I got a little idealistic during my talk on application acquisition at last weekend’s C4 Conference. See, last year’s event had been so memorable to me, I thought it was worth trying to focus the audience’s attention on what my aspirations were for the talk, which were roughly “to make people think about acquisition and possibly change their own life in the process.”
I probably succeeded in at least some microscopic way for some person in the audience. But no matter, because if I didn’t succeed, I’m sure some other speaker did. Or some attendee in the audience chatting with some other attendee, discovering that they live in the same town, or that each of them is both a little league coach and a Mac developer. Real life is neat that way: it’s inspiring!
Aaron Vegh caught “Mac Community Fever” at C4 this year, writing in his blog about the dramatic change in attitude he received by attending the event:
I think there will always be this divide in my life: pre-C4 and post-. Because this weekend I learned that while a cluster of web developers in a room might always eye each other as competition, in the Mac universe we’re all in this together.
It’s not entirely true. There is some ferocious competition going on among our ranks, and some hostile relationships between certain parties where feathers have been ruffled in the past. But substantially, what Aaron describes is true. Developing for the Mac is a warm-fuzzy experience. The platform is big enough to be really exciting and offer opportunities, yet small enough that given a few years of attending events like these, you might end up kind of knowing everybody!
It’s pretty awe-inspiring to sit in the same room while the makers of competing products such as BBEdit and TextMate, or Transmit and Fetch discuss product design issues, laugh at each other’s jokes, and yes, withhold some of their more strategic plans! But almost everybody in the room, competitor or not, is respecting each other’s work, and having a great time.
Last quarter Apple announced sales of more than 1.7 million new Macs. Market share for our platform seems to be growing steadily as increasing numbers of Linux and Windows users decide to dip their toes into these tranquil Mac waters. It’s a great time to work on a platform where the majority of developers genuinely care for their colleagues, their products, and their customers. We’re in this together.
Rich Siegel, CEO of Bare Bones Software, has cautionary advice in the wake of all this growth. His views deserve our attention, because he represents one of the longest-standing indie software businesses still making software for the Mac. Following C4, Rich picked up on an issue raised in the mostly-disastrous panel discussion, an issue of the so-called “perpetual silly season.”
The question raised by DrunkenBatman was whether the increasing use of gimmick-marketing for Mac products had established a sort of pattern for cheaply made, deceptively marketed software as the wave of the Mac future. He suggests that such gimmicks have always been a component of the Mac market, but that the press used to serve as a more central resource for protecting consumers. Without offering any particularly solution, Rich asks us to consider for ourselves which way we want things to go:
Do we want the industry to continue in its best traditions, combined with the innovation made possible by improvements to the platform and the world at large? Or do we want to stand back and let the Mac software landscape become a mirror of the Windows software landscape: populated by used-car lots, and decorated with tumbleweeds?
It’s an appeal to Mac developers everywhere, that we maintain our high standards and commitment to quality, even as fly-by-night operations may pop up from time to time in an attempt to cheapen the industry. This is great advice, but why not keep it to himself? Wouldn’t it be smart to let his less idealistic competitors flail about and sell their cheap, gimmicky wares? Why go to the trouble of writing a thoughtful essay encouraging his competitors to make better products?
For one thing, I suspect Rich really likes sitting in a room full of inspired developers. The conferences would be a lot less fun if they were filled with shysters and snake-oil-salesmen. But his ambition to elevate his competitors also makes business sense. Consider the most popular, trendiest retail district in your town. There are many shops whose target markets overlap, and to some extent each shop is competing with the others to attract customers through their doors. But the district wouldn’t exist at all without the collective commitment to quality.
With rare exception, it’s the environment that brings the customers, not the individual retailers themselves. This is why Banana Republic would rather be situated next to Abercrombie & Fitch than next to Ross. The higher-quality A&F is certainly more of a direct competitor, but almost every customer it helps attract to the neighborhood is also a potential BR customer. They just have to put something of quality in the window display.
The Mac is a really attractive, trendy retail district. If the shops don’t remain classy, then the customers won’t keep coming. So it makes sense to support our competitors. We’re in this together.