Solving the attachment problem with SkyDrive

Solving the attachment problem with SkyDrive

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We’ve talked about our approach to connecting the file cloud, app cloud and device cloud. A key part of the work we are doing in the app cloud is to bring the benefits of cloud-based file sharing to email apps.

In this post, Lia Yu, a product marketer on the SkyDrive team, describes the problems people have with traditional email attachments and how the cloud can solve them. We’ve also included a few tips for how SkyDrive can help at work – where we’re often inundated with attachments. (SkyDrive may be particularly helpful if your workplace hasn’t made the switch yet from outdated to modern tools.)

We hope you find these tips helpful – and look out for more updates soon.

- Anand Babu, Group Product Marketer, SkyDrive

The attachment problem

Every day, the average office worker receives over 170 email messages a day, and sends over 35. With that kind of volume, it’s understandable that over half of the average work day consists of dealing with email. That’s over 1000 hours a year. It’s worth taking a look at where people can save some time on the process.

Dealing with email attachments is a big contributor to the amount of time spent on email. In Hotmail alone, there are over 1 billion email messages sent with file attachments per week. While attachments can be useful, in many situations, they aren’t the right tool for the job.

Sending attachments takes a lot of time

To see how much time an attachment can waste during its life, click here to see our infographic.

Here are some examples of when attachments are frequently a waste of time:

1. Working together on a document

If you use email to work with others on a doc, everyone has their own edited version saved locally on a computer that they then have to send as an email attachment to the group. With so many doc versions being sent back and forth, docs can get lost and a lot of extra work is created. If people edit simultaneously, someone will have to go through multiple versions and try to merge edits into one doc. It’s colossally inefficient and potentially migraine inducing.

Comic of collaborating on a document via email. Jim, Matthew, Cathy, Susan, and Rick are sending email messages to discuss edits in the doc. It is getting confusing and causing frustration.

Photo courtesy of The Oatmeal www.theoatmeal.com © 2012 Matthew Inman

2. Sharing and publishing files

If you need to share files with a large audience, using email often means sending files over and over again—either because you need to update the files after you send them, or because the people you sent the files to lost your attachment in the chaos of their inbox.

3. Sending large files

Most of us have had the problem where we tried to send files that got bounced back because their file size was too big, or because your recipient’s inbox couldn’t handle a massive file you just sent. Even if you zip or break apart your attachments, that takes a lot of extra time-wasting steps to send those files.

A comic of an email from Rick to Matthew says, Hey, all the photos my wife took of me water-skiing with the cat are rotating sideways. Could you rotate them properly and then email me the files back?
Photo courtesy of The Oatmeal. www.theoatmeal.com © 2012 Matthew Inman

4. Making notes and files available anywhere, anytime, across devices

Accessing your important files anywhere should not require you to send an email to yourself. Even though we all do it, that method is pretty primitive. You usually end up having to search for the email buried somewhere in your inbox or sending it again later.

The attachment solution

Today’s cloud services offer a great alternative to attachments that solve many of these problems. Instead of emailing docs back and forth for group editing, SkyDrive lets you edit the doc in one place using Office Web Apps or Office on your PC and Mac—saving all your versions in one place. Sharing files, large or small, is also easier on SkyDrive because you can send out a link to the doc to avoid attachment size limits. Also, you can use the link to edit the doc even after you send it to others.

Yet despite the efficiency of the cloud, the vast majority of people still cling to email attachments. What’s holding people back? While some services solve the attachment problem better than others the real enemy is inertia. We spend so much of our time in email that attachments seem like the most convenient option.

There are two key things we are doing to address this inertia:

1. Connecting SkyDrive to webmail

Our primary approach has been to bring SkyDrive into the natural place where people send files, which as we’ve mentioned is email. Hotmail allows you to easily send documents and photos via SkyDrive. The integration of Office Web Apps means you won’t lose your formatting when you send your files as online documents. And you can even configure Hotmail to always send files using SkyDrive by default.

Of course, for people using services like Gmail, you can access your email right from Hotmail as well as import your contacts. This way, you can send those links to SkyDrive files using the Hotmail features, while still keeping your Gmail identity.

