Omnidrive: Not dead yet, thanks

I noticed a post by Mashable writer Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins on his personal blog about Omnidrive — the troubled “cloud storage” company founded and run by Aussie entrepeneur Nik Cubrilovic — that seemed to have been jump-started by a post at Duncan Riley’s Inquisitr, after someone at TechCrunch put Omnidrive into the CrunchBase deadpool. After some back and forth between Duncan and Nik in the comments at the Inquisitr post, the deadpool reference was removed; Nik, who has been writing for TechCrunch for awhile now (and who counts Mike Arrington as an investor in Omnidrive) said it was a mistake by an intern.

For anyone who is just joining this story, Omnidrive was a highly touted “Internet hard drive” service that launched in 2007, but late last year it started having some serious problems — users reported that they couldn’t access their files on the service for days at a time, that support requests went unanswered, and so on. In December, a post at Read/Write Web said that the chief technology officer had left the company; in a comment on the post, Nik said that everything was fine, but a subsequent comment from the CTO said that the company had run out of money and laid its entire staff.

From there, the story quickly descended into soap-opera territory: the company’s website, blog and user-support forums disappeared from the Web, then came back, then disappeared again. Finally, Omnidrive.com redirected to a static Network Solutions landing page and it appeared the company had in fact entered the deadpool. To add insult to injury, a prominent investor in the company said that he had been promised his money back, but that Nik had reneged on the deal. The Omnidrive founder then responded to an email from fellow Aussie Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web and said the company was still in good health and was over its problems, etc.

For what it’s worth, Omnidrive.com is back up and appears to be working — although when I tried to log in I got an error that said the site’s security certificate had expired, and I got a similar error when I tried to reach the support forums. I can’t vouch for the actual service itself because I don’t use it (I use Amazon’s S3). A couple of weeks ago, after I saw Nik’s byline start to show up on stories at TechCrunch, I wrote him and asked if he had any comment on the various allegations and the state of things at the company, and here is what he said:

“Hi Mathew, we are still working on it, back to a small team of us – we recently rolled out a new backend and we will be rolling new frontend stuff out over the next two months (starting this week). We shifted direction based on what we learnt over the past 2 years and we are focusing on the API and developer tools (authentication, storage and contacts).”

It sounds as though Nik is trying to incorporate some of the lessons he has learned over the past year and a half and turn Omnidrive into a functioning company again — but there are still some pretty big skeletons wandering around, to judge by posts like this one. For some extra insight into Nik’s viewpoint on the whole mess, and that of some of his critics, pay particular attention to the comments.

Omnidrive sinks beneath the waves

Update 2 (05/05/08):

According to an email that Nik Cubrilovic sent Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web, Omnidrive isn’t dead yet — he claims a domain change is in the works, and that a new version of the app is on the way that will use Amazon and Google for storage.

Update:

Clay Cook, an early angel investor in Omnidrive, has posted an open letter to founder Nik Cubrilovic in which he describes some of what happened after he invested $100,000. According to an email exchange with Nik that he has also posted, as recently as February the Omnidrive founder said the company was in the process of being sold and that his investment would be doubled in value.

Was Omnidrive simply too big a swing, as Ben Barren argues? Perhaps. There’s no question that the remote storage game was a pretty crowded space even when the company started, with a number of established providers like Mozy, Carbonite and others — and then along came Amazon’s S3, which reduced the cost of such services by an order of magnitude, and Windows Live Drive not long afterward. At some point, Omnidrive obviously became uneconomic. Maybe some day Nik will emerge to tell the full story of what happened to the company.

Original post:

According to Josh Catone over at Read/Write Web, the “cloud storage” company formerly known as Omnidrive is no more. The domain now goes to a hosting provider’s standard “parked page” message, and users who have commented at RWW say they have been getting error messages for months when trying to access their accounts on the system. The first signs of trouble started showing up about six months ago, when RWW reported that the CTO had left the company.

At the time, CEO and founder Nik Cubrilovic responded that everything was fine at Omnidrive, and that the company was not only profitable but had gotten a new round of financing. The departed CTO told a different story, however — alleging that he was hired to build out a team and told there was financing, but never saw any money, and that he and the entire engineering team quit because they hadn’t been paid. The whole thing had an uncomfortable similarity to the Blognation debacle, involving Sam Sethi and some non-existent financing.

Has OmniDrive joined the deadpool?

One of a number of cheap online storage services — a group that includes Carbonite, Mozy and JungleDisk (which uses Amazon’s S3 storage system) — Omnidrive.com appears to be having significant problems, and according to some reports may be heading for the deadpool. Some users are reporting that they haven’t been able to access the service, and both the website and the official support forum site produce a 404 error. So does the blog of founder and CEO Nik Cubrilovic.

Read/Write Web wrote about the speculation in mid-December (I somehow missed it), and Cubrilovic responded that everything was fine — and not just fine, but great. The company was not only profitable but had gotten more funding, he said, and was coming out with a new release soon. Then the former chief technology officer for OmniDrive responded to the Read/Write post, however — and said exactly the opposite.

Not only did the former CTO say that the company had gone dark — “There is no one working at Omnidrive today. No one is supporting the customers. No one is developing version 1.0. The Wollongong and Sydney offices have been vacated” — but he said he hadn’t been paid for the work he did between April and August, and that he believed the money the company claimed to have probably never existed.

On the surface, this sounds a lot like the story of Sam Sethi and Blognation. I’ve sent Nik an email to see if he can tell me what’s going on. If anyone else knows anything, let me know in the comments. Regardless of what’s going on with Omnidrive, it’s wise to think about the possible downside of storing data in “the cloud,” as Webware notes.

Update:

A reader named Charlie says in the comments that he was able to login to Omnidrive, so the service itself seems to be operating, even if the website and support forums aren’t. And Simon East notes in a later comment that the website and forums are now back up — with a note from Nik saying there was a server outage and it took some time to get the site back up, but the service itself was never offline. No response to my email yet though.