Sunday, September 11, 2011

Upcoming Poll, Again About Money

TL;DR version: There will be a poll. It will guide whether or not this app remains free. Please vote if you care at all.

I'm a very opinionated person. I believe in a lot of things, and I believe them very strongly. I believe that software should be open source. I believe that everybody should have access to it. But just because I believe things does not make them true; nor does it mean I'm not willing to change my beliefs. It just means I haven't heard any ideas that are better or evidence that is convincing enough to unseat my beliefs.

I've had a hard time with this project, recently. It stems from a few reasons: my own inadequacies as a developer, limitations of certain platforms, the refusal of device manufacturers to conform to a standard Android experience, the lack of certain standards in Android apps.. I could list things until I turn blue in the face. But the main thing is really that I've been floundering on the business side of this project recently. I'm not a business man, I'm an idealist. When I started this project, I just wanted to learn Android and Chrome development; that's why we have no business plan, why we are so informal about this: it all grew up very, very quickly.

Today, I had a revelation. It came from a user. Now, Michel is a very active user; he runs his own server, he talks with me a lot (we're chatting as I write this, actually), and he's always interested in what's going on with the project. He offers ideas, feedback, and support. I wish Michel were the average user, because the tech world would be a vastly more enjoyable place were that the case. I was lamenting the poor performance of our quota on Google+, and it kicked off a brainstorming session as to why things are the way they are, and how they can be fixed. I love social media.

The revelation Michel prompted in me is simple: "The main problem I see with the quota current model is that it is 'too free'". The idea of "too free" is an interesting one. It suggests that offering something for free devalues the product in the eyes of its users, which shields the fact that it costs money to run from them. So when you have to do things like introduce a quota, they get upset; to them, something that was free is being charged for, which smacks of profiteering. In reality, something that was being run at-cost is trying to get sustainable. We try to communicate that, but it's hard without spamming everyone.

Now, Tino is going to get upset with me over this, because I have a habit of realising things he tried to tell me long after he tells me, and sometimes I forget he told me about them in the first place. I think this is one of those times. He's told me for forever that making it free makes people feel more entitled, but I've never really given much credence to it. Because he's long been advocating for more pressing policies of monetisation, and for good reason: he's been right. But it took a user, someone who would not profit at all, telling me that not only would he pay for the app if we charged a subscription, it's wrong of us to not charge a subscription, before I really heard the argument. Which is a shortcoming of mine that I'm trying to overcome.

I think part of my reluctance to accept the idea was due to one of the most debilitating shortcomings I have: a lack of self-confidence. When we release buggy builds (which happens with unacceptable frequency and is something we're working on), I feel like it's just another reason we shouldn't charge for the app. And I won't be implementing the new subscription model, if there is one, until the current bug count is brought way down and the app's stability is much, much better. But the number of users who have told me the solution lies in charging for the app is helping to overcome my fears that the software isn't good enough.

So what's going to happen is simple. I'll update the app in the Android Market. When you run it, you'll get a popup that will ask you if you would pay a monthly fee for the app. Please vote; it's very important. And please be honest with us; we try so hard to be honest with you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Disillusioned

I was going to limit this to my personal blog. I wasn't going to make the fatigue I was feeling over the constant struggles this project provides an issue for the project at large. And then something happened; we got a particularly nasty support request from a user. I'm going to go ahead and reproduce it below.

I am getting a message that the server is over quota and my link will be stored until tomorrow unless I want to pay $1 ? What good is the link going to do me tomorrow and if the server really is over quota why will;l $1 free it up? Is this a new fee or something? If it is this app is dead to me and I'm sure many others. If this isn't a bug then it down right wrong to hold my link hostage for $$

Tino gave a pretty detailed response as to why this reaction is insulting and outrageous. I tried to give a more level response, but we're both pretty much on the same level as to how we feel about this. It's a betrayal. It's nothing more than us bending over backwards, trying to provide a service, and it seems like the nicer we try to be about it, the more we're told we're "malicous" or holding links hostage or some other absurd assertion about how us providing a free service by paying for it ourselves is really an evil move on our part.

The project is still going strong. I'm still responding to bug reports. I've found the cause of an issue and will be issuing a fix in the next day or two to try and address it. Another issue is in Google's code, not ours, and we're working with the Engineer behind the API to fix it. He says it's fixed, but is waiting on a rollout. All we can do is wait, sorry. We'll keep working on the bugs that we can fix. But it's getting hard to pour my sweat, blood, tears, and money into a project and not only not get compensated for it, but get verbally abused at every turn. I'm 21 years old, guys. I'm a college student, taking a full course load and working at the same time. I try to provide the best service I can, and try to apologise when I fall short. My shortcomings are many and varied, and the community has borne the brunt of all of them at one point or another. And I'm sorry for that, I am. But malice is not among my shortcomings. And when I go to bed with a heavy heart already, it's hard for me to wake up to people telling me that I'm not being fair to them because I expect even a modicum of engagement from them.

This isn't a post looking for sympathy. This isn't a post looking for donations. This isn't a call to action at all. The sole purpose behind this post, if I'm to be 100% honest with you, is to remind you that there are people behind this project. That people will be reading your support requests. That people worked hard on this and die a little inside watching you talk about how badly it sucks.

This is breaking me down, guys. In my phone call with Tino tonight, I mentioned that writing software for this wasn't even fun right now. It almost brought me to tears to say that, because I purposefully did not pursue an education in programming because I wanted it to remain something pure and fun.

Since the start of this project, I've been banging on about how it's our project. How the community is in control and calls the shots. Well, the community needs to take some responsibility, too. We can't do this alone. This needs to be a partnership, or the project will have to be shut down. We're reaching out to you, desperately flailing in the dark. Please meet us halfway.