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The real reason we’re upset about Sparrow’s acquisition (elezea.com)
396 points by pascal07 on July 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

Unfortunately, this is what you get when you pay $10 for an app.

There is a huge disparity when it comes to the cost of apps these days vs the salaries required to sustain the engineers who make those apps. Even at $10/pop, you need to sell a lot of apps just to sustain the salaries of very good engineers, and THIS is what makes great products vulnerable to acqui-hires.

The problem is that the $0.99 model of the App Store makes a $10 app look ridiculously expensive, especially when there are free alternatives out there, even though it's only 2 Starbucks coffees. And even though $10 is worth it.

It's the price of the apps that have drastically lowered the expectations of what people need to pay for software, and this goes in direct conflict to the rising costs of great engineers' salaries.

I'm not sure what the exact price point is, but my guess is that people need to start getting used to the idea of spending $30-50 PER YEAR in a subscription model for a great app in order to create enough monetary incentive for the developers to keep their products alive. Otherwise Google and Facebook will continue to drop the bills and pick off the best teams who eventually get tired of the smaller comparative payoffs that these apps bring in.

I don't understand this argument at all. None of it. It's odd and quite frankly silly. It doesn't matter if the app was $10. Enterprise software companies, that sell for 5, 6 and 7 figures get acquired all the time. Their offerings then get EOL'ed many times. Free doesn't help you. $30 doesn't help you. $1 million doesn't help you. If a larger company believes that acquiring smaller company is attractive and writes a big check then that's what happens. The only determinant I can see is if you want a lifestyle business where you're always the master of your own domain. That seems to be the only reasons folks won't sell (Marco won't move a family to the Valley - at least not unless he gets a LOT of money)

When did we all start pining for everything to be the same forever?

> When did we all start pining for everything to be the same forever?

Since time immemorial... it’s one of the few constants of human nature that does stay the same.

If anyone is truly pining for everything to be the same forever then they're in luck, because Sparrow won't be changing anymore...

Open source helps if your app has a functioning eco-system.

Oracle couldn't kill Open Office for example.

Open Office killed Open Office.

Openoffice was dead to begin with; it never had a dev ecosystem outside of the people sun paid. All it did was kill more promising linux office projects (koffice, the gnome efforts).

https://www.libreoffice.org/ is what it became, aside the ORA-IBM Apache project.

LO is actively developed and supported by both local and really Small ME-s, and the https://www.documentfoundation.org/

This is very very true. Their overall top grossing US rank (on iPhone) was stabilizing in the 500-700 range (after generally declining for months[1]), which equates to tens of thousands of dollars per month from my understanding. I'm sure they made some from their Mac app as well. This is GOOD MONEY, don't get me wrong. But you'd have to really love self-employment to take this over a $2M payout and a $200k comp package (stock, benefits, etc).

If I were to guess, these guys were also buried in support from paying customers who felt entitled to it. What are the economics of technical support for a $2.99 app?

[1] Source of the rank data-- requires an account but worth it if you're interested in this stuff: http://www.appannie.com/app/ios/492573565/ranking/history/#v...

Here's a screenshot if you don't want to create an account: https://skitch.com/webwright/eenji/sparrow-rank-history-app-...

Mac app had a run rate of over $1m its first six months, per this interview: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-08-26/tech/30036420...

Who knows what was happening internally, but on the surface: strong team of 5, $1-1.5m revenue their first year, tremendous reputation and another product in the pipeline. What more could you ask for to make a long term go of it?

Talking about run rates in the first 6 months is iffy. The run rate difference between #5 and #26 (where they are now on the Mac App Store) grossing are huge. Order of magnitude huge. How much of that $500k was when they were featured and making their initial splash? What's their daily run rate now at #26? What's the trend? I'd wager it's been down steadily if it's anything like the iOS app store.

I don't know about the Mac App store, but on the iPhone, their daily revenue was in a state of decline. There is SO much gravity in the app store. Stuff falls-- it's the natural state for almost all apps unless you have an ARPU or some marketing hack to counteract it.

I'm not saying they were in a crappy position-- though I'm not sure that a $2.99 / $9.99 email client is a good business bet for 5 engineers. Email is complex/weird and users will want support-- with a LTV of $2/$6, it's really hard to afford to support them well. You can't afford marketing. You're competing with $200k comp packages for your team.

The Mac App Store has a lot less competition and high quality apps have a lot more staying power compared to the iOS App Store. There are fewer apps to crowd you out of the market, and the high quality ones (of which Sparrow definitely qualifies) stand out a lot more.

The article says they made "more than half a million" in the first six months on the Mac App Store, not $1M. Since then, they've consistently been in the Top 50 on the Mac App Store, so the numbers have likely sustained over time.

$1-1.5m per year is a realistic estimate, IMO. Of course, if Google was offering the rumored $25M, taking a 25x payday is pretty hard to resist.

As a matter of economics, $25 million in one lump sum is always better than the same $25 million spread out over more than one year.

With the lump sum, you can do whatever you wanted to do, now. With the "annuity", you must continue earning the annuity each year, which significantly limits your options.

What does "stabilizing in the 500-700 rank" mean?

There's a Top 1000 Grossing Apps list for iPhone that is track-able. They are in that list in the 500-700 range. Here's a screenshot of their graph so you don't have to create an appannie account: https://skitch.com/webwright/eenji/sparrow-rank-history-app-...

This is spot on. Thanks to the App Store, the days of paying $30+ for boxed software and paying again every year or so for version n+1 (assuming it comes out at all) are pretty far back in the rear view mirror now.

I paid $10 for Sparrow and got far more than $10 in value from it. So while I am disappointed that the best email app I have seen is EOL'd now I did get a decent value and I can't complain a whole lot. I am no worse off than had I bought a boxed copy of software with no promise for updates ever.

I would have paid $30 up front for Sparrow and purchased a large feature release for that price later down the line. Happily. That is a price far more in line with the value delivered.

How do we recalibrate people's expectations about the value of software back to pre-2008 levels? Not everything can or should cost a buck.

"Not everything can or should cost a buck."

When I talk to many developers they tell me that everything should be free.

How do you recalibrate the consumer's perception of the value of software, when so many developers don't value software either?

Exactly! When the torrentfreak folks start bitching about Kim Dotcom's problems, I think about that very point. How can anyone expect to be paid for their labor in creating something while at the same time arguing for wholesale software/music/movie theft under the shoddy justification that the marginal cost of digital content is nearly zero.

I guess they are meaning "free as in freedom" which is something that comes up time and time again thanks to the FSFs insistence on using poor wording.

I don't think that developers don't "value" software. It would be a push to suggest that people who use Linux,Apache or Emacs don't see any "value" to them.

I'm sure if they though about it they could probably assign a high dollar amount that would reflect the utility they receive from these programs.

Personally I don't have a problem either paying for a commercial software or using an open source alternative.

It's when an application is either free (as in $0 or outrageously cheap) and closed source and I can't "get" the developer's business model that I would be very hesitant to rely on it.

> I guess they are meaning "free as in freedom"

Not necessarily. Most of the software developers use - from IDEs/editors, through version control, synchronization, web stack, to server software and even the basic but important tools like ls or grep - is free. Free as in "free beer". We are used to get tremendous value for free. We are used to give away value for free. And I'm not surprised that many developers (myself included) like this utopia, even if it is not currently sustainable.

