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Entitlement and Acquisition (mattgemmell.com)
175 points by ryannielsen on July 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

    Sparrow’s acquisition is a success story. Indie devs make a great product,
    build a customer-base, and are rewarded with a buy-out from a big company
    and they get new jobs with that company. It might not be what your
    particular goal or end-game is, but it is a success.
From an end-user perspective, having software you use and rely on on a daily basis completely abandoned is not a successful outcome. The Sparrow devs may have won, but Sparrow users have lost.

Alternatively, Gmail users potentially gain from the talent acquisition. Arguably, the win could be greater than the loss.

As a non sparrow user, this is exactly how I read this whole story. Google buys up 3rd party gmail mac developers group.

This seems like an obvious case of products/teams that should work well together. Something about synergies and all that.

How have they lost? Sparrow doesn't work any less well than it did before the acquisition. This is not a product that relied on a service that has been shut down. It still has the same utility it did before.

I guess my feeling on it is that I paid for an app on Mac on iOS that works fine, has no showstopping bugs and I have more than gotten my money's worth. Sure, push would have been nice on iOS, but to put it bluntly, the Sparrow team don't owe anybody anything. Esecpailly for Mac users, as it was pretty feature complete as is.

I wonder if the Mac Sparrow userbase is a very "early adopter"ish user base that has never really thought about abandonware on the desktop before. (There is no abandonware in web services, they just disappear.) TextMate 1, NewsFire and Photoshop CS3 are still very much alive on my computer. I have friends on 10.6 and Skype 2.8 (as far as I know), and family using software that came with their decade old Windows XP machine. No big deal.

The iOS userbase I can understand, as the devs apparently teased them with iPad screenshots.

Textmate is a terrific example.

Exactly. It's a success story for those acquired. Whether or not wider society benefits depends on what they create while at Google.

Since when does "put in maintenance mode" equal to "completely abandoned"?

It's like the word "indefinitely". It may mean "we can start it back up anytime!" from a dictionary sense, but it's actual use is that "it's probably not coming back".

"Maintenance" means that they will fix major issues that the paying customers are legally entitled to (such as bugs that make the app unusable). They will do nothing beyond that.

What law entitles users to bug fixes for major issues?

Nobody is arguing this is a legal problem, they're arguing that this is a moral problem.

Users did buy into the Sparrow thing because they expected updates/maintenance etc etc. Their purchase was contingent on the ongoing support of the service, they would not have bought a product they thought would be discontinued.

Now, you can argue that they should have known that the service might disappear without warning, that they should never have used it if there was the possibility of them being bought, but where does that leave us? Should people just stop buying popular apps created by small companies? Should people insist on a legally binding "community promise" to open-source a product if active development stops?

This also neglects the fact that users are statistically credulous - as a group they're simply not rational enough to seriously consider the possibility of the developer being acquired. The Sparrow guys had to have known this, so they either did something unethical when they sold the app or they did something unethical when they sold the company. The blog post says that it is fine to take advantage of them for their credulity, but that's not an ethical position, that's just Ayn Rand.

>Nobody is arguing this is a legal problem, they're arguing that this is a moral problem.

I'm not sure what you are talking about. The comment above the one to which you are replying states:

"Maintenance" means that they will fix major issues that the paying customers are legally entitled to (such as bugs that make the app unusable).

It's almost like you completely ignored this to make some point about Ayn Rand.

>Now, you can argue that they should have known that the service might disappear without warning

What service? We are talking about a downloadable application that is locally stored on the user's device until they delete it. It will not stop working. I've been using an old version of Thunderbird for a while now simply because I haven't felt like upgrading and setting up all my GPG stuff again.

These things may seem like nitpicks, but I think the nuance here is important and is being skipped over in favor of complaining about something. The reaction is way overblown in my opinion.

> The comment above the one to which you are replying states:

>> ...fix major issues that the paying customers are legally entitled to...

Ah craps. You're right, I skipped over that comment and assumed the one I was replying to was making a different point. I look like an ass, and it serves me right. I'd delete or edit the post to make a retraction, but HN has decided that it's important to keep my mistakes around for posterity.

From what you said above it sounds like Microsoft should also still be releasing and providing you patches for Windows 95. You paid a one time fee for an application, if you wanted support and updates for it forever you should have expected to be paying a monthly / yearly fee. If at the time the updates stop coming, then the company should just stop charging you the ongoing support fee.

Expecting lifetime support for a one time flat payment of almost nothing is pretty silly.

