Devil's advocacy: most people never needed it anyway
The MP3 revolution was interesting to watch as both a music fan and as an audio professional. On the one hand, people with no storage always opted for the lowest possible quality so they could maximize their quantity. On the other hand, people who had a handful of CDs would download thousands of MP3s. They also wouldn't back up, they also wouldn't duplicate across devices (because then you have to manage dupes!) and when they lost all their files to hard drive failure, they made no attempts to resurrect their collections.
I watched a futurist lay things out for upper-level media execs at a closed conference in 2010. "That kid with 800,000 MP3s. Guys, do you really think he represents a million lost sales? Do you really consider him to be a threat to your business model? He's not collecting, he's curating and he's curating for the sake of possession, not the sake of consumption."
The torrent kids weren't the customers of Spotify. Spotify is for people who know some music, don't have anything weird and aren't at all interested in alphabetizing their CDs. Those people listen to the radio, watch MTV and had a shelf with 20 albums on it before they could pay $7 a month to never worry about it again.
It's not that files have gone away. It's not that Dropbox is gone. It's that the people who never had a use for it in the first place have now been lured away by services designed for people who never got file structure in the first place.
Dropbox is an excellent example. It's a version control plugin. Where Dropbox made their money was by realizing that version control was useful for people who had no idea how to open a git repository. Where dropbox failed was in not understanding that even then, most people have no use for version control. The ultimate use case for Dropbox? Five people working on a group project who never work with other people and who were told by a nerd sick of dealing with them that if they just put the project file on Dropbox nobody has to worry about who has the latest version. The ultimate failure of Dropbox? Nobody understanding Dropbox, and someone deleting the file out of their dropbox, and everyone else screaming at the heavens "WHO DELETED THE DROPBOX" without understanding how to log into Dropbox to see the version control.
You see, most people never needed files anyway. They wrote a resume a few years ago, they have a list of babysitters, there's a spreadsheet with all the phone numbers in their carpool and that's it. The reason their desktops were miasmas of assorted documents is because they never need to find that shit anyway. Their desktop runs an unpatched version of XPSP3 because they bought it in 2007 and haven't used it to do more than TurboTax since 2013.
Bill Gates wanted a computer in every house because he saw the utility of ubiquitous PCs. Everyone put a computer in their house because they heard the hype. But what everybody really needed was a thing to do Youtube, Facebook and SMS. It's still just a fuckin' television, it just fits in your pocket now. Fundamentally, most people use technology as an asymmetrical pipeline of undifferentiated culture dispersion. This is why they store everything in their email inbox: emails are the most official thing in their lives, gmail makes it virtually impossible to delete anything and text is easily indexed so whatever they really need they can find by fumbling a word or two in the importantbox.
We're constantly upbraided about the "service economy." Really, the past 25 years of software development have been about creating services. "You're too stupid to do this yourself, let me give you the 5% of the functionality that you actually use, wall off the other 95% and charge you $70 a year so you can curate your own dick pics, sincerely, Dropbox." People, including myself have lambasted Yahoo for failing to achieve with Flickr what Instagram achieved by being a cheap, shitty version of Flickr. Thing is, though? Flickr was created for photographers sharing photos with people who like photography. Instagram was created for Kardashians sharing photos with people who like to eat paste.
The computer revolution was founded by people who knew that if they built it, an entire generation of artists and thinkers would use the tools to build a better tomorrow through the miracle of access and technology. The computer revolution was paid for,, however, by people who only wanted to sell each other Beanie Babies and watch each other eat Tide pods.
A quote of a quote:
“The other day, I came across a website I’d written over two decades ago. I double-clicked the file, and it opened and ran perfectly. Then I tried to run a website I’d written 18 months ago and found I couldn’t run it without firing up a web server, and when I ran NPM install, one or two of those 65,000 files had issues that meant node failed to install them and the website didn’t run. When I did get it working, it needed a database. And then it relied on some third-party APIs and there was an issue with CORS because I hadn’t whitelisted localhost.
Two decades ago you would have fired up Internet Explorer which would have broken a few links, insisted that your Flash was out-of-date and rendered things pretty-sorta-OK at 1024x768. But two decades ago we would have considered this "perfect" because things had to run on Explorer with updated Flash at 1024x768. Now? Now I need all the content indexed for Google, capable of rendering landscape or portrait and be usable on Android and iOS through the same URL. Which - yes - means your espresso stand menu now relies on eight Wordpress plugins to be legible on seven different versions of iOS. Microsoft lost the mobile battle by presuming that a soccer mom waiting in line would put up with constantly patching her browser in order to know the price of a latte. Apple won by knowing they were selling devices to people who wanted a Swarovski panda on the back of it.
So I get it. The geeks who grew up being told that theirs was a shiny future of egalitarian brilliance prompted by the boundless promise of ubiquitious computing are slowly realizing that the Kick Me In The Balls Channel wins on content.
But you can't blame the technology and you can't blame the people profiting from it. Most of humanity has no goddamn business fucking around with file structure, and most of humanity knows it. The idiots were the people who tried to force them to adopt one even when it could only do them harm.