Open source is a sustainable way of making software a zero money cost though. The contract is basically that they allow you to use the software on the basis that you might give some value back in the form of patches, bug reports or even just asking intelligent questions on their forum or paying for commercial support. Even if you don't they don't really lose anything.

A huge amount of OSS is fairly "developer facing" too, with possible exceptions of stuff like firefox of VLC (few people would imagine paying for a media player or browser today).

I agree though that bad FOSS evangelism may be partly to blame, if you tell everyone to "use Linux because it is free, all software should be free!" without explaining that price not the important part of the equation and you are a software developer yourself then I guess you can't be too surprised if people see that as endorsement to pirate Photoshop.

"How do we recalibrate people's expectations about the value of software back to pre-2008 levels?"

As someone who wasn't quite old enough to be interested in following this when it happened, I feel the need to ask:

Why did the App Store affect pre-2008 price-levels as much as it did?

Were most apps this cheap at the launch of the App Store, or did it lower over the year(s)?

Did Apple set any guidelines for the price-levels of apps, thus creating the levels we're seeing today, or was it entirely up to the developers?

The early days of the App Store were a gold rush. People were able to make a good chunk of money off a $5 app. That brought in investment dollars (angel or internal corporate development) that allowed prices to be lowered because there was less direct need to have revenue and costs line up. Over time, that pushed the prices down lower.

Customers became accustomed to getting an amazing app for $0.99 (or even free), so they complain at best and refuse to buy at worst if the price is much higher.

Apple never provided any guidelines on pricing. The market went where it wanted to.

I know I'm not the only one, but I rarely buy iphone/ios apps, mostly because there's often no trial process, and there's no return/refund policy. Yes, it might get abused, but give vendors the ability to do more (time limited trials, functional trials with in-app upgrades, etc). Some vendors try to provide this, but... they're fighting against Apple App Store policies.

Yes, you can argue "hey, it's just $x" ($2? $1? $3?) Over time, those tend to add up, and when there's no recourse, I'd rather just not participate much.

Prices were slightly higher at launch, with $4.99 and $9.99 being fairly common price points. (Super Monkey Ball, the first heavily-promoted game I can recall, was $9.99.) But by Christmas 2008, less than a year later, prices were about what they were today.

In my opinion / recollection, prices dropped because some developers experimented and discovered that they could make more money at $0.99 - the increased unit sales more than made up for it. Of course, those increased unit sales were partly because they were one of the few quality applications selling at $0.99 - and once the other developers saw how the $0.99 apps were cannibalizing their $4.99 sales, they followed along to compete.

I don't recall Apple influencing pricing publicly, but god knows if they had any discussions with their initial, pre-announcement partners. It wouldn't surprise me if they pushed Sega to get Super Monkey Ball out at $9.99, since it sold for much more than this on earlier game platforms, but that's just me speculating.

How do we recalibrate people's expectations about the value of software back to pre-2008 levels?

One suggestion: Stop trying to push the cutting edge forward and start delivering value to people in the technical stone ages. In other words: B2B.

Stop focusing on entertainment or social value and make something that actually makes or saves money. People are still paying $12,000 per seat per year for the Bloomberg Terminal. Make another one of those.

> Thanks to the App Store, the days of paying $30+ for boxed software and paying again every year or so for version n+1 (assuming it comes out at all) are pretty far back in the rear view mirror now.

I think this is overblown. There are a lot of business models, many that don't revolve around app-store-like freemium or one-time $1 purchases. They are waiting to be used. In the enterprise world, I don't think the app store has even made a dent in purchasing decisions.

Many users actually think everything should be free.

And they even claim they are 'ripped off' because the free version of software does not do 'X'. And they post bad reviews and send hate emails. (First hand experience).

Somehow, thanks for Facebook and Google, people feel entitled to free software and service.

I actually think we have Piracy to thank for this and perhaps to a lesser extent Open Source.

There seems to exist a group of people who feel that piracy isn't just something that you do because you can't afford product X and feel marginally guilty about doing but something that is somehow a fundamental human right in a "people who pay for software are mugs" sort of way.

Tell me about it - several of my friends who aren't very tech-savvy would nevertheless go to great lengths in order to have someone jailbreak their iPhones - not to escape the walled garden or other greater reasons, but simply because they heard there's free stuff to get. Of course this isn't limited to software as those are the same people that haven't bought an album in years.

I know someone who jailbroke his iPhone so he didn't have to pay for a $10 navigation app to use to navigate his $40,000 Mercedes.

It's weird what triggers one's aversion to spending money. I had to really struggle with myself to buy the GBP4 app that let my GPB400 tablet do the very thing I bought it for. It feels actually offensive to be asked to pay for internet, though I'll happily pay for overpriced drinks in a place that does "free" internet.

There's something very wrong with people who pay $80/mo for a smartphone contract and don't want to pay $1 for an app.

It's much harder to circumvent the $80, otherwise they would.

Did they go so far as to pay someone to jailbreak for them? Or buy a jailbreak utility?

No, they just ask, express their interest and I usually try to explain that it isn't a very good idea to jailbreak - especially if you don't know what you're doing.

> Open Source.

I actually think this is the opposite. Open source users tend to be more informed and thus more understanding to software issues. They post bug reports and even talk to devs when required.

Someone who bought a piece of software will complain until it works as expected.

Depends on the software, I know plenty of non techy people who use firefox and openoffice and I would bet that the majority of them have no idea at all that the source code is available online. They just think of it as "free beer" which is fine because they are not devs so having the code would be of limited use to them.

If open source software crashes on them they would just swear at it in the same way they would proprietary software, it wouldn't occur to them to take a stack trace and file a bug report (I guess this is why firefox offers to do this automatically).

Some of us believe that copyrights impoverish society, and that paying for copyrighted content is encouraging the draconian copyright regime.

I personally use free software, but I'd rather pirate something than encourage copyright-ridden software.

"piracy" is accepting something that is being shared with you.

In a support email, someone demanded that we refund his money because our app was a piece of crap. The app has always been free. I told him this and he retorted that he had jail broken his phone, and doesn't pay for apps.

So... he just randomly writes to people demanding refunds for stuff he didn't buy? And somehow imagines that 'refunds' will be processed on purchases that never happened?

Are people really that a) stupid and/or b) evil?

You have never worked in a call center for cheap product ... my gf worked in a call center for telephony card. Granted, they are shady with very weird pricing model, but still, people would just call to get refunded for their "lost" credit all the time all the time. (the connection didn't work ... but sir, you spent 2 hours ... yes but it was not my brother it was his wife) They would call if they found a empty card on the street to try to get some credit back.

You quickly lose your faith in humanity when you sell large volume of cheap stuff.

I'm going to assume it was either someone young or from a developing country who assumed there was an off chance that they would plop $4.99 or whatever into his account.

How much would Sparrow have had to sell for in order to make a $25mil offer from Google not seem attractive? Would you have still bought Sparrow at that price?

It's easy to blame the app store and focus on Apple here, because Sparrow runs on Apple products, but it's not Apple's fault. Developers have given away software products for less than $0.99 since long before Apple conceived of an app store.

Open source software is free. Firefox is free. Thunderbird is free. That anyone would pay for an email client at all is exceptional.