The "lifetime support" argument doesn't follow from anything I said. Users may not have been savvy to the possibility of the software being discontinued in this fashion, but they certainly understand that an end-of-life is inevitable. They're used to free updates over the natural lifespan of the product, and they feel that there's been a breach of courtesy when the natural lifespan of a product is willfully cut short.

What defines the natural lifespan of a product?

I don't know. I know that Windows 95 has long since reached the end of its natural lifespan, and that users feel that Sparrow's life was "cut short". I'm sure there isn't a sharp dividing line, but we don't really need one in this case - it's clear which side this falls on.

Sparrows lifespan is whenever the developers feel like not supporting it anymore.

Any software out there has a lifetime. Some go sooner, some later. What's the big deal?

Nice opportunity for an fast opportunistic developer to go and develop a kickass alternative and start selling it..

because i don't give a crap about 'maintenance mode". it's like an announcement "we will continue to provide the service blah blah blah .." and the service got shutdown 1 or 2 months later.

Does Sparrow's shelving completely block your access to your favorite email service?

What does that have to do with his point? It's totally irrelevant.

People love Sparrow, I can only assume because it made their lives better.

A tiny few are benefiting from the Sparrow acquisition, lots are realizing they're going to suffer in the long run by having to degrade, or at least Sparrow eventually falling behind other products in some areas.

But obviously the product wasn't generating enough revenue to protect it from a predatory acquisition.

This is no different from the 80s days of people buying companies to dismantle them so they can sell the assets.

It's just that the assets are developers.

So people are lamenting that something, somewhere in the equation is wrong. And it's probably down to the low prices they're charging in the app store.

Cheer on the cash out all you like, but it's never good for the customers. Time and time and time again the customers always suffer in these kind of acquisitions.

The email service is more important than a fucking app that makes one's life better. This kind of hysteria should be reserved for the day that email service shuts down.

BTW low pricing of apps is essentially (or at least was at the beginning) because without that Apple would not have been successful in persuading consumers to adopt paid apps on a tiny device - in most consumers' mind (even today), a software is worth paying if it is on a "real computer" and does something "big" (like statistics or anti-virus or the OS). Everything else is taken for granted and to change that mindset low prices were a necessity. And it still is thanks to the gazillion apps out there.

The whole of the author's argument, and its weakness, in four words:

> It’s fine. It’s business.

Why is this inadequate? Because whether something is 'business' is not the beginning and the end of whether it is a good thing to do. It is merely one aspect.

The market is not a perfectly accurate and complete representation for all of human wishes and behaviour. So we cannot delegate to it as the final arbiter on questions of what should or should not be done.

No, the whole issue is really the other way around. What currently happen to be the rules of the business game are not grounds for telling people what they should or should not want. What people want is grounds for examining how the market and business are failing to work well -- and then pondering how that could be improved. That seems the more reasonable, just, and interesting avenue to pursue.

The "It's business" attitude has been popping up a lot. Nobody seems to be making the distinction between good business and bad business. Everything I've seen around the Sparrow sale has been bad business. The told users they were working on push notifications and an iPad app. They had a half price sale last weekend! And even though they were charging a premium price and clearly had a sustainable business (they were one of the top grossing apps and were highly rated and publisised) they still screwed their customers.

There was a good way to do this. Finish push notification and iPad support before discontinuing development (i.e. keep your promises). Don't have a half price sale days before you are acquired without informing the users the product will be discontinued.

Premium price! It was ten bucks!

This whole episode has further reinforced my complete lack of faith in humanity. How people can get so upset at so little and be so entitled when they are owed nothing just disgusts me.

It's a premium when you look at the average price of software on the Mac and iOS App Stores. It's also premium considering my computer comes with a free email client and Google provides a free webmail app.

This says a lot more about the absurdly unrealistic prices on the app stores than it does about the actual value you get from your $10 purchase.

When I look at the top paid apps in the App store, I see at least as many >$10 apps as I see under $10.

If I look at my own App store purchases, $10 is easily on the cheap side.

It's amazing how so many people are complaining about the EOL'ing of a software app that's equivalent to the price of two lattes (one if you're talking about the mobile version), especially when the Sparrow guys said they'll be providing bug fix releases as required.

> It's amazing how so many people are complaining about the EOL'ing of a software app that's equivalent to the price of two lattes

The value of productivity software that is integrated to your workflow cannot be determined by its cost of purchase. Try taking Microsoft Word off an author's set of tools, and telling them that they only lost $120 and shouldn't be complaining.

