The Swiss-based file sharing platform Wua.la is finally launching its public beta today after almost a year of closed alpha-testing. Part of the launch will be a completely revamped application that is now based on a Java applet, making it possible to use the service without installing any software. I had the chance to play with the new offering in the last couple of days as well as talk to Dominik Grolimund, CEO of Wua.la maker Caleido.

pic of wuala app

Wua.la got quite a bit of attention when it started its private beta test phase late last year because it has been combining private file sharing with a novel approach of distributed data storage. Files shared via Wua.la are automatically uploaded to the P2P cloud, making it possible to share files with friends even when you're not online. File fragments are redundantly stored both on users' computers as well as on Wua.la's servers. You can read more about the actually pretty clever way Wua.la stores files in my original review.

The applet itself was running pretty smooth when I tested it. I initially had a little bit of trouble, but that went away once I deleted the old Wua.la alpha version - something to consider if you've been an alpha tester.

Grolimund told me that the alpha test has been really successful for the company. They were able to get 40,000 registered users just through invite codes, and those users shared a total of 50 Terabyte of data. The alpha test apparently also helped to refocus Wua.la. The company was initially thinking about approaching indie musicians and other content owners and market Wua.la as a P2P publishing tool, but is now focusing more on social networks.

pic of wua.la web interface

Users of Facebook and Myspace can already link to their Wua.la folders, leading their friends to personalized web pages like this one, where new users can start the Java applet without installing any software on their local machines. Public files can also be downloaded without registering for an account first. Next up on the horizon are widgets, apps and other forms of integration into social networking platforms, and an API is also in the works.

I really believe that this potential of integrating Wua.la with sites like Facebook is the most promising part of the beta launch. I've been writing about this ever since Wua.la launched its private alpha last October: Secure, P2P-based cloud storage could be the best thing that ever happened to users of Myspace and Facebook.

Just consider for a second all the security holes that have led to the exposure of supposedly private files from social networking websites. Valleywag has been covering this extensively, publishing photos from both Paris Hilton's and Lindsay Lohan's Myspace account in June. Those photos were supposed to be private and only accessible to direct friends of Hilton and Lohan, but Valleywag was able to access them with a simple trick.

pic of wua.la privacy settings

A service like Wua.la on the other hand makes sure that no one except your friends will access your files by using cryptography, with your private key securely being stored on your hard drive where no one else can access it. Grolimund told me that the company doesn't even know who accesses which file as long as the files are not shared as public.

Of course, monetizing online and personal file sharing solutions isn't easy. Allpeers, Tubesnow, Mediamax and a bunch of others all tried it without success, and even an online giant like AOL doesn't think this is a business worth pursuing. Grolimund however believes that Wua.la will profit from its viral nature and the fact that it offers more security than purely web-based solutions. Wua.la has been experimenting with context-relevant advertising, but its also starting to offer premium services with the launch of the beta test, starting with the ability to buy additional storage.

Viral growth, ads and paid services - that sounds like a good combination for success. Combine that with the fact that Wua.la seems to be flexible enough to reinvent itself - and you got a company worth watching.

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