It's not Apple who is at fault here -- it's us.

Why? People pay for quality and the OSS email apps tend to be unlovable. Sparrow proved there's a market willing to pay for better clients but Apple doesn't want their money and nobody else seems interested in trying for it.

Yeah, but the market is tiny

A better email client can only go so far:

- Gmail is already a great email client, I just plug other accounts into it

- I really want a good email client. For Linux

- Outlook/Thunderbird/Evolution may be bad, but they're usually good enough

I always thought, or at least hoped, that the economy of scale will allow $0.99 software to be profitable. That software would be so cheap, that you don't think even twice. But because millions do the same, the developers can still become rich.

Right now, there might be a few dozen million clients on the app store. What if someday there will be a few billions?

It depends how many people are going to use your software which is some function of your marketing, how good it is and how many people would find any use in it at all.

I'm not going to download an app that is useless to me, even if it costs nothing.

Obviously there are only so many people who use email and only so many of those are interested in using an alternative client.

The funny thing is, they probably should have priced lower. If you look at their rank history on Mac and iOS, they saw big grossing rank bumps the few times they dropped the price.

Maybe that's just a short-term effect (yay, sale!), but based on the week they sold Sparrow for $4.99, there's a good chance they would have made more long term.

App store economics are weird.

We (most in this discussion) seem to forget that the advent of $10 or $0.99 app actually expanded the market. As in, more people paid money for software than before, thus paying for more indy/non-indy developers.

So let me say this again. The App store, with its $1-5 apps, is a good thing for the developers as well as the users.

How is $10 even an argument? Expensive software companies get acquired all the time, not just $1 App Store devs.

What's the point of paying at all if it's going to be acquired? Seems to be you could save a bit of money by just stealing it until it gets acquired, then download the free version legally. I'm all for supporting independent developers, but I feel like I'm wasting money when I buy an app that's just going to be free in the future anyway.

In 1998 we wouldn't of complained - at least me.

It is 2012, and when I purchase software, I don't buy into the premise that this software is going to be static for perpetuity, and this is because of the fast-paced nature of OS, platform and web evolution.

I "marry" the software I love, and I am very happy to pay for upgrades. I upgrade my Mac the day after a new OS X version is released, not only that, but I use non-large company software every day for years: Panic, Bjango, Made@Gloria, etc.

When I buy software, I don't only buy into the software I get, but I support it because I think it has a bright and better future. If I knew the developer was to stop development going forward, I would simply not support it.

Going forward, if I find that a small/medium developer has received capital from an angel or VC, I am going to stay away from it (I already decided not to use Foursquare, Path, Highlight, Kik and many other mobile apps for this reason) - the investor will have the need to flip the company, whatever the outcome for the software is.

> When I buy software, I don't only buy into the software I get, but I support it because I think it has a bright and better future.

Eric S Raymond made this point in "The Manufacturing Delusion" (http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/homesteading/magic-cauldron...). The value of software to a user lies more in the expected future value of updates than in the immediate value of using the software. This is true regardless of whether you pay for the software up front, and regardless of whether you expect to pay for the updates.

I would add this: the cost to a user of software is also much more than its price. To use software means investing time and effort into it, regardless of whether you paid any money for it. Then, as time goes on, you come to rely on the software's presence--you build your habits around the assumption that it is available, and bear the risk of disruption if it suddenly isn't. These hidden, non-monetary costs can be far larger than the monetary price paid, if any.

The problem is that the implicit non-monetary costs on the user side do not represent any benefits for the developer. That the user invested time and took risk doesn't give the developer anything--they only gain the explicit monetary price. But the implicit future benefits expected by the user DO translate directly into future costs for the developer--just as much as the present benefit corresponds to past developer costs!

So there is a big mismatch between what people intuitively feel they are exchanging. On the developer side, Matt Gemmell's comment quoted in the article feels right: "you paid, you got software." But on the user side, the story feels like "I spent time and wrapped my habits around this software, in expectation of its continued improvement, then found out to my surprise that no improvement is coming."

That said, I don't have any new shiny ideas on how to solve this problem. In the end, I agree that the developers of Sparrow owe the users nothing. But I also see why the users are reacting as if somebody took something away from them that they thought they had.

I upgrade my Mac the day after a new OS X version is released

I used to do that—until I realized that 10.7 (and now probably 10.8) don't offer any substantial improvements to things I care about (as discussed here: https://jseliger.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/mac-os-10-7-is-out...). In other words, I've probably reached "peak operating system," in that marginal improvements to OSes are really quite marginal. That's also true, at least for me, of a program like Word. Have we really seen substantial improvements since, say, 2002? Maybe in stability, but not much else.

I'm not arguing that software itself isn't improving—a lot of software has a huge amount of search space left. But some doesn't, and we get diminishing marginal returns. Maybe I'll upgrade to 10.8 or its successor—Textmate 2.0 or iMovie 12 could be the inciting factors—but there's a solid chance I won't.

YMMV, but I find Mission Control to be absolutely invaluable in Lion (and I was a huge Spaces fan - removing it for Mission Control was one of my biggest apprehensions). It was worth $30 (amortized across all my Macs) to me, easily. I don't buy that we've reached "peak operating system", though I would say that in the Microsoft ecosystem they may have reached "peak Windows" with Windows 7.

Problem is, what happens when they stop supporting the version that you are using and happy with?

Would you feel confident going online with an OS that has known security issues that will never be patched?

Using an outdated OS that is not supported anymore isn't good security, but in theory there shouldn't be much danger as long as you follow some basic restrictions :

1/ Put the computer behind a NAT router with no open ports/outside access 2/ Use a browser that hasn't dropped your platform (just because the OS isn't supported anymore doesn't mean you can't find at least one browser that's up to date with continuous security updates. There are still people porting Firefox to PPC macs, an initiative called "TenFourFox". You can also try Camino or iCab, two alternative browsers that have kept PPC compatibility) 3/ Don't open an email attachment unless it has been scanned through an antivirus

Point 1 and 3 are something I do even on a patched computer anyway. Your desktop shouldn't be directly exposed to the internet.

I've never ran an outdated OS myself but I would feel confident in using one as long as I respect those principles. The one thing I wouldn't be confident in doing, though, would be running an outdated browser or an outdated mail client. Security updates for anything that is in direct contact with the internet is a top priority and using an abandoned mail client like sparrow that doesn't guarantee security updates is a terrible, terrible idea.

I personally hit that point when 10.4 rolled around.

Have you stopped using GitHub, if you were a user?

Why would I?

I'll just go to push my local changes to it one day, and it'll be gone, and I'll still have the entire history of my project.

stop != pay != contribute

I think github would be the exception that proves the rule, because the github investment isn't a typical "Venture" investment- it was much closer to a late stage hedge, or hedge fund investment.

This was a company that was profitably growing like crazy and thus could effectively dictate terms. Whatever A16H's exit expectations are here, I'm pretty sure they are rather long term, and on the order of "github goes public" rather than "github is shut down after an aquihire."

Yesterday I was watching a presentation where Steve Blank said that the pyramid has shifted-- the big VCs have replaced IPOs and private equity, and everyone has moved up the stack. (So now instead of needing VCs for your first investment, for instance, there's accelerators like YC, then angels, then super angels.)

