Sparrow and the unlimited indies

Recently I found myself in rare disagreement with Matt Gemmell:

“Indie devs are an endlessly replenishable resource. Good indie devs are similarly replenishable. This acquisition has no effect whatsoever on the rest of us, except for further legitimising the practice of big companies buying us up. That cannot possibly be a bad thing.”

While the general argument that Matt makes is solid — that Sparrow customers should be happy for the developers being acquired by Google, and that paying $3 for an app doesn’t give anyone a right to complain or feel betrayed — there are a couple ways that this acquisition could be a bad thing for everyone else.

Good indie devs, especially successful ones, are a limited resource. There are very few indie companies able to make a client as polished as Sparrow was, and even fewer with commercial success.

And with Twitter’s latest anti-competitive moves, we may end up losing another market that was friendly to indie developers and rich with UI innovation.

My favorite take on the Sparrow acquisition and what it means for sustainable indie software came from Rian van der Merwe:

“We need to reframe this argument. The real issue is much deeper than this specific acquisition. The real issue is the sudden vulnerability we feel now that one of our theories about independent app development has failed.”

The Sparrow acquisition came as a surprise to most of us. One day, they look like a successful company, taking on a difficult market and winning against free competition. The next day, they’re gone. I wish them luck at Google, but it is a loss for the community of small Mac and iOS companies.

(Speaking of Matt Gemmell, he’s just released a new Mac app called Sticky Notifications for sticking reminders in Mountain Lion’s notification center.)