I’m a fan of the ATP 1. On a recent episode they talked about the amount of time one of the hosts, Marco Arment, spends on responding to email regarding his podcasting app Overcast. The gist 2 is that Marco doesn’t respond to much, if any, email regarding his app. I don’t think that’s the best thing for the community that’s developed around his code. I encourage
developers creators of anything to rethink how they handle communication from their customers.
Marco is a successful one man shop. He’s the engineer behind the successful tumblr and Instapaper among other accomplishments. I like him and I think he’s one of the good ones 3. He obviously knows what he’s doing.
I understand where he’s coming from when it comes to feedback and engaging with folks, especially over things like bugs and feature requests. It takes time that isn’t coding and that can sometimes feel like ‘not work’.
But nurturing the community around your product/service 4 is work and it’s incredibly important. Just as important as every line of code you type.
Ignorance is Bliss
People don’t know you’re a one-person shop. They don’t think about the expectation of support from one $5 app from a larger company 5 compared to that of a smaller company. They don’t know that the app was made by a team of 10 in an organization of 10,000.
They might do a little research, ask a friend what they recommend, and then hit the App Store to download something to solve their need or want.
Frankly they shouldn’t care. Some level of support is expected. I don’t view it as an entitlement, but perhaps more of an expectation of doing business. If you contact a business, of any size, I don’t think it’s crazy to expect a response.
Look at the use and success of tools like Yelp. Why does Yelp exist? What’s the most unusual and valuable part of that service? The reviews! Businesses (smart ones at least) care about what people are saying on Yelp. They respond with sincerity and engage with their customers.
Ignorance also goes the other way. How you respond is how you will be perceived. Not caring what customers think of your company and product is inviting ignorance into your work.
It’s also a humbling thing to receive feedback and questions. You do not know it all. No one does. Ignoring or mocking the idea of responding to email from people shows arrogance. I can’t believe I’m referencing a Reddit comment as part of my argument, but, in this thread asking “What is the most unflattering thing a person can do to themselves?” someone said:
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”
While you could argue that responding to emails might not help your code – responding to people is being nice. That’s more important than one more bug fix or one little tweak to the UI. Letting people in, shedding some of their ignorance and empowering them with knowledge is helpful to you and the community at large.
They took their time. That’s what is valuable. Your customer’s time. Not the novelty. Not the accuracy. Their time. It doesn’t even register to them that their bug report or suggestion is the 500th in a long line of similar suggestions. Their time is equally important as your time. Thinking and acting otherwise shows hubris and arrogance. They are working for you by using their time to give feedback, ask a question, or file a complaint.
It Pays Off
Terry Gross had this great interview with David Remnick the editor from The New Yorker.
At the end of the interview Gross asks if Remnick asks him about his time and how he manages responding to every inquiry regarding The New Yorker.
From the transcript:
REMNICK: Bring it on. The odds are tough. I remember when I was in my 20s, I sent William Shawn a query letter, and I got an answer. And I never forgot getting an answer.
GROSS: What was the answer?
REMNICK: The answer was no (laughter). But I never forgot the time that was taken to write a cogent, short note about why not. And I also remember when I submitted my first piece to The New Yorker, which was happily accepted by Gottlieb – by Bob Gottlieb – he answered that day – that night. And I’ll never forget that. And I know in my heart that I’m falling short all the time in a million different ways, but I try to answer emails, letters, phone calls because I know not only is it the right human thing to do, I think, but also, once in a blue moon, it’s going to pay off. Once in a blue moon, you are going to get a short story, a suggestion, an idea that’s going to find its way into The New Yorker and be something or someone brilliant. And that’s part of the job. And it’s a delightful one.
Accidental Tech Podcast↩
So are the rest of the hosts of ATP. All good people. All doing amazing things. All are mensches for taking time out to share their thoughts with us.↩
What you do could be for-profit, proprietary, or non-profit, open-source, whatever. It doesn’t matter.↩
Say Adobe, or even medium-sized like Panic or Savage Interactive (The folks behind Procreate)↩