> Yesterday I was watching a presentation where Steve Blank said that the pyramid has shifted-- the big VCs have replaced IPOs and private equity, and everyone has moved up the stack. (So now instead of needing VCs for your first investment, for instance, there's accelerators like YC, then angels, then super angels.)

I agree.

An additional value which VCs provide that hasn't been eroded that much is credibility to enterprises. It's a good guess that Github took the investment so they appear more credible to enterprises, i.e. they are going after Perforce and ClearCase

Not to mention that github's foundation is git which is very much open source so your repos are moveable.

Sparrow's foundation is imap/smtp...

True, but I expect you use access github through the standard "git commit" , "git pull" type commands. So switching git providers can be done relatively transparently without changing the "UI".

Although I guess you would lose whatever extra features github provides, which is partly why I build my git workflow around "standard" git.

GitHub's value is not what you think it is. It goes beyond Git hosting, being a social network for developers and OSS projects. Anybody can setup their own remote git repo on a cheap Linode or EC2 micro instance, but replacing a social network is almost impossible.

FWIW, I was an early employee at a startup that was acquired around 1998 for around this amount of money.

In those days this wasn't considered an "acquihire" but a "successful exit" or a "base hit". (e.g.: not a failure but not the success that pays for all the other companies in the VC firms cohort that year.)

The VCs got about 5X on their money and because of liquidation preferences and other shenanigans, I, and the other employees, pretty much got screwed.

What about the users of your software?

They still complain about its loss... in the years since it has never been replaced. As an employee, I had no choice in the decision.

Also, frankly, I think people chose Sparrow because they weren't happy with the big boy's applications (Apple's Mail.app on Mac OS X, Apple and Gmail's apps on iOS).

It's a case of "We don't like Google or Apple's apps, so we're going to _pay extra money_ to get something we like."

So when the Sparrow team gets picked up by Google _and_ we hear that Sparrow.app is becoming abandonware, many people think "the bad guys win again."

Of course, I hope the hue and cry about this will suggest to google that Sparrow might be worth maintaining after all. A mail app that people like? That can't possibly be a bad thing, can it?

"Of course, I hope the hue and cry about this will suggest to google that Sparrow might be worth maintaining after all."

Or open source the app code? c.f Intellicad when Microsoft bought Visio

Exactly what I thought. If they are interested only in the talent, why not give the code to the community?

The publicity and goodwill alone should be worth it!

>If they are interested only in the talent, why not give the code to the community?

Because they have a directly competing product. I'm sure that getting rid of a competitor factored into the acquisition.

I've never used Sparrow, but how difficult would it be from a technical standpoint just to produce a copycat application?

Technically not difficult. But Sparrow does nothing that any other email client out there does - the great thing about it is its "feel".

Would the "feel" be difficult to reproduce? Maybe someone in a country unhindered by the DMCA could reverse engineering it and find whatever the secret sauce was.

The DMCA isn't a problem; feel is hard to copyright. And if Google now owns the IP, they don't give two shits about suing somebody making a copycat app of something they abandoned.

The problem is that good UI takes an absurd amount of work. It's the difference between painting a wall and painting a mural. With Sparrow to copy you'd have a good start, but you have to be enough of a UI devotee to even notice what makes a UI strong, and you'll still have to do a lot of user testing and polish.

DMCA is not a problem. The code ie copyrighted. You cannot copy it without permission (which you don't have). You cannot legally "take it apart to look at the code" to build a derived work without permission (which you don't have).

A country without the DMCA still has copyright law.

If the Gmail app becomes good enough thanks to the Sparrow team, then I don't see any loss for the user.

How about any user not using Google email?

Althogh Sparrow supports non-GMail protocols, it really is primarily for GMail. I use a standard IMAP-mail provider (folders, not tags), and to me Sparrow added very little over what I had with Apple Mail.

(Conversly, when I used GMail, it didn’t work that well with Apple Mail.)

It's my impression that Sparrow is intended primarily as a GMail client. I don't have data, but I'd be surprised if a significant portion of its users didn't have GMail.

What if it doesn't?

This posting is very true, and this is exactly why I prefer Free Software when it comes to sustainability.

Even if the developers' revenue plan (services, merchandising, whatever) turns out to not be sustainable, at least the remaining software is free (in the sense of freedom) such that others can fork it and can take care of it.

In that sense, Sparrow could have made a great move, since they don't plan to make any more money with their product: publishing their latest code base under GPL.

However, in that case Google might have hesitated to acquire them in the first place. On the other hand, MySQL has been acquired by Oracle despite being Free Software, and despite having existing forks such as MariaDB.

That's exactly what I had in my mind immediately after reading the article. I'm no Mac user, but seeing loyal users let down, I just wish the app was free software.

I don't think Google will release it as free software, but if they made it open from the start, maintaining it would be a possibility.

MySQL was open source before Sun bought them (you cannot un-open source something). Then Oracle bought Sun.

Obviously, those arguments are somewhat metaphorical. Paying $2.99 (or even $2,999) for software doesn't guarantee its sustainability. It doesn't move the needle. It's more like voting where your individual vote doesn't count but you still feel that its important to vote. Especially if you voice an opinion and try to convince others (something that probably has more effect than voting).

I think we are talking about more abstract things. We want this software to exist. We want these business models (small, profitable development companies) to exist. It's not just "I want to use this software."

I think a reason for these kind of reactions to acquisitions is that we feel or suspect that they are destroying rather than creating value. But, it's kind of hard to tell so we don't usually make that claim. For small companies, we know what they make and how many people use it so its easy to get a feel for the value they create. When Google acquires a great team, its hard to know what, if any value they create. Google obviously create enormous amounts of value but its hard to tell what a new team ads or subtracts from that. Much more nebulous are the effects that the existence of such acquisitions have on founder and investor motivation to start and fund these companies in the first place.

I think thats it at the core. A suspicion that such acquisitions are value destroying activities resulting in less/worse software being available to the world.

I guess the problem with this is that in the days of app stores, internet everywhere , automatic updates and 0 day vulnerabilities software suddenly looks very fragile and susceptible to bit rot.

I remember in the late 90s there were still plenty of people around using Word 6.0 which was old at the time but still usable since MS allowed recent versions of Word to create docs compatible with it.

Now, if your favourite app gets pulled from the store (that your device is locked to), gets broken by an OS update or the developers simply release a non reversible update that you don't like you're in trouble. Not to mention the consequences of the vendor going bust or getting bought by a rival.

There seems to be a strong "C'mon just use an iPad and the cloud already!" voice on HN, I guess I can understand why people are somewhat conservative about it.

Yes, the Sparrow acquisition is a great illustration of how the whole "you're the product" cult was broken from the start.

No matter how much you are (or aren't) paying you are always both the customer and the product. Even Apple, who gets plenty of money from their customers directly, is willing to pimp out their customers as "400 million active credit cards" in the right context. At the other extreme, Google devotes an immense amount of effort to continuously improving search. They know that they live and die based on how happy you are as a search customer, even though they aren't paid even a nickel from searches directly.

I'll say it again: we're always both the customer and the product. There's no escaping that. Our only option is to decide which vendors' tradeoffs we are and aren't willing to live with. And black-and-white moralizing about whether or not "you're the product" gets in the way of picking the shades of gray that work for you.

