Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Comments are Broken

Note: No word from Blogger.com yet, but the comments to this post seems to be okay, it's just the original post that's not working, so the discussion has started back up in the comments to this post.

Yes, I'm aware of the problem. I've posted the error code and information to Blogger's tech support forums and am hoping for more information sometime today.

It is a shame, though, the Just Another iPhone Blog author I linked to in my last post wants to respond to my post, and can't. We've tweeted back and forth a bit, and I think the discussion will be both interesting and fruitful and, believe it or not, civil.

As several C4 attendees became painfully aware this past weekend, the way our words are received are not always the way they were intended when written. It's altogether possible that I read the intent of that post differently than the author intended, and I think there's a real opportunity here for users and software developers to better understand each others' perspective.

I'm not sure that there's going to be common ground - I feel pretty strongly that Tweetie is fairly priced and that there's nothing unfair to the users about making Tweetie 2 a new product, especially in light of the fact that there's no built-in mechanism for paid upgrades on the App Store (yes, I know you can do it with in-app purchase, but that requires building infrastructure to support it and would be non-trivial to backfit into an existing application) - but I think there may be a possibility of closing the gap a little bit, educating users and ourselves in the process.

Stay tuned.



18 comments:

ZuCom said...

Amen Brotha!!

patrickj said...

Hi Jeff - Patrick here - the author of the linked post that seems to have got quite a few people pretty worked up.

I don't know how much common ground there is either, but I'm very happy to continue the debate and conversation. In fact, I've started discussing this with Loren, the developer of Tweetie, as well.

I would like to clarify a couple things to maybe get the ball rolling here:

I have never said I want or expect free app upgrades. Not in perpetuity, not even for Tweetie 2 itself. I have just said that I would like to see current users of Tweetie get some sort (any sort) of break on the full new version's price.

Yes, yes - I know it is just $3 and tons of folks have given me laundry lists of all the things I can buy with $3 etc. But for me, there is a principle at stake here, a precedent being set. Also, for many iPhone app buyers (rightly or wrongly due to the crazy way App Store pricing has panned out so far) $3 is not an 'expect nothing' kind of price level.

I am not at all 'anti-developers' and not at all averse to paying for quality apps, which Tweete (1 and 2) surely is. I've very happily paid $9.99 for Things for the iPhone, and $49 for it's desktop companion, and also bought the Tweetie desktop app, just as a few examples. So it'd be lovely if some of you guys could quit speculating as to whether I work for minimum wage, ask for free cups of coffee at Starbucks, or object to paying for refills.

In your post that responded to mine, you held up MS Office and some other examples of upgrades that are not free. I agree, they are not, but they do offer an upgrade price for users of previous versions. A very standard practice in the software industry. That's all I'd like to see in the case of Tweetie 2.

And yes, I do realize that Apple does not make it possible to do 'upgrade pricing' right now. So I'd love to see Atebits find a way to offer something to current users, throw them a bone at least. Maybe a one-day discount when Tweetie 2 launches. I don't claim to know the perfect solution as Apple has made this stupidly tricky, but I'd like to see the devs looking for one.

Happily, having spoken to Loren a bit, I believe that is what he has been doing already and continues to do. That did not come across to me much in his original blog post - and I am very glad to hear it.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Patrick:

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think the thing that rubbed me (and many others) the wrong way about your post and the many tweets out there about Tweetie 2 is the implicit assumption that Loren did this arbitrarily or he did it because he doesn't care about his users or because he's trying to milk them for extra money.

You may not have intended it to read that way, but that's the way it came across to me and many others I've talked to. The fact is, the only way an iPhone developer can offer an upgrade path currently, is to use in-app purchasing. That means building an infrastructure to support it - Apple doesn't provide the entire mechanism. You not only have to build it into your application, you have to set up a server and write server-side code to deliver the payload. That's a lot of additional code to write and test and a lot more code that could contain bugs.

Retrofitting an existing application to use in-app purchase can be tricky, but in this case, Loren did a ground-up rewrite. He started fresh with a completely new Xcode project. Trying to replace the existing Tweetie application with Tweetie 2 in the App Store would be non-trivial and risky, and not really possible to test beforehand.

