Regarding reaction to the reaction to Sparrow being end-of-lined

Regarding reaction to the reaction to Sparrow being end-of-lined

Yesterday it was announced that Google had acquired Mac and iPhone Gmail app Sparrow, and that the Sparrow team would be joining the Gmail team, and Sparrow would be receiving no further updates.

Some users were really disappointed, and expressed as much here on iMore, on Twitter, and through various other mediums.

And that led to some push back from some developers. Matt Gemmell best framed the push-back, so not to single him out, but to provide context for the discussion, I'll link to his framing. Here's a brief excerpt of what he posted on mattgemmell.com, but do go read the whole thing before continuing here:

Cue predictable squawking on the internet. The same thing happens every time there’s an acquisition of a smaller, indie dev company or product by a larger company.

People try to dress their reaction up as a principled stance or a community cause, but that’s at best wrong-headed thinking, and at worst wilfully egocentric bullshit.

This is one of the most classic blunders in customer relationship management. No, not "never get involved in a land war in Asia...", but "never take up an equal and oppositely wrong headed, egocentric position in an argument".

The crux of this argument is that Sparrow doesn't owe users anything. Users paid, got the version of the app they paid for, the transaction was one-time and completed. And that users have no right to complain now.

The first few points are completely accurate. The last one, that users have no right to complain, is flabbergasting. (Yes, as someone who worked in software marketing for years, my gasts are literally flabbered.)

Certainly there's a segment of the user base that is outrageously entitled. There are those who believe that they shouldn't have to pay for software, even though they themselves get paid for their work, or who run beta operating systems or jailbreak and then leave negative reviews for apps they themselves broke, or that once they buy one version of an app, they're forever owed all future versions, for free. All of which is nonsense.

However, there's also a segment of the developer community that's just as outrageously entitled. That believe their success is detached from their user base. That they can act anyway they like, and that any negative reaction by their user base should be dismissed at best, attacked at worst. All of which is also nonsense.

Both beliefs do a disservice to the developer-user relationship, a relationship that can be powerfully beneficial for all parties involved.

There's a middle ground here. We can be thrilled for the Sparrow team's success and thrilled for Google for acquiring their talent. We can look forward to everything they'll bring us in the future. But we can also mourn for Sparrow,for an app we enjoyed and recommended highly, that we made part of our workflow and may soon need to replace, that now has no future.

A developer is no more obliged to keep updating an app in perpetuity, for any reason, than a user is obliged to purchase every update a developer ever releases, forever. Apple can stop making iWork and I can stop buying iWork updates. Adobe can stop making Photoshop and I can stop buying Photoshop updates.

If something happens beyond a developer's control, however, and they can no longer sell their app -- if it's rejected or removed from the App Store, if an API they depend on is threatened or denied them, if they're copied by the platform owner - they have every right to be pissed, or sad, or to complain about it. (Just look at the complaints about sandboxing and Twitter uncertainty) -- all well justified.)

And by the same token, if something happens beyond a user's control, and a they can no longer buy an app -- if it's removed from sale due to litigation, if it's discontinued, if an intermediary like Apple refuses to sell it -- they have just as much right to be pissed, sad, and complain.

A passionate customer base should be humbly nurtured, never taken for granted, or worse, arrogantly dismissed. If you're a developer, understanding that can be the difference between amazing customer relationship wins and detrimental public relations gaffs.

The reaction to Sparrow is no different than than the reaction to Tweetie being replaced by the new Twitter for iPhone. It's no different than the reaction to Firefly being canceled.

Humans become invested in what we enjoy. We feel connected to it. We share pride in its successes and take issue with its failures. The benefit to those who develop or produce such things is enormous -- continued revenue, powerful word-of-mouth advertising, popularity, and support.

Our passion for products is infectious -- we tell our friends, our families, and our colleagues, and we spread word on Twitter, Facebook, forums, and more. We recommend what we love and we feel responsible for what we recommend.

And the flip side of that passion, the reaction to it being lost, the price paid when it is taken away, is that we voice our displeasure just as loudly, in just as many mediums. We mourn. And then we move on.

If you break up any relationship out of the blue, own it. Anticipate the reaction. Plan for it and handle it with grace and respect. The Sparrow team did just that. They sympathize, thanked, acknowledge, and used the opportunity to build even stronger support for the future.

But whatever you do, don't ever tell users -- customers -- that they don't have the right to complain, because then you're turning them into opponents. And how much opportunity does that future hold?

Response to: Matt Gemmell

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 33 comments. Add yours.

vmstan says:

Bravo Rene, insightful as usual. Couldn't agree more.