Already, files uploaded to SkyDrive represent over 15% of the total number of email attachments sent via Hotmail every month. This share is growing rapidly – with monthly uploads to SkyDrive up over 90% in the last year alone.

A pie chart showing the  difference in files shared on Hotmail vs SkyDrive

2. Making it easy for other apps and services to work with SkyDrive

We know that people share files using many different devices, apps and email clients. That’s a key reason why we’ve focused on making it easy for developers to add SkyDrive to their experiences.

An example is Xobni who recently released a SkyDrive Gadget. If you use Xobni for Outlook, it’s easy to email a link to a file on SkyDrive without leaving Outlook. Use the gadget to find the SkyDrive file that you want to share. With a single click, you can copy the link to your clipboard or compose a new message including the link.

The SkyDrive Gadget for Xobni

Tips for avoiding attachment problems

To help overcome inertia, we have launched a new site www.attachmentssuck.com to help you teach your friends how to make the switch from attachments to SkyDrive. Encourage your friends and co-workers to start saving themselves (and you) hours of time.

In addition, here are a few power tips that are particularly relevant if you share presentations frequently. (You can get other tips for avoiding attachments, here.)

Tip 1: Upload and organize presentations on SkyDrive

Upload your presentations (or any other file) to SkyDrive. You may also want to use folders or subfolders to keep all of your presentations related to a particular topic or customer in one place. That way, it’s easy for you to reference and easy for recipients to find content—with a single a link to your folder.

Upload your presentations to SkyDrive
Upload your presentation to SkyDrive

Organize your presentations by subject
Organize your presentations by subject 

Choose to share an entire folder, or just one file
Choose to share an entire folder, or just one file

Tip 2: Share frequently used presentations right from Outlook

If you install the SkyDrive Gadget for Xobni, you can send a link to SkyDrive files right from Outlook. Just click the SkyDrive gadget tab in the Xobni app, find the file you want to share, and click “Email a Link” to pop up an email window with the link.

Send a link to SkyDrive from Outlook

Unlike other cloud services, SkyDrive integrates with Office Web Apps so your recipients don’t need to have the same version of Office that you do (or any Office software) to be able to view what you send them. Also, thanks to our recent sharing improvements, you can easily share files in any of your SkyDrive folders without having to copy or move them to a special folder.

Note: The Xobni gadget gives your recipients access to view files only. If you want to let them edit your doc or add files to a folder, visit SkyDrive.com to get a link to view and edit.

Tip 3: Send once, update often

If you’ll need to make edits to the presentation later, open it from SkyDrive in PowerPoint 2010 and pin the presentation to your Windows 7 taskbar for easy access. Then you can easily update it on your PC and anyone with your link will automatically have access to the updated version.

Tip 4: Share your presentation like an expert

If you’re giving your presentation remotely or on a screen, you can include a unique bit.ly link on the last slide that directs viewers to your presentation on your SkyDrive. Just go to bit.ly, enter the SkyDrive address of your presentation, hit “customize” and enter a unique and descriptive title after the forward slash. Like: bit.ly/skydriveecards.

Customize a bit.ly URL

If you’re giving handouts of your presentation, you can create a QR code to include on the printed version, linking to your presentation on SkyDrive, so meeting attendees can scan the tag/code and access the presentation. To add a QR code to your bit.ly link, just append .qr to the end of the URL like so: bit.ly/skydriveecards.qr. Click the link, and you’ve got your QR code.

Create a QR code to include on a printed version of your presentation

Tip 5: Present from anywhere

When you’re on the road, you can view and edit the presentation from anywhere—even if you’re on a device without Office, using the Office Web Apps on SkyDrive.

Edit your presentation on the road

Where do we go from here?

SkyDrive will continue to fight the good fight against the attachment problem. We will do this by making SkyDrive an even better alternative to attachments and by working with partners to bring SkyDrive to the places that people share today. If you’re a developer inspired by our mission to solve the attachment problem, our APIs are available here.

