Ten years ago I wrote a post about customer support. Nothing in my attitude toward customers has really changed since then, although my products have changed along the way.
Most of my Mac and iOS apps could be built by one person. Even Sunlit, which I developed with Jon Hays, could be maintained by one person. And so when providing support for my apps, I’ve always embraced being an indie company and said “I” instead of “we” when talking about my company Riverfold Software.
I’ve realized as I work toward launching Micro.blog that this product is different. It has a much greater scope than anything I’ve built by myself. To be successful, it needs a team.
This is why my first priority with the Kickstarter stretch goal was to bring someone new to the project. I was initially nervous about making that announcement. I thought that nervousness was because the stretch goal might not work, or because my post was long and could be misinterpreted, but I realize now that I was nervous because I knew it mattered.
The first decisions a new company has to make will end up shaping many things that follow. I worked at VitalSource for over 14 years because the technology decisions and leadership at the beginning were so strong they carried forward for years.
The same rule applies for a very different kind of company: Uber. When you look at their series of missteps, it seems clear that these are inherent problems that go back to day one. I think John Gruber is right when he says Uber’s response is “too little, too late”.
We can learn from every company culture that fails. I don’t expect to make all the right decisions with Micro.blog. But I’m going to try very hard to make the first decisions correctly, because it will make everything easier going forward.
Since my post yesterday about what I viewed as the unwarranted smearing of Kapeli’s reputation, I’ve received a lot of good feedback. I’ve also seen many comments from developers who had an incomplete view of the facts. This isn’t surprising, since Apple’s own statement to the press seems to have left out details, either for privacy reasons or to make a stronger case.
I’m not an investigative journalist. I know a lot about what happened, but not everything. I’m not going to try to “get to the bottom” of the truth. Kapeli developer Bogdan Popescu emailed me yesterday after my post had been published, and as tempting as it might have been to ask him more questions, ultimately this is between him and Apple. I’m a blogger and podcaster, so I’d rather stick to the larger themes.
How do we move forward as a community? Two points:
- We must err on the side of defending indie developers, even when it looks bad. Apple’s a big corporation and they don’t need our help.
- We should hold Apple accountable when they overreach, even when they have the best intentions. I agree with Rene Ritchie’s post that despite such a bad situation, it’s still within Apple’s power to fix this.
Matt Drance had a series of tweets that get to the heart of how we react as a community. If it turns out that Bogdan did submit fraudulent reviews, then okay. But if Apple eventually reinstates his developer account, I want to be able to say I stood up for his side of the story, even if I risked being wrong.
It’s easy to defend someone who is obviously innocent. It’s harder when they make mistakes, but in areas unrelated to the crime. In that way, this App Store “rejection” is unique. It may be the most important test we’ve seen of Apple’s power in the store.
Twitter has lost some of what made it special for communities 5 years ago. I’ve noticed a few trends:
- Twitter’s 140-character limit and easy retweeting encourage and amplify negative tweets. Sincerity is less common. Everything is an opportunity for a joke.
- Widely followed, long-time Twitter users don’t find the joy they used to when interacting with followers. Some have retreated to private Slack channels, at the cost of public discussion and approachability.
- Developers have never completely forgiven Twitter for crippling the API. This doesn’t directly impact most users anymore, but it’s a backdrop that gives every new Twitter feature a tone of distrust. Progress is slow.
Meanwhile, blog comments have slowly been killed off over that same period. The rise of social networks, combined with the technical problems of fighting blog comment spam, pushed most bloggers to prefer answering questions on Twitter.
Becky Hansmeyer writes about the intersection of these problems — that some Twitter users avoid public discussion, but most blogs no longer have comments to fall back on — by pointing to a post from Belle Beth Cooper:
“Belle’s post really resonated with me because it reminded me of something I think about a lot: when an ever-increasing number of blogs and media outlets are disabling comment sections, where do decent, thoughtful people bring their discussions? I only offer readers one way to contact me on this site, and it’s via Twitter. But what if, like Belle, you no longer use Twitter (or never did in the first place)?”
We didn’t realized how much we lost when we turned our backs on blog comments years ago. Just look at one of Daniel Jalkut’s blog posts from 10 years ago, which he and I discuss on an upcoming episode of Core Intuition. 53 comments! And they’re all preserved along with the original content. That’s difficult to do when comments are spread across Twitter and easily lost.