Perhaps we should only pay for development of open-source software, so we actually own what we're paying for.

I don't believe that changes the situation at all.

An example of this is Quicksilver on the Mac. It's considered to be one of the best Mac apps ever and the developer who made it, decided to open source it after he decided to take a job at Google. Quicksilver development fell apart afterwards.

My point is that people who used the app did so because of the talent of the developer. A community can't always make up for that hole.

> An example of this is Quicksilver on the Mac. It's considered to be one of the best Mac apps ever and the developer who made it, decided to open source it after he decided to take a job at Google. Quicksilver development fell apart afterwards.

I don't use a Mac, and don't even know what Quicksilver was until I checked, but this was posted 17 hours ago:


Maybe development didn't follow at the same pace as before, but to say it "fell apart" when they are very close to releasing 1.0 seems not very accurate to this outside observer.

Much of what is left of Quicksilver today is about fixing bugs and keeping it on life support which is why I used the term "fell apart" instead of "dead". This was an app that the developer stopped programming for in 2006 and the bug fixing didn't really start until last year. Th plug-ins to other apps are part of what made Quicksilver great and most still don't work and haven't been updated since that time.

Sounds like a great idea for a kickstarter.

I'd still take "basic bugfixing and maintenance" over "gone completely" however.

I suppose in some sense it's a bit like owning a classic car, the warranty and support from the manufacturer is long since gone but there exists a community of owners and refurb businesses keeping it alive.

The difference with your car analogy is that the car doesn't stop working because other cars are adopting new technology or that the roads became worse. Quicksilver broke once Leopard was released.

After a long hiatus Quicksilver was taken over by a dedicated team of contributors who resumed active development[1]. Open-source worked after all, as this wouldn't be possible otherwise.

[1] http://blog.qsapp.com/

I realize that many Quicksilver fans will be upset with my comments but I can't rely on something that was essentially broken for five years and count on it being something I can use a couple of hundred times everyday.

What happens the next time something gets broken after a major OS update? I can't wait for a few months to get it working again.

I'm not saying that open source software is lousy. I use it all the time. It's just that in certain situations you need the person there who created it.

TextMate could act as a counterexample showing that the original author being fully in charge doesn't guarantee anything.

Another example was VisualHub, a Mac front-end for ffmpeg video conversion. The author, Techspansion, EOL'd it in 2008 and released a "code dump" as open source. Someone tried to pick up the pieces and form an open-source version called FilmRedux, but it was last updated in 2009.

Techspansion, however, was a good citizen and when a Mac OS X Lion broke VisualHub, he released a patched binary, so I'm still able to use VisualHub four years after it was EOL'd! :)


Actually - Quicksilver development is alive and well. And I still use it in preference to Alfred et al.

To be fair in 2007 leopard's spotlight implemented the 20% of quicksilver's features that most users used 80% of the time.

You probably were a quicksilver poweruser, but I don't think there were many of you.

I don't think any Quicksilver user was anything other than a power user.

I currently use it, and I am not a power user. (But I'm just one datapoint)

Or at the very least , a promise from the developers that the product will become open source if one of a number of conditions are met.

As a British person who voted Lib Dem, I'd need a lot more than a "promise" to quell my worries.

If it was part of the license agreement? I don't know how enforceable this would be in practice though.

Perhaps a neutral third party gets code access and a contract with the developer and users as to when/if it will be released?

Perhaps something à la the KDE Free Qt Foundation? (http://www.kde.org/community/whatiskde/kdefreeqtfoundation.p...)

The agreement between the Free Qt Foundation and Nokia gives them right to release the latest Qt version under a BSD-style licence if Nokia stop releasing Qt versions (GPL+LGPL).

It can just be a simple contract, like this http://www.kde.org/community/whatiskde/kdefreeqtfoundation.p...

Agree; in fact every single proprietary software or technology I have ever paid for was abandoned or turned into a pile of junk.

I don't use Sparrow so please correct me if I am wrong.

The applications are still fully functional and are working perfectly fine until Apple changes anything they heavily depend on or something replaces imap.

You own your copy of Sparrow and it still works.

Imagine you buy a BMW and in 10 years you cannot get the required fuel anymore. Does this mean you only pay for a new car when you get all plans for the engine and the whole construction or do you just buy another car? (I know that the comparison doesn't work 100%)

Obvious thing: Some security vulnerability is found which gives attackers access to your system or so.

Or: There is some bug which gets active let's say after year 2013 or after 10k mails or so.

Or: (I don't know Sparrow so not sure if this applies.) You have created/build some app-specific content/database (like have done all your mail tagging with Sparrow) so you want to re-use it on future Apple hardware. Now assume that Apple introduces some new architecture (like an ARM MacBook) or makes some incompatible API changes in future MacOSX versions. Either you can't upgrade your hardware/OS or you will loose the app-specific work.


Everything valid - but as time passes there is sometimes just no way around upgrading your software. The fact that there could be an immediate problem was ignored by me, that's true.

Since they want to keep it alive (in its current state) I believe they'd fix something critical.

The first two are valid, but in the specific case of Sparrow, all the "state" is held in the mail provider(GMail via IMAP) or FB, which is nice.

For something as critical as email, "fine until Apple changes anything" is not good enough, given that Apple has a habit of changing things.

Yes but worst case scenario is you are forced to switch to a different client not that you lose any data. So actually not that critical.

"given that Apple has a habit of changing things."

Apple doesn't have a habit of changing things. If anything, I feel that Apple is too conservative when it comes to making changes.

If Sparrow would be your only option to access your mails this would be true.

I think the broader point that doesn't analogise so well with cars is network effects and compatibility.

Even cars from the 1950s are compatible with modern roads, also they can have a lead additive put into the fuel, or the owner can convert the car to run on unleaded petrol.

If your program is old and closed source (in this context , old cars are basically open source since they can be repaired by anyone with relatively standard knowledge and tools).

I never used Sparrow, but I'll assume that at least they worked with standard email protocols like IMAP and POP3 making a switch to another mail client feasible. Imagine instead that they had used some proprietary (and possible patented) web service API. Then their users would really be in trouble, and this is a sort of model many startups seem to be going for.

A lot of the complaints are about the fact that the Sparrow team had promised push notifications for the iOS client "with or without Apple". Now we get nothing.

I know, I know, don't buy an application based on promises, buy it based on what the application currently offers. Wise words, I have learned.

One worry is since iOS is so dependent/tied to the app store for updates or reinstalls, if the developer pulls the app from the store, you can never redownload it, and you are then stuck trying to maintain a copy that you backed up and hoping you don't lose the file. And if you don't plug in to a PC you wont be able to reinstall the app. This happened to me with smule and "Magic Fiddle".

This makes me wonder if you could open source a project like this and still sell it through the App Store. Then there would be a paid version (that's easy to acquire and pay for) as well as the code being shared with the community. Anyone could still get the app for free, but I'd be willing to bet most people would financially support the project if given such an easy and integrated means to do so.

You can, I am on my phone right now so i can't give specifc examples, but there are apps I paid for through the OS X App Store that are open-source. It was easier to get it through the app store and I got to support the developers. I prefer this model because anyone can contribute back to the collective whole and abandonware is less of a problem.

Isnt GPL banned on iOS AppStore?

There are other licenses.