Craig says:

The issue is far more reaching than the right to complain, it includes simple respect. Once money exchanges hands and a software is purchased, the company has a new customer. This customer has the basic rights of other customers in all walks of sales, not just software. If I buy a widget that controls something for my business and I come to rely on that widget and the company sells out and stops making that widget, I certainly as a long time paying customer have a right to complain, and anyone feeling differently has a mixed up sense of basic respect and customer / client relationships. I am using Sparrow as my main email. I have set it up from scratch twice. I have passed on other products as I thought Sparrow would be a long term solution. If Google buries it, I will be upset, will complain and rightfully so.... as software not be part of the disposable lighter outlook on consumerism. Makes me think people start businesses to just get bought out.

Paulyboy says:

Great article and I generally agree. I don't blame them at all for this decision. However, I find it odd that the Sparrow Mac client had a widely advertised sale like two weeks ago for $4.99 (50% off). I didn't bite (I have the free version but still use Mail anyways) but they must have know about this acquisition by then? If so then why have such a sale without even mentioning it? Granted it was only $5 we're talking about and the software should still work for awhile but still.

This brings up an interesting thought about Tweetbot for Mac. I don't think Tapbots will be acquired by anybody or anything but it's possible 3rd party Twitter apps could be shut out soon after the Mac version goes up for sale. Will people still buy it knowing that? (I will in this case)

phreddyl says:

Sadly I am one of the suckers that fell for the $5 sale- Kinda ticks me off that after two weeks i am hosed...

johncblandii says:

Beyond all the many words, I disagree with a lot and agree with some.

1) The majority of the reactions were at the fact it was Google. Dumb stuff like "uninstalling now" has NOTHING to do with updates stopping. It is 100% pure disdain for Google, which is stupid seeing as they obviously use Gmail if they're a Sparrow customer.

2) It is absolutely best for them to stop updates. It will be free and integrated so there is no need to continue with the Sparrow name as Gmail will be the obvious.

3) Gremmell made a ton of spot on points; namely, once the transaction is complete Sparrow owes nothing to the user but bug fixes. The same goes for any software.

I'll stop there but users with dumb remarks about the purchase because it was Google are just that...dumb. Had Apple bought Sparrow, many of the exact same people would have rejoiced and you know it then those that rejoiced now but don't like Apple would have whined.

Fraydog#IM says:

Here's the issue I have, as someone who understands and gets why Sparrow sold out. Why is Google then transferring people from Sparrow to other projects? Sounds to me like Google isn't being completely transparent with people as far as what they wish to do. I'd rather they say "we're keeping the Sparrow team on a new project to build a superior GMail client." At least that would give people an idea of what the acquisition is for.

Dev from tipb says:

Where has it been said the team is being dispersed, or even moved to a different part of google? The only article discussing the teams disposition was on the verge, and they said the Spartow team was being incorporated into the gmail team.

[ http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/20/3172365/sources-google-sparrow-25-mill... ]

Edit: Added link to verge article

johncblandii says:

Exactly. Sparrow themselves said they are moving to the Gmail team. That's spot on perfect for them.

cardfan says:

I agree with some of what he said as well in general although most of it sounded juvenile. It really depends on the situation though.

I had never heard of Gemmell to be honest. His only paid iOS app looked to be last updated about two years ago with complaints about the last update being buggy. One has to wonder if has enough experience with mobile app marketing (or marketing in general) to be handing out advice about it.

johncblandii says:

How often he's updated an app or how many public facing apps you can see are a non-factor in the credibility of his statements. He's an indie dev. He gets it.

The words of a crack-head telling you to not smoke crack is no less important than a pastor telling you the same.

dev84 says:

"1) The majority of the reactions were at the fact it was Google. Dumb stuff like "uninstalling now" has NOTHING to do with updates stopping. It is 100% pure disdain for Google, which is stupid seeing as they obviously use Gmail if they're a Sparrow customer."

Wrong, I use Gmail for Junk mail and I have no problem with Google. Sparrow was more than just for Gmail. Sparrow was a robust email client and Gmail support was just a bonus. A lot of user are pissed, myself included because this is going to kill an amazing mail client just so Google has a way to get their crap to get there and make a better gmail client.

The people that are bitching about Google are people that don't use Google stuff period, I don't want to call them paranoid, but these are the people that don't use Facebook and don't like be tracked… I seem them complaining over at The Verge.

"2) It is absolutely best for them to stop updates. It will be free and integrated so there is no need to continue with the Sparrow name as Gmail will be the obvious."

