Sending big files with SendThisFile

SendThisFile competes well with YouSendIt and Box.net for sending large files that are too big to be e-mailed.

Sending large files is frequently a nuisance. I recently ran across SendThisFile and it made a good first impression. Perhaps most important, it does not require the installation of any software, either by the sender or the recipient.

Its approach is like that of many other services: you upload a file to the SendThisFile servers and the recipient gets an e-mail message with a link to the file to download it. If you use one of the SendThisFile free accounts, files stay on its servers for three days; paid accounts allow keeping the file for 6 to 14 days.

In March of this year, someone sent me a large file using YouSendIt. While the service was free, it required me, as the recipient, to register with an e-mail address before I could download the file. I get a lot of spam, so I hate to give out my e-mail address. SendThisFile does not require the recipient to have an account.
Update: YouSendIt no longer requires the recipient to register. November 20, 2007.

Just today I read a newsletter by David Strom in which he recommended Box.net for transferring large files. I've used Box.net and been frustrated by its 10-megabyte limit on individual files. YouSendIt is more generous, allowing files up to 100MB for free. But you can't beat SendThisFile, which has no limit on file sizes, even for the free accounts.

Also, the main business of Box.net is storing files rather than transferring them. The service is branching out in many ways and, to me, there is something to be said for the KISS principle. SendThisFile only sends files, nothing else.

If rooting for the little guy appeals to you, then you've got to like SendThisFile. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the company has only four full-time employees. And, according to the company Web site, they are based in Wichita, Kan.

Being Defensive

One fear with any company offering this service is the harvesting of e-mail addresses. Every time you send someone a file, the file transfer company learns another e-mail address.

If this concerns you (or the file recipient) you can send the file to yourself. This way you get the e-mail message with the link to download the file and you can forward it to the actual recipient. Some other companies display the download link, but to get it using SendThisFile, you have to receive their e-mail message. I'm just being defensive here by nature, I have no reason to either trust or distrust SendThisFile.

Another fear with any Web site or company that requires registering with an e-mail address is that it will direct spam to your e-mail account. Site Advisor is both a service and a Web browser plug-in from McAfee. Among the things it checks Web sites for is spam. Its automated service signs up with a Web site and then evaluates the e-mail messages that come from the site. According to Site Advisor, SendThisFile is not a spammer.

The Web site

If there is anything that gives me pause about SendThisFile, it is its amateurish Web site. The site navigation is inconsistent and poorly structured, some pages don't display properly in Firefox, and some information seems contradictory, incomplete, and unclear.

Information on the free accounts can be found on the Overview page. Signing up is routine: just provide a valid e-mail address and make up a password. The service sends a confirmation e-mail message to the address you provide, with a link that needs to be clicked on to confirm your registration.

When you login to a free SendThisFile account, you can see daily totals of the number of bytes uploaded and downloaded. It does not, however, show the number of files, let alone the name of the files, uploaded or downloaded on a given day.

I stumbled onto the MyFiles page by accident (it is not an option on the My Account menu, where logically it belongs). It lists your files on the SendThisFile servers and for each file it shows the name, the size, and the number of times it was downloaded. The file name is a link, so this provides another way to send a file without SendThisFile learning the recipient's e-mail address: send the file to nonexistent e-mail address. The upload will run just fine and then you can get the link from the MyFiles page.

There are multiple paid accounts starting at the very approachable $5/month. Both Box.net and YouSendIt start at $10/month.

Unfortunately, what you get for your money is not particularly clear on the Web site. The page detailing the various paid plans doesn't mention the free service at all. Likewise the feature matrix doesn't show it either. A paid account may be worth the money, but without a direct comparison of the free account to the paid services, it's hard to know.

The various accounts

Among the features offered by paid accounts are no ads, the option of requiring a password before a file can be downloaded, better notifications of what's going on, and unlimited storage space. This isn't permanent storage though, files are removed after 6 to 14 days, depending on the plan.

