Thinking Outside the Dropbox with Minus–A New Image-Sharing Tool

Friction: It keeps our shoes on, it’s a buzzword at product meetings and UX conferences. And in Web apps, it’s the sticking force that keeps money in people’s pockets.

So, reducing it can mean changing the game for an entire arena–just look at eBay’s PayPal and Netflix.

Minus, an image gallery-sharing service, was conceived to do exactly that.

The basic premise is this: Visit its Web site,, highlight a mess of images on your computer (different types and sizes are fine) and drag them into your browser window. Almost instantly, thanks to clever Ajax and cacheing, you have a shareable coverflow-style gallery of all those images, hosted on Minus’s little piece of the Amazon EC3 cloud.

In a matter of seconds (no exaggeration here, probably two or three seconds) you see the gallery, get a short link for sharing, a second that allows editing privileges and a third link to download everything in the gallery as a single zip file.

The minds behind Minus are Carl Hu, a programmer based in Boston, and his partner, John Xie, currently a senior at nearby Babson College. Hu spent the last few years in enterprise software, most recently at a start-up called Spathe. Xie (the college student) has been studying, running a small Web-hosting business and, presumably, doing things that people try to keep off Facebook.

The guys say the whole idea was to make a product that was “super simple and fast.” They picked up the domain before they even knew what product they intended to build on top of it.

But Xie said the whole point was to riff on URL shorteners and create a service that made some sharing process easier. They didn’t even want you to have to log in.

The pair borrowed some code from a demo project called DropMocks (built by Glen Murphy, designer for Google Chrome) and began adding features.

If you head over to DropMocks, the similarities are, um, evident. But the UI (or lack thereof) and basic premise is where the similarities start to fade.

You can think of Minus as a sort of weaponized version of DropMocks: Better security, more options, multiple permissions and, as of last week, an API so other developers can connect their pipe to the Minus backend.

In short, it’s becoming a real product.

Today, Minus works best (meaning with the drag-and-drop functionality) on Google Chrome, Firefox 3.6+ and Apple Safari on Mac. It will still work on the Microsoft Internet Explorer, but you will miss out on the real product. Hu said he hopes consumers will use Chrome, because it’s Adobe Flash-free there, thanks to some new CSS3 gallery tricks.

Minus’s next act, according to Hu and Xie, will be to add sharing for as many file types as possible, making it a sort of a lighter, faster Dropbox.

John says the vision is that users could assemble at a library for a study session or sit down to a meeting and immediately pass around the short link to a shared Web space for the group’s working materials.

The project is a month young and changing about as fast as a baby at that age. They are bootstrapped for now, but Xie says they are already fending off random emails with offers of angel investor cash.

They said they’ve had about 500,000 unique visitors since launch and that they seem to be far better known in Asia and Europe, although they expect the balance to shift back to the U.S. soon.

I spoke via Skype with Hu and Xie, whose thoughts on the progress of Minus are condensed in the video. The second video is a special bonus: A short screen capture of Minus in action, inside Chrome, and narrated by yours truly. You can watch a gallery being built, saved, viewed, shared, visited and downloaded from all in under a minute.


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