This post is a bit of a whine, and a self-pitying one, so if you’re generally not into that or not in the mood for it right now, consider yourself forewarned.
Today I received an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, the general inbox for Readingly, the app I created from scratch and spend 99.9% of my free time thinking about, if not working on. I always get excited when I get emails there because it means someone is using the site and feels strongly enough about something to reach out. Cool! They’re not always positive emails. In fact, most of the time they are reports of bugs, suggestions for features, fixes, etc. But I love them. They help me find errors (and there are guaranteed to be errors in an application that now has tens of thousands of lines of codes and that *gulp* occasionally bursts through the limitations of the server it resides on) and prioritize my development priorities.
Well, the email I received today that complained about a bug in terms I found rather shocking, including “idiot”.
I thought about it quite a bit. I fixed the simple bug, informed the person that everything should be fine now, apologized, thanked them for feedback and ended my email with this PS:
"Readingly is still in beta and above all it is a free app designed, coded and maintained by exactly one person. Any constructive feedback is super helpful and cutting me a little slack is much appreciated."
I didn’t want to send back a negative response.. just a reminder that civility would be nice, given the circumstances. It must have worked as intended - a few minutes later the person responded:
"Hi Alex, You betcha! thanks!"
I could editorialize about how technology removes us from people and once confronted with a little humanity we are reminded of proper manners and set ourselves straight. But that’s a bit banal.
What I think is going on here - and this is instructive to me as a maker of stuff that I expect other people to use and not hate - is something more profound. For almost two decades now we have been inundated with free products and services on the internet and for better or worse they do incredible things. I suppose it is easy in this environment to expect everything to work perfectly and to work exactly as you would expect it to work. So, if you’re out there wondering about building something, don’t listen to the people telling you to JUST DO IT no matter what. Yes, do it, but know that if you put out stuff that is sub par, people have a very very fine layer of patience before they move on to another app or website. This isn’t to say that beta-testing doesn’t serve a purpose. There are glitches and bugs that you don’t realize could even exist until you get 10 or 100 people to use your product. However, there is a reason why they have private betas, and it’s not just to be super cool and exclusive.
On a more personal note, as a consumer of other internet services spoon-fed to me by incredible designers and engineers all around: next time you run into a bug or something that doesn’t work as expected, remember how hard it is to built perfection and how obnoxious you sound demanding it in exchange for the zero dollars you paid for most of those services.