Third party blogs provide a valuable way to find out about new software and, in the same way, a developer’s own blog is crucial for staying informed about the development process of your favourite apps. It is arguably the same tool that we use to share, review, and use great Mac applications that has also driven the increased importance of communication between a developer and a user.
Successful software developers are fully aware of this relationship, but what happens when a developer fails to uphold this tried-and-true method of communication? My assertion: pay for independently developed software at your own risk.
Developers use blogs on their websites to keep the community of users who enjoy their software updated on development progress, new applications, or general news surrounding the product or company. Forums are implemented to involve users in discussion with each other. Innovative uses for the software in question get discussed and shared among the community, and on occasion the community is involved in the development process in open calls for feature requests.
Twitter, Facebook, email lists, and an ever expanding list of social media tools are being used as communication outlets between developers and users. Communication makes users happy; they feel like they’re being listened to and catered for. Maintaining this relationship is absolutely critical in the new, Web 2.0 setting of software development and distribution.
The Safe Bet
Investing your time and money in an application developed by an established development company is usually a safe bet. You can spot these companies and their awareness of the fundamental relationship between developer and user by their backlog of informative blog posts, development updates on Twitter, and/or active discussion forums.
Consumers who purchase and use software primarily from reputable development companies seem generally happier with the software support, communication, and ongoing development than people who invest in independently developed software. If you buy an application from an established company, you’re likely to encounter similar satisfaction.
Conversely, there is always a risk involved when investing time and money into the product of an independent developer. Now don’t get me wrong. By no means am I attempting to discredit independent software developers. In fact, some of the best software comes from independent developers, as evidenced by Logan Collins, developer of the award winning Schoolhouse software.That being said, examining the case of Andy Kim’s phenomenal productivity app The Hit List will demonstrate how investing yourself (particularly, your money) in the product of an independent developer is almost always riskier than in the software developed by an established company.
Andy Kim’s The Hit List has become a wildly popular application, arguably fueled by it’s inclusion in the renowned MacHeist 3 bundle. The application went on sale for pre-order during it’s beta phase, and unfortunately remains in this state, seemingly abandoned. The Hit List sold many pre-order beta copies and gained a community that has become quite vocal in the Google Groups forum dedicated to the application, in wake of Andy’s disappearance.
As a member of this community, I can vouch for their justification. Andy Kim’s last blog post on his website went up on September 17th, 2009, over a year ago at the time of this writing, and not so much as a tweet has been heard from him since. The only signal that users get that he’s still alive is updated downloads (not updates to the application itself), providing extended beta expirations. But users don’t want extended betas – they want a 1.0 release, and communication.
Again, as a user patiently awaiting my 1.0 copy of what is otherwise one of the greatest productivity apps I’ve used to date, I have a feeling that the community would likely be far less irate had Andy given some sort of indication he was abandoning the project, or attempted to return pre-order money to his customers.
And if he hasn’t abandoned the project? Well, some sort of assurance that his users will get what they’re waiting for would be nice.
I suppose this article could be interpreted as an open letter to Andy Kim, assuming he frequents the Internet enough to stumble across it. But I think the message is bigger. Web 2.0 has changed the way we distribute software, as well as the way we communicate about it.
Of course I’m not suggesting that you give up on independent developers. Home brew software is an important part of Mac app culture. I’m simply saying that it may be beneficial to examine the risk of an app becoming abandonware.
Current and aspiring (and particularly independent) developers need to be aware of the unspoken cruciality of the communicative bond between developer and user. Maintaining this relationship will keep users and customers happy, and keep them from jumping ship, as so many The Hit List refugees have done.