Ah, I can hear it now, the relentless barbs from people who have known me since the 8 bit days… people whom I’ve leveled the same accusation against many times throughout the years.
I’ve been a non-mainstream, anti-wintel, pro-Motorola CPU fanatic who swore never to write a line of C# code in my life, ever since the days when you could write endless counting loop programs in BASIC on the computers on display on the electronics counter at K-Mart. (Except for the C# part. That didn’t happen till a few years later.)
So what trauma could cause me to betray a whole lifetime of pure, unadulterated Microsoft hatred?
Okay, so I didn’t really defect.
I thought about it… seriously… for a while.
(Well, for a couple of seconds. But that’s an eternity in CPU cycles.)
But in the end, practicality won out.
So what happened? Here’s the story.
Several years back I noticed my (now ex) wife struggling with pencils and erasers and several pages in a notebook with scribbled lists. It was late December and she was trying to make sure that our three kids all had the same number of Christmas gifts bought for them, the same number of relatively big, medium and small gifts, that each had about the same amount of money spent on them, and that each had certain “special” gifts covered, (each year they got an ornament and pajamas on Christmas Eve, for instance.)
I looked at this and said, “ummm… that’s the kind of thing computers are made for. Let me write you a program for that.”
And thus Giftory (Gift Repository) was born.
That next Christmas season I brought her over to the laptop and showed her what I had created for her, a nice little app meant to make her Christmas gift management easier.
She looked at it, played with it for a little bit, and promptly told me, “that’s nice, but I prefer using my pencil and notebook.”
<Spirit crushing moment number 1>
Nevertheless, I thought it was a useful little app, so I released it as freeware, posting it to the major Mac download sites.
Over the next year, I got more feedback from her, got a little feedback from people who had downloaded the app, threw some of my own ideas in, and released a new version during the next holiday season.
Again, she looked at it, played with it for a while, and eventually told me, “that’s a lot better, but I still prefer my pencil and notebook.”
<Spirit crushing moment number 2>
Over the next couple of years, more people downloaded it, and contacted me with suggestions. A couple of times I even implemented their suggestion immediately and sent them a custom build. I’m an old-school freeware/shareware developer from back in the small computing communities of the 80s. We did that kind of stuff back then.
Then, I got divorced. Someone who didn’t appreciate the awesome little app I wrote for her didn’t deserve me.
Just kidding. Seriously.
Nevertheless, I was on my own, with two daughters, (the third… actually the first… kid was hers,) to manage Christmas (and birthdays, and Easter…) for.
So I became the biggest user of my own program. Frankly, I thought it was fantastic!
Eventually, I decided that, while pretty good, Giftory could be much better, and if it was much better, it would be worth paying for.
So I rewrote it from scratch. (A year or so after I wrote it, Apple introduced Cocoa Bindings and later, Core Data. These technologies were a perfect for Giftory, but it didn’t make sense to retrofit the existing code base to utilize them.)
Admittedly, as Christmas 2008 approached, I finished the commercial version of Giftory a little later than I had intended. I didn’t have time to recruit a proper group of testers and put it through a full test cycle, but I did the best I could, and I did get in all of the features that I had planned. I released it on November 12th. I figured that was just enough time for it to get a little traction before Black Friday hit and the start of the Christmas shopping season began.
I wasn’t sure how to best go about promoting an independent commercial Mac app, but I thought a good place to start was a press release to all of the appropriate outlets. prMac took care of that for me. As was suggested to me, I waited a couple of weeks for the impact of the press release to start to take effect.
Two weeks in… only a couple of mentions online, and only a handful of sales.
Then Black Friday hit.
Then the calendar turned over to December.
Still… no traction.
Panic started to settle in. Gotta get more aggressive.
I started a couple of Google AdWords campaigns. I participated in an internal Apple promotion to provide a free license to all of their employees. I sent free license codes to all of the major online Mac outlets I could think of, requesting a review or at least some coverage in the few short weeks before Christmas. I wrote and released a free iPhone app to compliment the functionality of the desktop app. I offered free licenses to everyone I knew personally, including my local Cocoa developer’s group. I posted about the application to the Mac LinkedIn group.
Of all the outreach I did, only one media outlet wrote a review. And although it wasn’t exactly the most positive review I could have hoped for, I still appreciated the fact that they did one at all.
<Spirit crushing moment number 3 – begin>
At this point, you may be saying, “you came to people in the month of December trying to get a review/coverage done before Christmas, and thought it would actually happen?!?”