It's a fair point, but I'd suggest the main reason people get upset is it feels like they've somehow wasted time getting attached to it.

People such as the OP get excited about having this pleasant thing in their life and the implicit relationship in that as long as you buy it, it will continue to improve.

For me it's the same reason early adopters back certain tech products, why fans will follow film directors and why we sometimes get disappointed when they don't follow the path we hope they would take.

This feels to me very much like the argument that "it's not worth voting unless my vote is specifically the one that changes the outcome". You are but one little person. You can do all the right things in the world and the universe can still stomp on your face. The right things are not "the right things" because they guarantee success, but because they maximize the odds of it. There are no actions that guarantee success.

This isn't a disproof of the "don't be a free user" philosophy; it's a disproof of the idea that it's a guarantee of success, which it never was, and never could be. The argument still holds.

> "it's not worth voting unless my vote is specifically the one that changes the outcome"

I think that's a bad comparison - it implies the outcome would have been different if everyone voted with their wallets. Yet a saturated market would increase the odds of an acquihire.

If _everyone_ had bought Sparrow, they would have had enormously larger revenues. Almost as important, they would have had much greater certainty in some portion of future revenues. That certainty is economically important, one reason for taking a chunk of Google Cash is checking off the 'funded retirement', 'funded kids college', 'bought house' items off the to-do list.

They also would have been more likely to attract investment for development without a big partner.

They might still see reasons for joining Google, but financial security and investment would have been less important.

If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

I don't think it has 'failed', as the article states. Paying for the software is necessary but no guarantee. If we slide back to everything being free, things will be worse. But even if we do pay, we cannot forget one very important thing: We are dealing with very small companies and all of the volatility that comes with them. The situation is simply exacerbated when the employees of that company are highly sought after.

It doesn't take Google to buy out a little company. They can just choose to get other jobs or spend their time other ways, get bored with the product, have a falling out, anything. Sparrow could have just as well said, "We're stopping all development on the email client today. 100% of future effort will be on games". And that's why boring enterprise software from MegaCorp still generates huge revenue, because they can go tell a GE, Chase, Honda or McDonalds something LittleCo can't. They can tell the customer that they can expect a specific level of support and life from the product, and here's 20 years of history to prove it, and that they're signing on with a $5 billion company that's not easily bought out. The cool stuff on the bleeding edge may also be fleeting. Large companies want stability, and I guess people using certain software do too.

Side-note: FOSS is a very different animal with interesting characteristics.

"This is the core of the disappointment that many of us feel with the Sparrow acquisition. It’s not about the $15 or less we spent on the apps. It’s not about the team’s well-deserved payout. It’s about the loss of faith in a philosophy that we thought was a sustainable way to ensure a healthy future for independent software development, where most innovation happens."

I seriously laughed out loud.

Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily think his idea is silly, and I think he may in fact have a point. However, let's not pretend all those people who complained about the acquisition were doing this because they lost faith in this philosophy. That part is silly. Those people were just being slightly dramatic because they liked a product and it would no longer get updated.

I think part of the problem in all the hubbub around the Sparrow acquisition is the attempt to represent people's apprehension as a single entity. The reality seems to be more complicated than that.

Some people are probably just upset because of an irrational sense of entitlement ("I paid for X, and now I won't get free updates forever as the product is being abandoned")

But there's lots of other reasons that people can be bothered by this.

I use the Mac version of Sparrow (without using Gmail), and the entirety of my reaction when reading about the acquisition was "Oh well, I guess at some point I'll have to find a new desktop email client. That sucks, I liked Sparrow."

I do wonder what the community reaction would be if it was a different product though.

If Sublime Text (which seems to be attracting a good following) announced tomorrow that they were being acquired, and that the product was being abandoned, would people complaining about it really be that surprising?

Even assume that they were also going to continue with maintenance on it, but stop active development of new features. People would be upset. People on here would say "You should never have assumed that Sublime was going to get new features before buying it, if it didn't do what you wanted now, you shouldn't have paid money for it" (I've found myself actually giving similar advice in the past regarding buying smartphones).

People would write asshole-ish blog posts saying that those people were whining.

I don't think this is actually an indictment on the "paid vs. ad supported" dichotomy. Other people have rightfully pointed out that companies get acquired like this all the time, regardless of whether their products are free, cheap, or expensive.

The reactions across the board are quite disappointing, to be honest.

All you can do as a customer (or as anything, for that matter) is give up the illusion of control.

This is the Sparrow story: A fantastic product was built, and exchanged for money. The people behind the product were recognized, and were acquired for a significant amount.

Everyone is a winner, and customers move on to the next thing.

What's more worrying is our reaction to an email client going under: it's clearly a sign that we don't have enough well designed products for a system that's been in mass use for more than a decade.

I completely agree with the fact that there are no well designed products for email, now that Sparrow stopped developing new features - hopefully someone gets a cool idea and puts it on the app store soonish.

"If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold."

This statement is complete nonesense and I do not understand why it keeps appearing everywhere.

You are almost always paying for apps and services, and you are never the product being sold. Sometimes you pay with cash, sometimes you pay with ad impressions. But you always pay and you are always the customer that needs to be satisfied.

Facebook is not free. You pay for it with your willingness to have Facebook show you ads. Ad impressions are as good as money for Google, because they can exchange them for USD.

Google Search/Gmail/Maps are the products. And Google has to make them as good as they can. Otherwise you, the customer, will stop paying for them.

"If it's not being bought, it must mean that it is sold" is just bad logic, plain and simple. It's just a nonsensical retort to an attempt to pigeonhole technology facilitating transactions into stupid categories that were made for a paradigm of classical economics, but still falls within the confines of the paradigm.

It's all about value creation. Assuming every party here is rational: Google decides to pay for the Sparrow team only because the potential value of these developers is much higher than the price they pay. And Sparrow team accepted the offer only because the big pay check exceeds the value all their own customers combined.

If we hate this, we can either make such talent acquisitions less attractive, or increase the value of software customers.

Talent acquisitions become less attractive when:

  - The number of talents available increases significantly
  - Economies of scale in software business is less substantial
  - There's ethical pressure from online communities
  - The act of "selling customers" (through data collection or ads) becomes less profitable or costs more (with things like DNT or ad blockers)
The value of customers increases when:

  - More people are willing to spend more money on independent software development
  - Access to software market is easier (with things like app stores)
  - More revenue streams with higher payouts (like high-quality ad networks such as Deck and Carbon)
  - Higher potential to get big (with VC money and building platforms/ecosystems)
The sad truth is, independent software developers tend to be less entrepreneurial than startup founders (but I don't think the line can be drawn clearly). They are only a little bit more entrepreneurial than consulting developers (which are even more likely to be hired by big companies, but we don't care much about them). Therefore they may not be willing to actively improve their revenue by taking risks, and hence the acquisitions happen.

You have to add investors in the equation who want to earn something from their investment too. This may add pressure to sell on the developpers.

What does entrepreneurism have to do with it? The goal of most entrepreneurs is the cash-out.

> independent software developers tend to be less entrepreneurial than startup founders

Why is that? Because they have a working monetization model when they launch?

In some sense they are less "ambitious" I guess.

