That's one of the motivations behind the decision last week by Box to acquire Crocodoc, a seven person San Francisco start-up founded in 2007 by four engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The deal will be Box’s second acquisition following its purchase of Increo in 2009.
Crocodoc's technology enables users to convert documents in such formats as Word and PDF into ones more suitable for the interactive Web.
For Box users that will mean more interactive features such as the ability to annotate documents or create slide shows, according to Box CEO Aaron Levie.
On his blog, Levie explains:
We’re setting out to improve every experience you have with documents on the internet. Remember how horrible watching videos with RealPlayer used to be? YouTube came along and fundamentally remade the online video experience. Similarly, Flickr, Facebook and others have made photos beautiful on any device. But documents have yet to tip for the web. They’re still clunky and awkward, often forcing users out of their browser and into a desktop application.
But content sits at the center of every business and nearly every business transaction. When you’re working on Box, you should have a remarkably beautiful, fast and seamless experience for viewing your documents. We’re going to deeply integrate Crocodoc’s HTML5 viewing technology into our core product, creating an all-new experience for the 15 million individuals and 150,000 businesses on Box.
Over the coming months, Box will replace its existing previewing mechanisms with Crocodoc technology, with new versions of previewing, such as a carousel with sliding and scrolling options.
Developers will be able to use the Crocodoc API to upload documents, convert them into HTML5 and embed the resulting HTML5-enabled content into their own websites.
As valuable to Box though is the intellectual capital it's picking up. All of Crocodoc’s employees will be joining Box with founder Ryan Damico on board as Director of Platform. Crocodoc's technology will be available to the 17,000 developers Box estimates are building on the Box platform.
As developing Box's platform credentials is critical to the firm's strategic direction, Damico is clearly going to be a major player inside Box.
Crocodoc’s technology will become a core part of our platform, powering content experiences for every application that touches content, including HR software, e-learning tools, document signing solutions and healthcare applications. We’re building the enterprise platform that will power every content interaction for hundreds of thousands of businesses and developers. Storing files is only the beginning: creating amazing experiences around those files is where the magic is.
The benefit for Crocodoc is a more user-centric focus. The firm has previously gone down what Damico sees as a "developer path" with its technology used by the likes of LinkedIn, Yammer, SAP, and er, Dropbox. (Box has pledged to continue to support all existing Crocodoc customers - including its rival.)
With the increasing competition in the market - and the prospect of Salesforce.com's putative Box rival ChatterBox still out there something - Box's ability to expand its functional reach is going to be critical.
Kathleen Reidy over at research firm The 451 Group picked up on the increasingly febrile nature of the enterprise collaboration sector last year:
Perhaps one of the more notable features is the broad background of players entering this space – we see vendors from virtualization, security, storage, content management and mobiltity sectors all vying for attention. This is likely to cause an awful lot of noise, and confusion.
Earlier this year in London Levie pitched me the three-layers of the high-level Box roadmap as being: expanding the international footprint (especially in Europe), growing competencies in vertical industry sectors and building out the platform. The Crocodoc acquisition clearly supports this last ambition.
Disclosure: at the time of writing, Box is a partner of Diginomica.