Last week, LockerGnome’s Jake Ludington and I had the opportunity to visit the YouSendIt headquarters in Silicon Valley for a preview of what YouSendIt had in store for its customers. As a casual user of the service, I had associated YouSendIt with other simple file sending services that did little more than temporarily host files that exceeded the limits of traditional email providers.

To my surprise, YouSendIt turned out to be much more. Mihir Nanavati, Senior Director of Product Management at YouSendIt, gave us a detailed walkthrough of some of the new features that would be released to the public on December 13, 2011. These new features included desktop clients that handled folder synchronization, sharing, and management. Mobile clients for iOS and Android alike were also part of the discussion. It wasn’t long before I became acutely aware of just how significant this update is to a business world so reliant on cloud-based file synchronization.

The LockerGnome team uses Dropbox as our primary file sharing service. The major drawback of Dropbox is having a shared folder cause someone’s free account to capsize and become all-but-unusable when the amount of data exceeds the very limited allotment. Dropbox also lacks additional features and functionality that would make dealing with these files easier. It would appear that YouSendIt did their homework; what they showed us addressed these problems and more.

Here are some highlights of what a typical YouSendIt user can expect when using the account today.

Plans

Online file storage is an industry in its infancy. Services that allow you to back up large amounts of data are often either too expensive or difficult for non-professional consumers to use. Large amounts of data is being transferred between your machine and servers located somewhere in the abyss of the cloud. Unfortunately, file storage and synchronization are often separated by a large degree. After all, cloud-based backups are big chunks of data that don’t normally need to be accessed more than a few times here and there. Synchronized files are accessed and altered more often, making it difficult to quickly and seamlessly manage an entire hard drive worth of data for each and every customer.

YouSendIt fills this gap by delivering three levels of service to individual customers. The first tier allows users up to 2GB of online storage which can be utilized to send files from one point to another. Individual files can be up to 50MB each, with lenient expiration dates that give your friends enough time to grab the file. In addition, you have the ability to use YouSendIt’s e-signatures feature to create up to 5 electronic signatures that can be applied to documents. In a business setting, this type of account works great for someone who needs to view files, but never shares or edits them.

The second tier of the service is the Pro account. Here is where the new desktop and mobile clients really take off. The 2GB limit is upped to 5GB and the maximum file size is topped off at 2GB rather than 50MB. In addition to this, expiration dates and advanced security options are made available which allow you more control over how and when files can be accessed by the systems and/or people you share with. What’s more interesting is the dropbox, a virtual drive in the sky that allows you to store files for extended periods of time and assign shared folders to other users of the service. In addition, you can also enjoy the use of 10 e-signatures. These folders can by synced to multiple systems in a very similar fashion to Dropbox. All of this is made possible for $9.99/month or $49.99/year.

The third and probably biggest bang for your buck comes with the Pro Plus account which grants you unlimited storage and e-signatures. The maximum file size remains at 2GB with download tracking, a return receipt, and phone support added to your list of perks. Like the Pro account, you can also manage your own cloud-based dropbox that syncs with all your desktop clients complete with sharable folders that can be synced between multiple accounts. In a scenario like the file sharing we do at LockerGnome, having at least one Pro Plus account makes sense, so that at least one team member can share unlimited files with everyone else. This plan is available at $14.99/month or $149.99/year.

E-Signatures

Electronic signatures can be applied to a variety of different document file formats including pdf, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, xls, xlsx, pdf, and tiff. In the world of business, signing documents is a huge hassle. You have to print files, sign them, scan or fax the signed and printed document, and send them back to the original owner. YouSendIt simplifies this process by allowing you to digitally sign documents using the track pad of your laptop, touch screen of your mobile phone or tablet, your mouse, and even your keyboard using a special signature font. Using this service, you can open and electronically sign files in seconds without having to so much as touch a pen.

Dropbox

It’s hard to talk about YouSendIt’s dropbox feature without comparing it to Dropbox the stand-alone file syncing system. The two apps are very much alike. So alike in fact, that there really isn’t much to say beyond the fact that YouSendIt has managed to make sharing files with others a little easier. Dropbox allows you a public folder where you can generate a public URL with a right-click, and YouSendIt has figured out a way to make specific files sharable to just about anyone at either an editing or read-only level.

Creating new folders can be done very easily through either the built-in Windows or OS X file manager as you would any other folder, and the web interface (which is just as functional as the desktop app) is just as easy. Sending a file to a specific person is a matter of entering their email address and hitting send. YouSendIt integrates permissions, so that you determine whether someone can only view a file, or if they can edit and delete it as well.

Mobile Applications

As we enter into what Steve Jobs called a “Post PC era,” more professionals are beginning to rely on their smartphones or tablet computers to accomplish critical day-to-day tasks. In a world where you can get your work done just as well on the beach as you could at home, YouSendIt has essentially created an app that make almost anything possible. You can send files between people, sign and fill out documents, and even create shared resources without having to be anywhere close to a desktop or laptop computer. In fact, I found the digital signing interface to be easier on the iPad than it is on the desktop.

Being able to sign a document with the tip of your finger is much more appealing than using a mouse, and doing so on the iPad was one of the smoothest experiences I’ve had on a business-class iPad application yet. Handling documents in one of the various iOS office suites has thus far been disappointing, but I actually like how easy YouSendIt makes it.

Security

YouSendIt, like many of its competitors, is dedicated to file security. In an environment where files are shared with a simple URL, extra security is very important. YouSendIt gives Pro and Pro Plus accounts the ability to assign specific roles to various users that have been granted access to shared files/folders. Files are encrypted both in storage and during transit from the cloud to your machine, making the experience as secure as any cloud service can be.

Closing Thoughts

YouSendIt is not perfect. There are a few quirks about it that I could do without, and I personally believe that 5GB is a short leash to put on customers accustomed to a much larger Dropbox account at an equal price point. Yes, I realize the unlimited account is only 5 bucks more.

YouSendIt has grown into an impressive service that could very well deal a major blow to Dropbox in the business world. While the consumer market might not jump on the notion of paying 15 dollars for a month of unlimited file storage in the cloud, the business world may well do just that.

YouSendIt’s value is in the added functionality of document signing, increased capacity, security, and an impressive mobile application available on both iOS and Android.

As much as I’d like to say this value is enough, I’m still on the fence about abandoning other services that I have come to know and appreciate. However, if anything can pull me off that fence, it’s probably in knowing that YouSendIt is only just getting started.