Lia Yu, Sr. Product Marketer, SkyDrive

21 Comments
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  • Siman
    1 Posts

    Guys, while I appreciate the encouragement of moving attachments from mails to Skydrive, I was very irritated today, that I have no option in the Hotmail web app to save attachments received by email directly to my Skydrive storage.. I think, following your initiatives, this feature is very important! Also, being able to directly attach files from Skydrive to an email would be complementing the service...

    Please look into it to make it happen! :)

  • ch@otic
    2 Posts

    Buskila is right, why cant we add files from SkyDrive in the email?

  • Sharing needs work.

    I created a "View Edit" link.  Pasting link into IE incorrectly requires a login.  Pasting link into Firefox will correctly open shared folder.  Clicking on a file gives the View in browser, Edit in browser, Download, Delete options.  Delete requires a login.  Add files requires a login.

    Not enough sharing options.

    Give me a link option that will allow link receipent full access without needing a login.

    Us old dudes rember Access Control Lists.  The ACL Read Update Add Delete options are something we all understand, however RUAD is not available.

  • buskila
    2 Posts

    Why it is not possible to send a link to SkyDrive file directly from Hotmail? Clicking Attachments or Photos only allows to send local files...

  • About pinning files to the Taskbar, it would be great to could pin the Office Web App to de Taskbar... or at least pin the file to the already pinned Skydrive. What I do now is to pin the file to the Office (offline) App, but I would rather open it with the web app if I could do it in the same way ;)

  • The problem that really needs to be solved is that of leaving attachments in emails to begin with.  If you use software such as the Outlook Connector or Windows Live Mail that first sync with your email can take many hours.  This is a problem that will only get worse as we all accumulate more and more mail.

    What's needed with Hotmail is for attachments to be stripped out of all emails as they're sent and received, to be placed in relevant folders in SkyDrive automatically (probably in Folders named after the sender) with links to the file placed into the email instead with the relevant permissions written to the file so recipients can get it later.

    Additionally, a utility to do this retrospectively with all our existing Hotmail email would be very welcome.  I have some 20,000 emails on Outlook dating back to 1999

  • @SkyDrive100 -  RE: Pros and cons of SkyDrive vs. attachments

    When you send links using Hotmail or use "Get a link" in SkyDrive,  SkyDrive creates a unique link that the recipient can you use to view your files.  In many ways, this works just like an attachment:

    - The recipient can forward along the unique link to anyone else who can also view your file - just like an email attachment.  Of course, if you apply DRM to the file, it still applies.

    - If you open the file using the unique link, your browser may store this link in its history. This is similar to how your browser may keep a copy of attachments that you download to view in a temporary directory or in a download directory.  If you use a browser on a public PC, we recommend using "InPrivate" mode (or similar) and deleting downloaded attachments.

    At the same time, SkyDrive works differently than regular attachments. For example if you change your mind after sending, you can choose to revoke access to files on your SkyDrive. Also, you or others that you designate can update your files in one place - avoiding multiple versions.  

    Of course, we think there will be times when people may still want to send attachments. That's why you always have a choice.

  • @spivonious / @gorzko / @grapemanca / @Site-Jumper

    RE: Mesh / SkyDrive, folder uploads - good feedback. We're listening.

    @controlz -

    RE: #1-3, 5... good feedback

    RE: #4, you can still share with anyone you want using "Get a link" within Share.  

    @Ning Ning Sun - Mesh can automatically sync folders across PCs and to a special section of your SkyDrive.

    @MrHumpty201 -

    RE: Opening Live Mail slideshows on phones,  I was able to reproduce your issue. We'll look into this.  

    RE: short URLs. We use our product a lot and we want them too!

  • I will start to use Skydrive as soon as the following improvements are made:

    1. Live Mesh and Skydrive should be merged.

    2. Skydrive should be directly accessible from within Windows Explorer, Word, Excel, etc

    In other words, it should behave like a hard disk on my desktop.

  • I agree with @controlz and others that Please let us share folders directly on the skydrive. It is really painful to first create folders and after upload files to them.

    @skydrive100 has raised a very important issue and I completely agree with him. Infact, I also think that this is a ridiculous campaign from Microsoft and will damage their reputation a lot.