Risk/Reward scale:

Selling your labour -> Selling your skills -> Selling your product -> Selling your vision

The whole argument seems backwards to me. If your dream was that good software could be supported by users alone (not ads or a giant corporate checkbook), and by your own admission they were selling the software at a price-point below the value you were getting from it ("I'd have given them more money if I could")...

It sounds like you got exactly what you want. You got software that worked great, that avoided the traps of "you're the product" and produced a positive result for everyone. Then they got bought. But you know what? A thousand teams of engineers are ready to take their place, since a big payout at the end means there's considerable draw, and you really can sell an app at a bit above costs, be comfortable, and that allure of a _maybe_ payout at the end is enough to get over the hurdle of starting.

I guess it baffles the mind. It's like saying that big paychecks have ruined sports, because strong athletes are only in it for the money. Perhaps they are, but you get people who would otherwise do something else being willing to give sports a try because that potential paycheck is enough of a draw.

After residing in unix-land for almost a year I decided to come back to Mac OSX just 2 days ago, and after re-downloading my purchased apps, the announcement by the Sparrow team was the second mail I picked up. Fuck.

Thinking back, in unix-land no such jokes were pulled. Something abandoned? another trooper taking over. How the $#&% can you charge money for something _non-open-source_ and then just leave it to rot?

I would pay a hundred bucks for a similar app (or a monthly fee) if I'd be assured that the developers were dedicated to ME and THEIR PRODUCT.

Sparrow is above average. Congrats, I loved you for that. But you sinked your goddamn ship before it got half way. I'm only this pissed off because it could have been so much more. I will wait and see what glorious work you do for Google. I (and all the people who paid you money) await your work with great anticipation. Good luck.

Just a few nitpicks:

"After residing in unix-land for almost a year I decided to come back to Mac OSX..."

OS X is a UNIX. A real, actual UNIX.

"...in unix-land no such jokes were pulled."

I am going to guess you were using Linux, which is not, in fact, a UNIX.

For what it's worth, I spent some time in Linux land. Over the course of a year:

1. One update left my system non-booting. After considerable research, I think I discovered it was a grub/kernel incompatibility.

2. An upgrade left my system non-booting. It was an Ubuntu upgrade from one version to the next, which failed with a mysterious and non-helpful error.

3. Another update caused my external monitor to no longer display the desktop correctly. I was forced to use the 1024x600 display on my netbook instead.

I am now very skeptical of Linux (on the desktop) land. All these issues resulted in a considerable time expense for me.

Now I'm thinking I'm happy to pay $x for operating systems like OS X or Windows...

Oddly enough, this is exactly what Stallman is on about. Without the source code and the ability to upload that code on to your devices, your programs longevity are subject to the whims of other people.

Even ignoring the whole "code wants to be free thing", the source is important for the longevity of the code. If the software really mattered to you, you would negociate a license that gave you source. Even if you weren't allowed to resell or redistribute, having source that you could hire others to work on if you needed it is important.

In fact, I'd love to see a shift to make proprietary software include the code without license to redistribute the original code; Maybe just patches, maybe nothing. But I'd love to be able to peek beneath the covers and learn, fix things, and/or make sure it runs on new platforms.

That seems pointless, because then patches could not be distributed. Seldom are patches economically viable for exactly one person to create, one at a time, for themselves. That's the same burden of being a proprietary software company without any potential upside.

Maybe for an organization, and in those cases a source-code escrow is not unheard of. But really it's just a lifeboat so you can move on gracefully.

I don't know why everyone keeps referring to sparrow as 'indie' developers. They took funding. When you take funding you're no longer independent.


The reason sparrow had to sell is because they didn't have a recurring revenue model. This is what limits all "pay once" desktop (and mobile) software: either they have to charge prohibitively high amounts or they have to get you to upgrade frequently. The former limits adoption and the latter is tricky and encourages feature bloat.

I now want to pay for the desktop software I like as a subscription: it keeps the developer fed and on call, and doesn't put undue pressure on them to add features, while still keeping their revenue from me contingent on the continued usefulness of their product.

Nobody outside the developer community will ever pay for any software on a recurring basis, especially if free alternatives are available.

Pretty much every software product sold to business is on a "initial purchase + maintenance agreement" basis, i.e. you pay up front and they you pay monthly or annually to keep your license and/or support current.

This is false. Non-developers pay a recurring fee for software all the time.

Ever heard of a small company called Adobe? How about Autodesk? Or how about every antivirus company on the planet? They might all not have an explicitly recurring revenue stream, but the updates to the software damned near mandate the purchase of a new license to prevent problems with incompatibility.

Eastgate systems publish Storyspace and Tinderbox. Tinderbox is sold with 'a year of free upgrades', and after that there is an upgrade fee. Sort of subscription based.

SlySoft does a good of this.

For me it's as simple as knowing a product I like is not going to be developed anymore, and having a complete lack of faith in Google to use them to turn out anything near as good.

If you build something of strategic value to a big player, they'll pay more for it than the present value of its expected cash flows. They're expecting improvements in cash flow in other, non-competing products, which they can realize but which the original product will never see. Big players will "overpay" for something of strategic importance.

So if the hope is that buying small products will free you from the big players, yeah, that was always dubious, at least in the corners interesting to those players.

On the other hand, Sparrow got built, didn't it? And whatever you liked about it just got a big fat Market Stamp Of Approval. It wouldn't be surprising for similar features to start appearing in other mail clients, some of them open source. Maybe someone will build Sparrow The Sequel ("Google didn't get every egg in the nest . . ."). VCs just got more interested in pitches for email software.

How much this matters depend on what you want. If you want freedom from "you are the product", the complaint makes more sense to me. But if what you want is more innovation, well, Sparrow's DNA just demonstrated its ability to generate returns. And returns on innovation more generally have been validated. So it isn't clear to me that buying Sparrow "failed" to push innovation forward.

Contrary to the tweets, I think it's perfectly fine to be upset about sparrow no longer being developed.

The days of software being unchanging are gone, that's a pre-internet way of thinking about computing, and it's perfectly fine to be upset that something you rely upon is no longer supporting you into the future.

We live in an era where there is an expectation that our software titles will keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of technology. The business model of ios is simple, the vendor takes 30%, while the developer is free to lure new customers with additional innovations/features without having to worry about the expense of updating everyone who has purchased the title already. It's the life blood of competition and a business model that many titles adhere to.

So whether the developer is updating the code for new devices, adding software features that are relevant to new emerging technologies or simply staying relevant by supporting the latest standards. We treat software like a journey and not a static point. Software titles compete by out innovating each other. The moment this stops the software title is dead, it's competitors overtake it quickly and rarely would any of us rely on a piece of software that is no longer being developed.

The solution to this is insisting on guaranteed support periods/contracts for software you use - if this comes free, great! If you have to pay for it, so be it.

Paying more for something just so you can nurse a philosophy you like is textbook irrational. If you are paying more for something vague, pin down what you want and pay for that precisely. Here we have a fear of software we love disappearing - pay, explicitly, for it not to disappear.

Thing is, Sparrow was relatively cheap. And as I understand, they had a team of 5. So perhaps they were not as 'self-sustaining' as we assumed.

I guess the take-away is that, if you're going to remain independent - you had best charge a premium. In fact, Sparrow already was a premium app - so it is conceivable they could have doubled or tripled the price of their product with minimal impact on the size of their customer base.