So let me provide a little perspective on my thought processes.
I spent the formative years of my computing life on a little 8 bit system called the TRS-80 Color Computer. Back in the 80s, when the Commodore 64 was king, and Apple and Atari computers were Lords, the Color Computer was more like a peasant. Okay, it wasn’t quite THAT bad, but we never enjoyed nearly the level of software support of those other systems. (Think: Atari Jaguar vs. Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation videogame systems of the time.) We had a few magazines, but for most of their existence they would probably best be described as “struggling”. So, in that market, there was something of a bond between CoCo (Color Computer) software companies and the CoCo press. They needed each other. If you were publishing software, the magazines wanted to talk to you, help you, SUPPORT you, even if you were a one-man shop. And as for the users, they were often just happy that you were supporting the platform by developing software for it. In all honesty, back in those days there were users who would buy your product, even when they didn’t need or really even want it, just to support you for supporting the platform.
I bought my first Mac in 1997. At the time, the Mac market could reasonably be described as “struggling”. The Mac community had a similar feel to what the CoCo community had back in its latter days.
Traditional magazines and newspapers are struggling. The internet is king. Media outlets struggle to gain and hold traction in cyberspace.
Put all of this together, and, in December of 2008, when I was trying to get some Mac media attention/support, I was in the 1980s Color Computer community mindset. I needed them, but they needed me, too. They wanted to hear from me, to give me coverage, to support my efforts, to help me out.
My perspective was delusional. No matter how “down” the Mac market ever was, or how rough the landscape may be for media outlets today, it comes nowhere near the situation of the Color Computer market 25+ years ago.
I can say this calmly and rationally now. At the time, I was pissed.
<Spirit crushing moment number 3 – end>
Back to the story…
Christmas Eve night.
The Christmas shopping season has ended. The primary Giftory sales season has ended. How did we do???
Hmmm… we’ve given away several times as many free licenses to Apple employees as we have sold licenses to customers.
<Spirit crushing moment number 4>
I’m sure there’s lots of different reactions people can have to their spirit being crushed. Mine was…
Screw the Mac media. Screw the Mac community. Screw people for not “getting it” when it came to the usefulness of this app. That’s it. I’m done. I won’t do another thing in independent Mac software development. I’m taking my ball (that none of the other kids want to play with anyway) and going home.
Besides, the Mac lost a lot of its luster for me the moment Apple started putting intel chips inside of them. Ever since then, my intel-based computers have all gotten names with a demonic connotation to them: Hades, Mephisto, etc…
Wait! You know what? Move to Windows! That’s what I’ll do! Those users are less picky, they bitch and moan a lot less about user interfaces that may not be perfect to them. They’re everywhere, so it’s a lot easier to target them in promoting your app. The whole Mac world can go screw off!
Stew on it.
Stew on it.
Stew on it.
Calm down a bit. (Months later)
Okay. Let’s adopt a more realistic perspective.
The review did make some valid points as to features that should be in the app. A lot of time, thought and effort did go into this. I don’t want to throw it all away. Getting exposure is paramount to becoming successful, and getting exposure isn’t easy. I still love this app, still believe in this app, and want it to the the best that it can be. And I REALLY don’t want to ditch the Mac and move to Windows.
But the days of the small computing community where “we’re all in this together” and all support each other for the sake of the platform… those days are over. And they’re not coming back.
So let’s push forward and continue developing the app. But now it’s not going to be for “the love”. It’s not going to be to support the platform. It’s not going to be to support the “community”.
If we’re going to continue with this, from now on it’s going to be about one thing:
And maybe that’s what it should have been about all along.
So, what’s the new plan of action?
Continue developing Giftory on the Mac. Improve the iPhone supplementary app. Maybe even write a version of the mobile app for Android and other mobiles.
But that’s not all. If this is all about business now, then it makes the most business sense to bring Giftory to the masses. And that means…
Yeah, that hurts. Reality bites and the truth hurts sometimes.
So I’ve bought my .net 3.5 and C# book, and started learning to develop the Microsoft way. (Well, the “new” Microsoft way, as, over the years, I’ve already done quite a bit of C++ and Visual Basic development in Visual Studio, prior to the existence of .net.)
Now the goals for 2010 include a major new release of Giftory for Mac OS X and a first release of Giftory for Windows.
And much of this blog, for the rest of this year, will be devoted to chronicling my adventures as a Cocoa developer navigating a major .net project as a .net and C# novice.
Ugh. It sickens me to admit this… but I’m actually kind of excited about it.
I feel dirty.