Basically, in order to give a price break to existing users of $1, he would have had to invest an awful lot of time. That would have either delayed Tweetie 2, or would have meant that less functionality was delivered. In other words, he would have had to invest substantially more time so that he could earn less.

If you take into consideration the situation Loren is in, and take into account the fact that the application is fairly priced, I think it's unfair to Loren to assume that he didn't put a lot thought and consideration into the decision. I am positive it wasn't made lightly.

In his shoes, I think very few deverlopers would have done otherwise. I think many developers with a hit program on their hands like Tweetie, a program that was selling well and receiving so much good press, would have raised the price.

I think there is a valid discussion to be had about whether there should be a way for developers to charge for upgrades - absolutely - but I think it would be better if that discussion gave some recognition to the difficulty that app developers are in and recognized that they aren't in control of whether there is an official way to provide an upgrade path. Even a popular product like Tweetie gets to a point where sales decline and developers need to come up with a sustainable business model within the confines of the App Store's rules and processes. It is, perhaps, true that this is setting precedent but I don't see that there's much of an alternative in the long run unless apps are to become disposable or Apple changes their policies.

DerekS said...

My take...

An upgrade price is appropriate on a $300 product like Office. It's not expected or needed on a $3 product like Tweetie.

Gargs said...

I am a firm believer of the scientific method. Since there are no precedents of customers flocking towards paid upgrades of Twitter apps on the iPhone in less than a year of having bought the same app, we would just have to wait and watch.

It reminds me of the micro-payment business model you see in video games. Spend a few dollars every few months and suddenly you have paid more than you thought you would.

My hypothesis - the market is *flooded* with wonderful Twitter apps for the iPhone that arguably have more features for free/similar pricing. Not many customers would swing their cash for an upgrade. Most existing customers would be lost.

It's going to be a fun learning experience for the developer, the app store, and the customers, nonetheless.

mquentinberg said...

I definitely agree that under the current circumstances, such a major upgrade should be a paid upgrade. But this is another sign of the App Store starting to age a bit, and show how it's not scaling well. What happens when Navigon wants to do a major upgrade for Mobile Navigator, for example? Will they want to do it for free? No. Will I want to pay full price again? No.

monomyth said...

Jeff, the link in your previous post (with broken comments) points to http://iphonedevelopment.blogspot.com/Comments%20are%20Broken which doesn't exist.


As of $3 upgrade price. There is a bigger issue here. I think (regardless of the App Store's tremendous success) that people don't want to pay for iPhone apps. And this is some ridiculous greed. I have no idea where it is coming from, if people who bought iPhones followed the popularity trend and now feel budgetary constrained because of their monthly bills or something. Or maybe there are other reasons. Like the 99 cents pricing, or bunch of "free" apps from google that people used to have. I think with time this should pass. But we are not there yet.

Mark Hughes said...

None of this is about the money. It's about customer service for existing customers, and about getting upgrades, as I pointed out in my blog post.

The really key point is that most, 90-99%, of Tweetie 1 users are not going to switch to Tweetie 2. They're going to see the app never get new features, and break under them when Twitter changes, and then go to another app that is being updated. Think the sales process through: "Huh, my Tweetie app broke. GUESS I'LL BUY ANOTHER ONE." It's ludicrous.

If you give a customer the opportunity to switch, they will. If you burn a customer that way, they're lost for good, and will badmouth you forever. "Bad publicity" only works when it's not about bad quality or bad pricing.

Devs whining "But it's only $3!" are just showing they have zero clue about customer service, and zero clue about what the problem is.

Now, is in-app purchase a perfect solution? No. But Apple's not going to add upgrade pricing anytime soon, if ever.

A short-term discount won't help, because early sales are important, Tweetie 1 users won't know to go get it, and if they did, they'd go buy something else.

It's one of the worst business and customer service ideas I've ever heard in my life.

patrickj said...

Jeff - I can understand how that rubbed you (and others) the wrong way - and that was more or less how I felt about Loren / Atebits at the time of my original post, based on my reading of his original blog post on this. With hindsight, that was too much of a rush to judgement on my part.

I mentioned in my original post that I realized that Apple does not make any of this at all easy for developers, leaves them with few choices. I've learned even more on that subject over the last couple of days as many devs have responded and expounded on that. Having heard all this, I am definitely convinced that Apple should find a way to allow some sort of upgrade pricing mechanism within the App Store.