With a free account a single file can be downloaded a maximum of three times; with a paid account there is no limit on the number of times a single file can be downloaded. The free accounts at YouSendIt allow a file to be downloaded 100 times. But with both YouSendIt and SendThisFile, downloads are capped with a monthly bandwidth allowance.

The following is not on SendThisFile.com, but instead came from a series of e-mailed responses from the company to a host of questions I asked. The company responded very quickly to my questions and had no knowledge of this posting.

When the Web site touts "unlimited downloads" it refers to number of times a single file can be downloaded. Your total downloads are not unlimited, they are still subject to caps on bandwidth.

When the Web site mentions "unrestricted bandwidth" it is referring only to uploads, not to downloads. Rather than limit the size of uploaded files, SendThisFile slows down uploads made by people with free accounts. The term "unrestricted bandwidth" refers to paid accounts where uploads are not artificially slowed down. Unrestricted bandwidth does not mean unlimited bandwidth.

When a paid customer uploads a file, SendThisFile will accept the file as fast as the customers' Internet connection can send it. The company told me the service can accept files at 8MB to 10MB per second. I just tested my cable connection using the speed test at Speakeasy.net and it uploaded at 483K per second--well below their ability to accept files.

I was particularly confused when, in describing the free accounts, the Web site said, "We do not limit the number of monthly uploads." According to the company, "there is no limit on the number of files, or the size of the files you can send (although files over 2GB have to be split)." Instead, the service slows down uploads over 20MB. The bigger the file, the slower the upload; it may even get as slow as dial-up speeds.

It looks like there is a typo in the description of the various paid plans. The "Pro" plan is $20/month and allows for 10GB bandwidth upstream and 10GB downstream. Yet if you step up to the next higher plan, the "Enterprise" plan for $64.70/month, you get only 5GB of bandwidth in each direction. Three times the price for half the bandwidth?

The Pro plan is bare-bones: it sends files and nothing else, there are no bells and whistles. The Enterprise plan is chock full of features that the cheaper plans don't offer. For example, in a large company every employee can get their own user ID, and SendThisFile will generate usage reports on a departmental level. The company also said the phone support is better on the Enterprise plan and it allows for purchasing much higher bandwidth with a volume discount.

Downsides

The one problem I had using SendThisFile was when I purposely sent a file to a nonexisting e-mail address. The upload ran fine but I was never notified that the message couldn't be delivered. A feature of the free accounts is "Sender notified when notification email is undeliverable." That was not my experience.

The e-mail message that the recipient gets telling them a file is ready to be downloaded, is sent from "files@sendthisfile.com" so when it can't be delivered the delivery failure notification goes to SendThisFile.

One thing that would worry me with the paid accounts is that you can't limit your expenses. If you use more bandwidth than your plan allows, SendThisFile charges you for the overage. There is no way to prevent the overage and thus limit the credit card charges.

And if you're not careful, someone might guess your password. While it's customary for there to be some rules applied to passwords to insure that you don't chose one that's brutally simple, I was shocked to find that I could register an account with SendThisFile using a single character password.

Their privacy policy doesn't contain much legal terminology and the description of the service's cookie policy was fairly easy to follow. It described two types of cookies, but, in checking my Web browser I found 21 cookies:
  7 cookies assigned to sendthisfile.com
  5 assigned to www11.sendthisfile.com
  5 assigned to www4.sendthisfile.com
  4 assigned to www7.sendthisfile.com

The privacy policy also says there may be a cookie in e-mail messages they send. As far as I know, e-mail doesn't support cookies, they are a Web browser thing.

You Tell Me

I have not used SendThisFile other than to test it and fight through the poor documentation. If you've had any good or bad experiences with it, please leave a comment below.


Update: November 29, 2007. The second installment of this trilogy on sending large files is Transferring big files with EatLime, SendThisFile, and FTP .
Update: December 3, 2007. The final installment of this trilogy is Transferring big files with DropSend and TransferBigFiles
About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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