Moral of the story: don't bet your digital life on cheap, cool, transient, proprietary, made-for-App-Store software built by enthusiastic young startup founders or "indie" developers.

They could legitimately complain, but anyone without a service contract who says that Microsoft owes them further updates is being a jerk.

What is the average price of third-party e-mail clients, or other productivity software of similar scope?

And how did anybody get "screwed" here, as you stated in your original post?

By 'free email client' do you mean the one funded by paying for your OS (Outlook Express), your hardware (Mail.app), or maybe Google (Thunderbird)?

It's disturbing that someone's faith in humanity is so fickle that it is perturbed by something like this. Human behaviour isn't exactly something new.

Fickle? Where did you get that idea? My lack of faith in humanity is as constant as the terribleness of humanity on which it is based. I merely said that these things reinforce it, not that it changed my mind.

As someone who bought Sparrow during their sale last week, I feel ripped off. I don't think they owe me free updates forever, but I would have liked to have known that it was a fire sale.

I paid full price for Sparrow and used it for two months. I didn't like it and switched back to Mail.app. But I don't feel ripped off because I got my money's worth from using it.

The app works, so I don't know why you would feel ripped off, fire sale or not. It's an overglorified EMAIL client for heaven's sake. How much more can you expect from an app that does e-mail?

Did you use a credit card (likely)? Charge-back.

I got it through the Mac App Store.

Many people have reported getting refunds

You feel "ripped off"...over $10? As in three cups of coffee?

Would you have bought it last week if you had known they were being bought by Google and effectively killing the product line?

It continues to function as-is (albeit with no updates) regardless of whatever happens to the company, right? And if it really is as useful as people are saying, on email, which most people spend hours of their day on, then I'd definitely still have bought it.

How much do you value your time? For most software professionals, $10 is not even rounding error.

This doesn't address the OP's post but here's a quote from Iain M. Banks along your line of thinking:

The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what- -works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is - without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset - intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.

and wtf does this mean in everyday language? ;-)

So are you suggesting there should be some arbiter other than the market of what a business can or cannot do with regards to product decisions, or acquisition opportunities? Who might do that?

Would you even consider developing a product if your hands were then somehow tied to supporting it and even improving it forever? Would your company be attractive to potential buyers if they were obligated to support your product line indefinitely after an acquisition?

On top of all that I mean we're talking about TEN DOLLARS. I often spend more than that on lunch. If you bought a $10 hair dryer on Amazon and later discovered that the manufacturer had been acquired and was no longer producing hair dryers would you feel ripped off? Betrayed? Offended?

They're not suggesting anything as far as I can tell. But I think a suggestion they would agree with would be for conscientious business owners to consider not only what's good business, but what is good for the consumers, even if it means not getting quite as much profit. It's about personal ethics. Of course, ethics, also demand you feed your family, so it's hard.

As for the hair dryer example, see the top-level comment by makecheck.

"What currently happen to be the rules of the business game are not grounds for telling people what they should or should not want"

I've not ever heard anyone say that. OP included.

There are no "rules of the business game", other than an obligation to make money. And other than abiding by the law, there are no rules on how that money should be made.

Whether you consider the process moral or not makes no difference. The metric is $.

"Cue predictable squawking on the internet."

And cue predictable anti-squawking squawking on the internet. The internet is a place for communication and people are allowed to express themselves. It's not entitlement. The entire goal of a software company is to make software people love so much they will complain when you take it away.

Congrats to Google for a smart talent buy, and the Sparrow team for catching the notice of Google and building something people will miss.

Now there is a clear market gap for someone else to reinvent email clients. Again.

He's got a point, but it feels like nutpicking to me, and a bit of attacking a straw man.

I don't think sensible people are arguing that the Sparrow team don't have a legal right to shut down or sell their company as they please. The discussion is over something subtler.

When I'm building something for my users, I see myself as in collaboration with them. And it feels the same to me on the user side. I'm not legally obligated to take an hour to write up a good bug report for a product I like. And I'm certainly not entitled to my usual hourly rate when I file the bug report. I do it because we're up to something together; capitalism is just the mechanism by which we make that sustainable and equitable.

I'm not a Mac user, so I've never even seen Sparrow, much less used it. But in their shoes, I wouldn't have just left my users in the lurch. I would have tried to find somebody to take over the product, or open-sourced it. Not because I was obligated, but because service to the users was the spirit in which I would have started the project.

It's hard to claim he's attacking a strawman when every point he makes has tweets demonstrating what he's talking about.

