifying the core sync engine."
Platform Access to Third Party Developers
A question always asked in this day and age is: will third party developers have access to the platform? For SugarSync, the answer is yes according to Sharpcast Ben Strong:
"We have a set of APIs that allow developers to either access and modify data that has been created by other applications and services, or to create and sync their own custom file and object types. They work with a simple set of data access primitives, while we take care of hard parts of sync: conflict resolution, scalable and secure server-side storage, efficient change notification, access control, account management, billing, and all the features mentioned above. This dramatically reduces the level of effort required to build a new application that works seamlessly across multiple devices. Furthermore, we are committed to working with interested parties to standardize next-generation sync protocols and APIs."
A possible example of how the platform could be utilized by third party developers is Outlook talking to iCal, something which many people would like. So a third party developer could create a solution that syncs those two products together.
The APIs will probably be released later in 2008, but there is no firm date at this time.
Sharpcast's target market for SugarSync is "prosumers" - a mix of home, SMB and enterprise users. In our interview, CEO Gibu Thomas told me that down the line they will tackle enterprise more - e.g. one option will be for enterprises to host the central and web servers in-house.
It's obvious that Sharpcast is aiming to become the leading platform for sync services, becoming a connecting cog in the world of data on desktops, mobile and Web. In a way, Sharpcast reminds me of Feedburner, in that it wants to become the leading platform for a new type of media service that only came into being in the Internet age. In Feedburner's case it was syndication (specifically RSS), which turned out to be a key part of today's Web - and led to Google acquiring Feedburner last year. In Sharpcast's case, sync services are also primed to become a key part of the Internet ecosystem. I'm not aware of any other comprehensive sync platform, just as when Feedburner started there were no other comprehensive RSS platforms.
The big Internet companies - particularly Microsoft, Google and Adobe - are all working on sync services of their own. But, if the technology lives up to its promise, Sharpcast is poised to become the leader in this space. So I wouldn't be surprised if Sharpcast becomes an acquisition target (if it isn't already) for those bigcos.
It must be said that it's taken a long time for Sharpcast to fulfil the promise that we saw in it in 2006. And it's still only private beta mode, so too early to tell for sure if this will be successful. The messaging could also be improved a little (the distinction between the platform and SugarSync isn't entirely clear right now). But still, the Feedburner analogy is looking pretty strong to me - I expect Sharpcast to become a familiar name to Web users before the year is out.
ReadWriteWeb Exclusive Private Beta Invites to SugarSync
We have 1,500 beta invites to the SugarSync to give away to RWW readers. Click here and enter the code: RWW (it will be auto-populated with the code). When you check out the service, be sure to come back to ReadWriteWeb and leave a comment about your experiences.