I still also feel that the developers should do their best to find some way (any way) to offer something to existing users. Like you, I don't know quite what, or whether it is do-able - but it strikes me that if a small, ex-jailbreak app studio like Snapture Labs can offer up sonething to existing users, then it' at least worth a big try.

And again, I believe Loren is looking closely at this, and has been for some time. So, it's true - I did him an injustice with the tome of that first post, and I'm hoping he'll have more to say on this subject soon. At the very least, I think that would make for better PR for Atebits as well.

patrickj said...

Tome is of course meant to be 'tone' towards the end of my previous comment.

Matt Thomas said...

Patrick, what was of-putting to your blog post was the tone. I can totally see why Jeff entitled his rebuttal as "Entitlement". Look at these phrases:

"I just can’t find a way to think of this as anything less than spitting in the face of existing Tweetie users."

"Offering no upgrade discount is just a slap for those who have helped make Tweetie a success."

I think you're really giving yourself more credit than you deserve. It was a success because it was a good app. People are willing to pay for (and tell others about) good apps… people will pay $3 for Tweetie 2 as well because it's worth it.

Both you and Atebits mention (and disagree on) Tweetie 2 being "a completely new app". This is completely missing the point. Time is money and Atebits put a lot of time into Tweetie 2 wether you consider it a new app or not.

The App Store is a free market. If enough people feel Tweetie 2 is not worth the price, then it will flop. I have a feeling that it wont.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Gargs:

You're right that we'll have to wait and see. However, I have a different hypothesis than you. I think despite it all, a large percentage of Tweetie 1 users will upgrade. Not all, of course (hey, there are still people running Jaguar and Puma out there). Some will continue to use Tweetie 1 because it meets their need or on principle, others may try other clients, but many people recognize that Tweetie stands above most of the other twitter clients and the new features are worth the $3.

Monomyth:

Thanks. I've fixed the link.

And I agree. I think it's interesting that people will invest so much time complaining about $3 for a new product that happens to share the same name and high-level purpose as one they've already bought (and, in many cases, love).

mquentinberg:

There are definitely bumps in the road and lessons to be learned, but I don't think it's accurate or fair to say the App Store is not aging well. It's the first time anybody's tried something like this and made it work and work well. Even with Apple's example, others are having a hard time duplicating the success. When you're trailblazing, you will make some wrong turns, that's a fact of life. I guarantee you that Apple is aware of the situation and is thinking about ways to make course adjustments.

Mike said...

I paid for Tweetie 1 and will be paying for Tweetie 2. It is good software, plain and simple.

I am a developer. Because Apple can't come through, we shouldn't be calling foul on the developer in a situation like this.

There is no common ground here. This is Apple's fault. Rather then getting pissed at Loren, get pissed at Apple. They hold the solution.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Mark:

I understand and respect your point of view, but I can't say I completely agree with it. Even individual developers have to do cost/benefit analyses and decide what makes sense. You and Loren resolve that equation differently, and only time will tell how the customers, as a whole, react.

I think the ones who refuse to upgrade will be a minority, but only time will tell. If you're right, I'll buy you a drink at WWDC :) I'll also buy Loren one, because he'll probably need the money by then if you are.

patrickj said...

@ Matt - I wasn't at all trying to say that I made some great contribution to Tweetie's success. I was meaning that the word of mouth recommendations from so many Tweetie users had made a big contribution to its success - and I still believe that. Many of you have pointed out that Loren is just an independent developer, so I am thinking there was not a huge marketing budget for Tweetie, so word of mouth did play a substantial part.

There is not just a single factor in an app's success. Tweetie is certainly an excellent app and that is certainly a big factor (likely the biggest) in it success as well.

patrickj said...

For anyone who's interested, an interview with Loren, Tweetie's creator, on these subjects:
http://justanotheriphoneblog.com/wordpress/iphone-software/tweetie-2-pricing-controversy-an-interview-with-tweeties-creator/

Zavie said...

Hi,
Your recent article on Tweetie 2 pricing is absolutely insightful. While I think comparing game industry and iPhone development is a bit weak, I really agree with your point on Tweetie, and especially like your final sentence about a sode can worth fee paid a year ago. :-)

A good read, keep it up.

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