Straw man is not the best concept to evaluate arguments in the world of tweets where every potential argument can be exemplified without nuance or detail by 140 characters. If you are considering writing an essay (or ascertaining the truth of a situation) you should be focused on the best possible argument your opponent could be making, even if it's better than the argument they ARE making. The best possible argument they could make is a better representation of the reality you actually face (i.e. the reality as distinct from the argument you are having; the real reality that you want to come to have an understanding of, and doesn't care that you are arguing about it).

I personally don't think this article addressed AT ALL the best or most nuanced arguments mounted by the the opponents to Sparrow's actions, and I say this as someone who hadn't heard of Sparrow before today and thus doesn't have much of a dog in this fight (Although I am generally predisposed to the notion that people can do whatever they want with their own apps).

I don't really like the tone of this article.

I think the sparrow team did what was best for them, and congratulations to them for a successful exit. Goodness knows I'd do the same if I were in there position.

I think what's most disheartening about these types of situations is that as a consumer they make me less and less likely to support startups. Sure, a team like this doesn't "owe" you anything -- you purchase their software and that's the end of the transaction... but if you're going to invest your time and energy into learning, adopting, and loving their product/ecosystem you want to believe that it's got a future. It's a shame that the frequency of these acquisitions (and subsequent shutdowns) erodes consumer confidence in small companies that make great products. Why bother getting yourself hooked on a new product if there's a decent chance it won't be around in another year?

To be fair, Google's current culling of its products shows that this isn't just a small company problem. But I have confidence that GMail will still be around for the foreseeable future. Same for Apple Mail. Same for Outlook. They might not be as good, but at least you can be confident that if you learn their ins and outs it they'll probably still be around in two years.

I think people are frustrated about this and feel betrayed because they were a great indie dev team that made a great product and the users loved them and their product and supported them by purchasing and recommending their product from the beginning, despite the lack of features. Customers trusted them because they thought that the indie dev team will continue to be focused on improving the app and creating versions for other platforms (iPad, Windows etc) and now, boom, it's over.

The author of the blog post focuses too much on the money. It's not really about the 10 or 3 bucks. I was an early adopter of Sparrow and I literally jumped out of my chair when I read that the iPhone Sparrow app was released, because that almost completed my email workflow. Now Sparrow plays a big part in my workflow and I KNOW that the iPad app will never come out and that they won't release any new features or improvements for new iOS and OSX versions. I'm not frustrated about paying those 13 bucks or so but because I will have to stop using an app that fits so well in my workflow and start looking again for alternatives. Which is not a tragedy in the end and as a developer and startup enthusiast I'm actually pretty happy for the Sparrow team.

We tend to get too attached to these startups and it's painful to see them get acquired by the big players but it looks like it's a trend. It's getting harder and harder to be an early-adopter, to support a product/startup with money, data and feedback, to see it be awesome and then to watch it die.

Quick survey: Who paid for TextMate? Who also feels indignant about TextMate 2’s as-yet non-existence?

It’s intriguing to see the difference in reaction between Sparrow’s decisive EoL and the drawn-out, de facto EoL that TextMate experienced.

I'd just like to remind you all: Sublime Text 2 came along, and most of you who were using TextMate switched to that, right? You’ll survive. Just stop claiming a non-existent right to the productive output of another human, because once upon a time you bought something from them. You still have the version of Sparrow that you bought, and that’s what you paid for, whether you thought that’s what you were buying or not.

N.B.: I was tele-raised by Judge Judy, I don’t take kindly to irrational sentiment or feelings of indignation.

I bought TextMate because it was a capable editor in the midst of many to choose from. I don't use Sparrow but it seems much more like it's filling a niche that's not quite filled yet and people are buying it because it's worth it, but also because they see the potential.

A de facto EOL happens, developers get busy and projects get backburnered. But a acquisition a lot of time means the developers are hitting their stride and have a lot of potential.

Sentiment? Maybe. But come on....they coulda been a contenda. No one is claiming a right. It's just a shame that the potential for this is wasted. (Not the teams' talents, but their development investment in Sparrow.)

Sure, I appreciate that it seems like a lot of foregone future productivity/awesomeness (though we really don’t know what they’ll go on to do as part of Google). But some people are actually claiming a right.

I bought TextMate (multiple licenses). Still using it with no issues on all my Macs. If and when TextMate 2 is released, I will happily pay for an upgrade. If and ever, TextMate stops being an effective tool, I will look into purchasing another program (or use emacs).