Man, what is it with so many people thinking that Sparrow was just a stupid Gmail client? The world does not involve around Gmail. What was fueling the backlash most of all, is Sparrow was an app that supported your own domain, yahoo, gmail, hotmail, @me and more and now its dead. From its ashes there will be a stupid Gmail only app with Drive integration instead of Dropbox.

dev84 says:

"Had Apple bought Sparrow, many of the exact same people would have rejoiced and you know it then those that rejoiced now but don't like Apple would have whined."

You bet your god damn ass I would have rejoiced if Apple bought them. Not because I am Anti-Google or Ant-Android. I use Google Services daily and own Nexus 7, Gnexus. I would have rejoiced because Apple buying it would mean the default iOS and OS X mail clients would be so much better with The Sparrow team involved that supported more than just crummy gmail.

So Google buys Sparrow… Resulting Product will be just limited to Gmail

Apple buy Sparrow…. Resulting Product would have been what Sparrow already is… A Robust email client that supports more than just Gmail.

johncblandii says:

"So Google buys Sparrow… Resulting Product will be just limited to Gmail"
Maybe. Don't be so quick to be pessimistic.

"Apple buy Sparrow…. Resulting Product would have been what Sparrow already is… A Robust email client that supports more than just Gmail."
Maybe but you possibly would have had to wait 3 years to see any of it and the gmail integration would probably be lessened completely due to Apple's beef w/ Google.

johncblandii says:

1) I never saw email integration for other clients so I'll concede on that one. Thx for clarifying.
2) Gmail was their defining feature. I used it and it never prompted me to add a different type of email so I had no clue.

With that said, you're making a grave assumption that Google will kill off all other support. They might but it is highly likely they don't but we'll see.

Rene Ritchie says:

John,

Number three is completely untrue. Again, I worked in software marketing for years, and that attitude ignores the incredibly powerful relationship a passionate, engaged user base can provide.

Users don't "owe" developers ratings, recommendations, reviews, etc. but developers with smart CRM can benefit hugely from these things. Every relationship is a 2-way street, though.

Two people can meet, change money, and never see each other again. That provides limited value to both.

On the other hands, strong customer relationships can provide long term value to both.

There are certainly entitled users who boggle the brain, but some devs can be entitled to, to their own detriment.

The Google remarks were dumb, which is why I ignored them.

johncblandii says:

#3 isn't incorrect. It isn't as deep as you're discussing.

I'm merely saying the transaction is complete. Nothing is required from either side. To foster a community, you need to do as you suggest and build that relationship but it is never required.

So I agree it is best for both to foster that relationship but paying $N doesn't require it beyond the terms and conditions, privacy policy, and the promised support terms.

Coming from someone being a customer, developer and marketing products as well.

bluztoo says:

I too am looking for some commitment to continue what the product brought us - a simple, but highly usable interface for gmail. I'm happy for the folks who were successful and got a great payday. But, as a consumer I am a little angry and fear that Google won't come through. And I'd be just as upset if it had been Apple or Microsoft who had bought Sparrow. I had recommended the sale price to a lot of people - feel like that makes me look stupid too.

9thWonder says:

people have an unrealistic expectation of entitlement. All you bought was software. You got it. Anything else is a bonus. People love to stop progress.They got their company sold. Great for them. Don't like it now? Use a different app. But way too much whining.

phreddyl says:

When I company makes a big push to sell their app the last few weeks only to turn around and sell it. It leaves the consumer who just purchased that app feeling hosed.

johncblandii says:

That's an assumption at best. Instagram was bought over a weekend, from jump to contracts signed. This could have happened here as well.

BUT...it is possible they knew about this for weeks and if so, I agree, that's shady.

raylusk says:

No we don't have an unrealistic sense of entitlement. The developers of sparrow for ios specifically said when they first released the product that future updates would include push notifications and a client for the iPad. Now that they have been bought out, they will fail to deliver on what they promised for those of us that funded the early development of the product. What they have done is clearly unethical and as far as I am concerned, Apple needs to look at forcing them to refund the money of those that want a refund. App developers will suffer for this kind of arrogance. You can bet I won't buy an app again based on promised updates. These guys are crooks as far as I am concerned.

johncblandii says:

All you're entitled to is the product you bought. That's it. You bought what was there and that's what they owed you.

If they planned a super-special feature then decided not to do it, for whatever reason, it wouldn't be unethical then so it isn't because they won out and got seriously paid.

dev84 says:

I am still pissed because I used the iOS and OS X default mail clients for a couple of Junk gmail accounts.

I was using Sparrow for my own domains email addresses, my iTunes Apple ID address and my iCloud address. I had to stop because in iOS 6 Sparrow don't work right at all. Doubt it ever will now.

jhrogersii says:

The more unsettling part of this for me is the "sellout" mentality that seems to pervade Silicon Valley. It seems that the goal for most developers isn't to build a business around quality software and services. It's to sell out to a big company like Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Facebook.