It’s time to take what we’ve since learned from social networks and apply it the openness of cross-site replies. That’s why I want to support Webmention. As Becky mentions, Civil Comments look great too. I think we can encourage both in parallel: distributed comments like Webmention for sites that can support it and better centralized comments like Civil.
As I was writing some documentation this week, I kept thinking about what makes great marketing copy. 37signals used to say that copywriting is a form of user interface design. That’s true but I think there’s more to it.
The best products don’t just have marketing copy; they have a mission statement. They don’t just sell a tool; they sell a movement.
When I stare at my product wondering if it’s too confusing — if it’s too different, and tries to do too many things, to be immediately understood by new users — I try to remind myself that it’s an opportunity. Instead of simply explaining what I’m doing, how can I pitch it in a way that strengthens a community around the idea. Because dozens of bloggers can spread the idea more quickly and in a more meaningful way than I can by myself.
And unlike a one-way press release, a community is inherently two-way. Every mention of the idea is both marketing and feedback. Someone blogs about how they’re excited for the product, but also how they wish it had a certain missing feature. Someone in the press writes a review, but also with a pros and cons list.
This cycle means the product gets better. And if we’re thoughtful in that first approach to marketing copy, then every blog post, review, and tweet that follows is laced with a little part of our mission statement.
“The MDN Show episode 16”:http://www.mac-developer-network.com/shows/podcasts/mdnshow/mdn016/ reveals the winner of the MDN Community Award: a tie between Matt Gemmell and Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch, with Mike Ash as runner-up. Looking back on 2009 there should be no surprise over these top three. Matt has been sharing great code with the community for years and is now a fixture of the MDN podcast; Wolf started the successful C4 conference and won a Macworld Eddy for ClickToFlash; and Mike Ash has packed more technical information into a year of his weekly Q&A series than would fit in many Mac programming books.
(This also seems like a good time to link to nominee Daniel Jalkut, who got “his own version of a community award”:http://www.red-sweater.com/blog/1074/payback-time last month.)
I had a tough time singling out a specific developer among a dozen or more fantastic people, many who I consider my friends. But for me it was an opportunity to reflect on something at C4 that I didn’t get a chance to write about earlier, and since he won anyway I’ll include the email I sent to Scotty here.
“There are so many worthy candidates for the “MDN Community Award”:http://www.mac-developer-network.com/news/mdn-community-award-2009-update-the-nominations-so-far/ — people who are helpful to the Mac developer community by writing books, blogging, and sharing code — but when I heard about this award I thought about leadership. My pick is Jonathan ‘Wolf’ Rentzsch.
“A leader sets the tone and attitude of the community. For example, at the C4 conference when some attendees used the Twitter backchannel to turn against and openly mock a presenter, Wolf shamed the audience instead of glossing over or ignoring the event. It was a community course-correction and a reminder that Mac OS X developers come from many different backgrounds: old-school classic Mac programmers, NeXT developers, Linux and Windows users, even designers and web application developers.
“The community went through a rough transition point migrating to Mac OS X over 10 years ago, and is in the middle of another transition to embrace everyone excited about the iPhone platform. What I learned from Wolf is that we should never be afraid to welcome ‘outsiders’ to the community even if they haven’t yet caught up on the history and conventions of the platform.”
I have nothing but great things to say about everyone listed on the MDN page. Congrats again to Matt, Wolf, Mike, and the rest of the nominees.
Brent Simmons, from a “TUAW interview”:http://www.tuaw.com/2007/06/05/5-questions-with-brent-simmons-creator-of-netnewswire/:
“One of the things I love about being a Mac developer is getting to meet the folks who make the apps I use. In a way, my /Applications folder is also my social network. Which is cool.”
I never thought about it that way, but it’s definitely a great aspect of the Mac developer community. I hope to add a few more people to my /Applications social network next week at WWDC.
I’ve been to a bunch of WWDCs now, but I’m particularly excited this year because it will be the first time I’ve attended as representing both a “large-ish company”:http://www.vitalsource.com/ and an “independent one-man shop”:http://www.riverfold.com/.
I will be carrying VitalSource business cards in my wallet, but I also hope to have a printed batch of Wii Transfer serial numbers to hand out. I know a lot of Mac developers have a Nintendo Wii and it’s a shame I haven’t given out more copies. If you have a Wii and see me (I look “something like this”:http://www.manton.org/me/), please get my attention so that I can correct this oversight.