In which case I have one thing to say: I wish most of the people clamoring about this particular issue were as reasonable as you.

For what it's worth, I paid for TextMate, and I'm quite happily still using it. I've been very unimpressed by Sublime Text 2, and I'm not even 100% convinced I'd switch to TextMate 2 if it ever does come out.

Software breaks, sometimes very easily. Who knows if the next OS update or 3rd party add-on will screw something up? Maintenance is important, and unlike some other products you can't just look around your city and choose from 10 or 20 businesses to do a repair. With a lot of software you're screwed unless one person, the author, can keep it working.

I'm not sure this is entirely clear to the average person buying software. The problems that software can solve may not "stay solved"; they depend on their entire ecosystem to be stable solutions. You aren't paying $10 to obtain something. You are paying $10 to temporarily solve a problem.

That's a little unusual among products that are sold. For instance, if you buy a toaster, the infrastructure dependencies are pretty low; there isn't much risk that the voltage in your wall will change and prevent the toaster from behaving the way it was designed. Not only that but there are many regulations governing how such a product can be made, minimizing the chance that people buying toasters will have to replace them every 4 days. If you buy an appliance, it tends to last. But the reasons for appliances lasting don't really apply to software. It's bad for consumers to pretend that it's the same type of purchase.

Either you buy disposable software, or you buy software that comes with a maintenance guarantee. But to buy the former and pretend it's the latter is bizarre.

And don't forget that maintenance guarantees come with a price.

I don't know of any $10 apps that have that type of guarantee.

Indeed. The very idea that $10 buys a guarantee of years of updates should be absurd on its face.

You are still taking a risk when you buy the toaster. If a toaster malfunction burns your kitchen and the shop or manufacturer go bankrupt you might not receive compensation.

Toasters don't get upgrades, the electrical plug and bread sizes don't change, and I have insurance for fires.

Right, toasters don't get upgrades. Now, neither does Sparrow. So they're more similar now, not less. You got downgraded from magic toaster to normal toaster.

OTOH, you may wish to buy app insurance, which will pay out $10 in the event that Sparrow suddenly, catastrophically fails and you're forced to buy a different app to get your email.

He fails to address the point, which I have mentioned on HN before, that aqui-hires gradually erode the confidence of future customers.

True, there will be no shortage of indie developers. True, Sparrow didn't owe anyone updates for life.

The problem is that each acquisition reduces trust in the minds of potential customers. It's more the fault of Google and Facebook but I still believe its the core problem.

This is a silly developer-centric point-of-view. I will repeat as I have said before - people for the most part invest in an app for the service it provides. In Sparrow's case it was mostly Gmail. If sparrow won't provide it anymore, users will eventually switch to another shiny app. I have never ever come across a person who was hesitant to buy an app just for the fear that it would be shelved by aqui-hire some day.

> I have never ever come across a person who was hesitant to buy an app just for the fear that it would be shelved by aqui-hire some day.

Give it time. The number of consumers burned by an acquihire is still relatively low, but it's growing. I've certainly heard people say things like, "sure that TV series sounds great but I don't want to get into it until I know they're not going to cancel it," having been burned by such in the past; if the current model of acquisition continues I think it's only a matter of time before it becomes a matter of common wisdom to avoid getting too hooked on a app, because if it's any good its developers will just get bought out and the app shelved.

As for "never ever", I will say that this issue is currently fuelling my own reluctance to even bother getting a smartphone at all, because I'm working from the assumption that any app I find particularly useful (other than the browser itself) will just go away. So, that's one.

> Give it time. The number of consumers burned by an acquihire is still relatively low, but it's growing.

Dwarfed by the numbers burned by pivots or outright failure though.

I think TV series is a bit too much. I mean, even I liked Firefly but "emotionally investing"? Come on.

On a different note, I do have a smartphone. But I hesitate as hell to buy apps on my Android (no paid app here) for the very fear that if I suddenly jump to another platform I'll lose everything. Of course, I'm quite new to this "new" smartphone generation.

My previous smartphone was a S60 Symbian over 6 years ago.

You should be on the lookout for apps that have versions across different platforms or at least have a Web access.

> As for "never ever", I will say that this issue is currently fuelling my own reluctance to even bother getting a smartphone at all, because I'm working from the assumption that any app I find particularly useful (other than the browser itself) will just go away. So, that's one.

No the sky isn't falling :)

I have, especially in B2B scenarios. "How do I know you'll be around in 3 years?" was a very common question when we started our business (niche web design and hosting).