  • Here is a link to some discussions on the skydrive-hotmail integration security flaw I mentioned in the previous comment - www.mywindowsclub.com/.../5662-Serious-security-concerns-using-SkyDrive.aspx

  • SkyDrive solves a few problems like sending large files. But it introduces few other problems. What if the sender change the document after he sent it for the review but the reviewer read the old version? How will the sender know that the recipient is done with the documents and not it can be deleted? And what about the security flaws in SkyDrive integration with hotmail? For example, anyone who gets the link to the file from the browsing history can access the files. There is no security for the files which were shared through the Hotmail integration. Just search in Google for Security flaw in SkyDrive Hotmail integration and you will see what am I talking about.

  • abm
    268 Posts

    Like happen in office 365 (web-app) and outlook / live email, please facilitate us with the option to attach other email(s) while composing the email. Drag-drop and the option in the attachment list. :)

    Bring Skype to SkyDrive FTW!

  • I guess it also needs mentioning.  How in the world are your "Share" links so long.  Mini URL those things like everybody else is doing for pete's sake.  You're still alking about how those links are better.  Amazingly long.  Again, eat your own dog food.

  • Funny Story.  Used Windows Live Mail to send an Album to my family.  CC'd myself so I could have it on my phone.  WP7 -> Click the "View Slide Show" link in the content of an e-mail using a SkyDrive Album and you get a blank white screen in WP7's IE.

    Not that I don't appreciate you guys making new features.  But someone seriously needs to be forced to only eat your dogfood.  Make a bulleted list of stuff that doesn't work that absolutely should and you guys should spend a month making your UX flawless rather than just making blog posts about how to use features.

    Honestly,  No offense, but I'd be embarassed to be on some of MS's dev teams right now the way everything seems to be so disjointed.

  • You've got to solve the folder upload problem. Until you do, Skydrive will remain hopelessly second rate.

    If you can't do drag and drop for folders, at least develop a dead-simple uploader process that helps me avoid recreating folders inside Skydrive. Like with so many flawed MS programs (Windows Live Movie Maker comes to mind) the big issues that come up time and time again need to be addressed NOW, not two years down the road.

    1000's (probably in the 10,000's) have asked for a timeline option to be reinstated in WLMM; the MS response has been one of arrogant silence. 1000's have asked for a folder upload option to be added to Skydrive; will MS respond in the same manner?

  • JohnCz
    204 Posts

    Great job SkyDrive team...these features are so essential today, I wish OWA in Office 365 had such strong integration with SharePoint.

  • I think Live Mesh is a tad annoying. I don't think there is an option to automatically sync files, is there? Also, I haven't found a way to update an existing folder. Does anyone know if that's possible?

  • controlz
    145 Posts

    SkyDrive is currently great and I constantly use it for emailing docs and photos, but it still needs some improvements:

    1. It needs a VIEWER for Publisher and Access files. I'm not asking to be able to create or edit Pub/Access docs, but being able to view the ones on my SkyDrive without having the program installed would be great.

    2. Merge Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive on the web! It would be AMAZING to have my School folder syncing between my PCs and the cloud, having multiple people editing it at the same time and using the Office Web Apps with it!

    3. PLEASE let us upload folders! It's a nightmare re-creating folders that contain folders that contain folders and more folders etc. on SkyDrive.

    4. Let us share with our Messenger friends on SkyDrive again - I accidently removed this permission on a photo album and I can't find a way to let my Messenger friends see it again!

    5. Finally, when we share something with, say, our Facebook friends make it easy for the friends to actually see the photo album. At the moment, it just publishes a link that can easily get lost under "Older Posts".

    Thanks for making SkyDrive the best cloud storage service out there!

  • gorzko
    24 Posts

    Well, SkyDrive let's us view presentations on-line, but only as long, as there are no videos in them.

  • Ha! Love the Oatmeal. It's good to see some recognition for his work.

    @Skydrive Team - keep up the good work. Next on the list should be combining Live Mesh and Skydrive, and offering backup solutions.