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Social | Facebook App ‘Pipe’ Bets Big on File Sharing

The Berlin-based team behind Pipe. From left: Marco Rydmann, product; Simon Hossell, CEO; Philip Eggersglüb, operations. Photo: Pipe

After more than a year of beta testing, a Berlin startup’s sophisticated new Facebook app will launch today. The app, Pipe, melds peer-to-peer technology with your social graph to enable a cutting-edge new way to share… files?

Indeed, Pipe will be the only file transfer utility on Facebook. It allows two friends to send files of up to 1GB — 40 times the maximum attachment size on Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail — by simply dragging and dropping them into Pipe. If one of the friends is offline, Pipe can keep the file in an online locker.

Pipe arrives at a time when it’s passé to help people grub about with something as low level as a file. Today’s hot startups enable the sharing of entire photo collections, music playlists, and personal digital “experiences.” Just ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who years ago ditched a Pipe-like file-sharing app called Wirehog to focus on the richer, social core of Facebook.

It’s been fashionable for decades to bet against files. At various points, apps were going to kill files, Apple’s iCloud was going to kill files, Netscape and Oracle were going to kill files — even Microsoft was working, at one point, on essentially killing its own Windows filesystem.

And yet files remain stubbornly popular. A huge portion of internet traffic, for example, is given over to the sharing of individual computer files via BitTorrent. The startup Dropbox has put files squarely at the center of its value proposition, thus turning itself into a $4 billion company (reportedly) and a crucial part of how people work with the very tablets that were supposed to render files obsolete.

And now comes Pipe, another big bet on files. A team led by former online music executive Simon Hossell has been working on the app since 2011. Whether the startup can find a profitable niche somewhere in the vast gulf between email attachments and web publishing remains to be seen. But it’s hard to dispute that it’s attacking an interesting problem: People still care deeply about files, forecasts to the contrary notwithstanding.


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