I'm not upset about the acquisition. I'd be happy if Google was acquiring them to put extra muscle behind developing the app. But they are moving the developers to other projects. That means a fast, native email client for Mac isn't on Google's agenda. So I'm back to Mail.app or the browser. Gmail on Chrome is good, but for me and a lot of other users of Sparrow, it's not a replacement for the real thing.

The philosophy is modelled incorrectly.

Rather than being paying customers of a software costing $15 and expect support forever, be a paying customer of software costing $5 a month and expect support every month, while you're paying.

With regards to perpetuity software, the developer only has incentive to keep on building the product whilst the market is relatively unsaturated. When the entire market has purchased the product, the developer is no longer incentivized to produce new features besides the ones he must build to fulfil his contract (e.g. fixing bugs).

With a monthly subscription model, the developer must continue to improve the product, lest his customers switch to alternatives.

Shh.. Sparrow for Windows was just a few weeks away. http://tmblr.co/ZWzfbyPpHG3B http://t.co/OBeYi3Zp

This is not true for me. I'm happy for the Sparrow team, but I got upset because I feel when I purchased their product, I got into an implicit, unspoken contract with the developers that while the current version of the product was good, there would be continued development and it would become something wonderful next year, and even better the year after.

Now I'm just sad the product will rot over time.

I know the commercial model is broken for this, but I would have been willing to pay more upfront and pay again for periodic major version bumps, assuming pace of development continued.

I've downloaded Sparrow on my iPhone and used it for a bit but then later switched back to the native email app, primarily because of the lack of push notification at the time of its initial release. I wonder how much of this sale has to do with the updates to email in ios6, such as the ability to attach photos directly from the mail app. Can they differentiate enough to continue to keep an active user base? if not its hard to beat a native app.

Can't comment on the Mac, haven't tried it.

There's also the very basic disappointment that a piece of good software won't grow to maturity. I finally found a mail client that restored my faith in SMTP as a communications medium; a mail client that had me managing email exclusively on my iPhone. A mail client that broke away from email as a metaphor for paper envelopes with written messages on pulp.

I liked handling email in Sparrow. It felt modern, and now it won't get any better.

> I paid full price for every version of the Sparrow app I could find. I told everyone who would listen to buy it. I couldn’t have given them more money even if I wanted to. So, as a customer, what more could I have done to keep them running independently?

This could have been avoided if their software were open source, or if they committed to open sourcing it should they cease development on it.

How does switching to zero revenue possibly avoid the problem of developers not getting paid enough?

While I agree that there is a problem of getting paid for writing open source software, it is not quite that they all make zero revenue. There are several possible revenue models for open source.

Also, there is the other option I mentioned, that they commit to open sourcing it if they cease development on it. That kind of commitment can make people buying the software safe from having the product discontinued.

It seems to me that the real story here is that software is starting to face real and widespread commoditization on a deep scale.

Software has always been a very high-end, specialized line of work, and qualified many developers still expect to make upwards of 80K a year (at least).

Well, what happens when the software industry starts suffering from the same crisis as the rest of the economy, in an irreversible way?

I think there's software and software. Software for the masses, that adresses the masses needs, well, hello commoditization. Now there's another job which is to tell people with bucks how to make more bucks with computers. If they have 10 bucks, well, your value will be in the range of 1-2 bucks. If they have one billion, then you might help them a bit more and grab the money. The only one who make money with the masses are Apple, Google and the like. Except a few really complicated things like Amazon, PayPal or really "sweet spots" like facebook, I'd think the probability to have a deal is super low. So what's the solution ? Well I don't know. I guess we won't be able to advertise things ad infinitum... So we'll be back to added value sooner or later.

Actually, I don't quite get why users are so upset about this. They said they would keep releasing maintenance and security updates, so hopefully, I will be able to keep using this app for quite a while.

Because the thing is, I think this app is quite wonderful the way it is right now. I don't need any more features. As long as I can keep using it, I will keep being happy with it.

The real problem is that most acqui-hire teams disappear into BigCo never to be heard from again until they resign a few years later.

Not that it would have prevented this, but the App stores really need to work on an paid upgrade process. It's hard making $10 a head on software, especially when that's all you're ever going to make. I can't believe paid upgrades aren't a part of at least the Mac App store yet.

What should have happened is to hand off development and/or ownership of the app to another dev team. Sofa, the team that made Versions and Kaleidoscope, did just that when they were acquired by Facebook. The apps still live on, thanks to Black Pixel, and everyone is happy.

I think that's why you need to put your money into open source software, not closed source software. Mozilla thunderbird could be the next Sparrow. If the people with the vision and with the proper backing are willing to put the effort into it.

According to Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A cooperation is not the natural "business" model for software. It's a club. One won't get different results if one uses the same business model.

Sparrow is never independent OK?

They depend on GMail.

They cannot even deliver push-notification for their iOS apps because they don't want to save your credentials on their servers.

The argument around Instapaper still stands as long as it's an independent, complete product.

> Sparrow is never independent OK? They depend on GMail.

False. Sparrow works with any IMAP mail server.

"We decided that we don’t want to be free users any more. " "The philosophy..." "This is why I am a paid subscriber to services like..."

Sorry but you are an idiot if you really believed that.

I never understood "If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold." It's clearly not true in the free software world.

Pfff... The market has just "adjusted" : the value of a mail client is close to 0. That's what you pay almost zero for it; and that's why Googl payed almost 0 for its developers as well. Selling a mail client in the 21st century ? Let me laugh... There's 0 added value in it. All you do is provide a mrginally better experience and all the devs get is to solve the exponentially harder support issues. Their business model was wrong. Because a business model is not how to make money, it's how you are useful in the global scheme. Sparrow was not that useful it seems...

>If they don’t — well, at least they’ve eliminated a competitor, and they still win.

Since when was Sparrow a competitor to Google?

Adverts-wise, anything that shows Google's content without making ad-revenue for Google is a potential pie-eater they can eliminate.

Gmail supports POP3 and IMAP and they even mimic an exchange server, I think it's clear they think it's in their own best interests to give people a lot of options for accessing their email even if many of those options don't serve ads. I don't believe I've ever seen an ad on any of gmail's own mobile offerings, either.

Am I the only one who didn't use it Gmail accounts?

No, I use the Mac version for my IMAP email account as well (I'm in the minority of people who finds gmail to be awful).

I suspect we're a tiny tiny minority though. ;)

Was Sparrow profitable?


>In terms of numbers we've made more than half a million dollars in the past six months since Sparrow was introduced in February.

That quote is from August last year.

Could it simply be that Google is willing to so overpay for engineers that it makes sense for Sparrow, which, in previous times would itself be a nice successful small business (like eudora used to be, etc.)

Back in the day, Sparrow might have grown over 5-10 years to be a big company to get swallowed up... but now, companies like google are so desperate for talent that they cut them off too early by making absurd offers?

As much as I hate working for big companies (and refused googles constant, persistent pursuit to go work for them) I'd be tempted by a $25M "Signing bonus" (or whatever a Sparrow Founder's split of that is....)

I think this is not about the engineers that built the company, but about the VCs that funded it. Usually the contractual conditions put the VCs in control of the situation so they can take an exit when it presents itself. Sometimes the original owners get nothing out of these acquisitions.

Edit: clarification.

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