What are users left with? Fewer outlets to turn to, less choice, and a string of dead or dying software and services. For every product that one of the big guys turns into something, there are so many that show promise that are killed just to get talent, and even worse, take them out of the equation to lessen competition. Some of you may hold out hope that Sparrow may become the new iOS Gmail client, but don't hold your breath. It isn't going to happen. It will join Wave and Buzz on the growing Google scrap pile. And don't get me wrong. I am well aware that Apple and Microsoft have killed their share of startups, as well.

My point? How will customers ever have a choice if there aren't some developers out there who are willing to stick it out and build themselves and their services into something. I applaud Dropbox for not selling out to Apple and become the next iDisk, but rather becoming something more, and really changing the way people think about and use online storage. I just wish there were more who won't just sell as soon as the first offer comes in, but will instead become viable alternatives for the future.

johncblandii says:

"The more unsettling part of this for me is the "sellout" mentality that seems to pervade Silicon Valley. It seems that the goal for most developers isn't to build a business around quality software and services. It's to sell out to a big company like Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Facebook."

Sometimes, yes, but not always. Many people truly want to build a great business but if you're offered $N Million and you aren't already rich...that's highly appealing. Everyone has a price point unless they are established and doing really well.

Gmerin says:

Sorry to see the new Google employee express the apparently official Google corporate position that customers' concerns are merely "egocentric bullshit". When Matt spoke only for Sparrow that was probably acceptable there; wonder if it's acceptable at Google for employees to set company policy in their blogs.

raylusk says:

The real issue here is that these app developers release incomplete products because they need income and they practically beg us consumers to buy their apps that are missing important features by telling us that future updates will include those features. Well many of us consumers understand the need for these app developers to eat while they are working on these apps so we go along and buy in early trusting that we will get these missing features. That is what I did with sparrow for ios. The big thing it was missing was push notification. Sparrow even talked about setting up their own servers in order to add this feature. Now they get their big payout and tell their customers too bad for you. Well what they have done is make it more difficult for future app developers. I bet I won't be the only one that learned to not to jump in early based on promised to be released features. And now to make it worse we have other developers telling us we are expecting too much. Well guess what you unethical app developers, good luck earning money by releasing products that are incomplete. The more us consumers see you behave this way, the less likely we are to support you.

newsome says:

2 points -

1) Most developers would kill for the kind of passion for an app that Sparrow has cultivated for theirs, and it's quite hypocritical of them to now criticize those that are passionate.

2) From Sparrow's blog: "Push is coming." That's their words, an implied contract with their users. I purchased the app based on that implied contract, and I think Apple should make Sparrow issue a refund to those that want one. I bought the app with Sparrow's promise that push was coming. Deliver or refund my money. Period.

Salaryman Ryan says:

Excellent piece, enjoyed reading the well though out insight. As for Apple theoretically acquiring Sparrow...I believe this will produce more positive then negative vibes from the community. Apple has a good track record (perhaps better track record then Google) of properly utilizing its acquisitions. It would have been great to get to get a Sparrow like interface for Apple's mail.

Exechobo says:

Rene- nice writing as usual- good on ya!

Days later...I have been doing maintenance on the 4 main email accounts I use. They were happily working well in Sparrow, finally. I was loving the UI, the ability to tag all mail. But the fact I was still not able to use it on my iPad, and the iOS vs OSX experience was so different kept me from being overly invested in Sparrow.

I am a capitalist. I get it. Sell to Google, Amazon, Apple. It's business, and a damn good one. But... Hose customers who were buying the app hours before the deal? Aggravate users who had been champions? These are cavalier actions, that while not even close to unethical, are certainly not at all in the vein of the customer centric model espoused by developers, and well, just about anyone not working for, say, a big oil company, law firm, or bank! (well, alright, or maybe for Twitter or Facebook.) But screw it, hard work pays off, and Karma is not a proven construct.

The impact on me?
1) Migrate my 12 year old Gmail account to be the one for the wierd people who send all the Walmart people messages and jokes.
2) Establish my own domain mails as the ones I use
3) investigate Apple's .me/.iCloud mail- what the hell, maybe my .mac identity can be changed to one that is useful for other than iTunes? At least Apple would never turn off or neglect an app/service like, well, never mind.
4) Hope that Apple "Sherlocks" the sh!t outa Sparrow.
5) Move on, note that some app developers are as avaricious as AT&T, or at least as unconcerned with those they had sold stuff to, and avoid attachment to other apps I loved.

Paul

iMoor says:

Umm... It doesn't really make sense to flabber your gasts. Etymology is your friend: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/flabbergast . Just sayin'.