If you're software gets used daily (think POS) or touches important data (think CRM, help desk), people absolutely care if you'll be around some day.

Some incredibly valid points in here, but I think there's a middle ground.

While Matt is perfectly correct that when you pay for an app, you get the app you paid for. But there's a very well known unwritten suggestion that you'll get updates for 1-2 years. At which point probably they'll release a new version, and you'll pay the upgrade fee. It's how most software seems to work. So, people technically don't have the right to complain - there is a lot of sense in why people are upset. And there's no real explanation from the developers that buying their software wasn't going to lead down that route.

I think the biggest issue about the acquisition for me is the fact Sparrow bled the product dry a week ago by having a sale and then doing this. It seems underhanded.

And for the record, I also find it a shame that they've been acquired. I'm happy for them to be given big wads of cash, but in a selfish way I would have wished to seen them tackle more problems in their way - producing quality results. I have a bad feeling as we've seen again and again, we won't be seeing anything from Google with the calibre that they did with Sparrow.

When I pay more than $100 for an app, I might expect 1 year of support, but for a $10 or $3 app, I don't. Unless you live in the third world, $10 is disposable software.

The contention about the sale last week is just overwrought angst, as it's still a pretty good app, and one that easily pays for itself after a couple of weeks of use, even at full price. From the messaging on the sparrow app store pages, they're still going to be providing bug fixes.

If $10 is disposable software, then I intend to stop paying for any software except games.

The problem isn't the amount of money I spend, it's the amount of time I spend mastering the software, and building it into my workflow.

If the Sparrow team thought they could have made a bunch more money by selling a support contract, then presumably they would have. That means that either they're unsavvy or you're in the minority. I'm guessing it's the latter.

I don't know whether you're trying to be serious or funny.

If you're suggesting that it takes more than 5 minutes to master an app like Sparrow, then good luck mastering the software you don't plan on paying for.

  Sparrow bled the product dry a week ago by having a sale and then doing this. It seems underhanded.
This is implies that either (1) the profit made from selling the app a week ago was distributed to the old shareholders before the sale went through or (2) the profit made was a factor in Google deciding to acquire. Otherwise, how could this benefit the Sparrow guys in any way?

Neither of those seems likely. I would guess the Sparrow guys did what everyone advises in this situation: Assume the sale will fall through, until they sign on the dotted line. In the meantime, do what you were going to do anyway.

I don't think most people are outright antagonising Sparrow (except perhaps for the fire sale last weekend, which seems a bit scummy.)

Most of the posts regarding this issue seem more to bemoan the landscape of the software industry at this point, where even if you have a well-selling, consumer-facing, high-quality app with critical phrase, it's still a rational decision to take a buyout from a tech giant even if it means shuttering your app.

Wasn't Siri's story a similar one? They shelved all the good things after being acquired by Apple. Did you feel similarly outraged at that time?

I don't use Sparrow, nor did I have an iPhone before Siri was acquired, so I didn't really feel outraged for either.

Wow. This guy is a real jerk.

Why in the world is it wrong for people to feel bad when something they like is cancelled?

"It’d be a shitty, reduced, pale imitation of what Sparrow actually was, because the developers would have had to take so much time off to attend the funerals of their families who had died from starvation."

I mean, throwing hypothetical come backs was bad enough but mixing uncalled for low blows to GPL really tops it off for me. This clueless person believes GPL is "shitty" by definition... what a lovely special snow flake intelect we got here, moving on. Make sure to miss the contribute button on his about page, he probably put it on there for sarcastic stance.

I think the guy is pretty spot on. There is a difference between feeling bad ("man this is an awesome app, it sucks I might have to find a replacement and port all my data") and the very real sense that a lot of the more vocal complainers seem to think their 10 dollars purchase earned them the indentured servitude of the Sparrow team.

He addresses just that. Feeling bad is one reaction, feeling betrayed and entitled to limitless updates of an app that you like is something totally different.

I haven't seen a single person being entitled or saying that they deserved more from Sparrow. People are upset because Sparrow is being abandoned, and "rights" or what you "deserve" has nothing to do with it. Creating a blog post attacking fake "my rights!" arguments is just silly.

I've seen quite a lot of people saying that. The author quotes several in his article. If people were merely upset, that would be one thing. But people are talking as if they deserve updates and new features.

I couldn't find any quotes expecting endless updates without paying more. The author is wrong in his approach either way. Looking at each issue in isolation. He also incorrectly accounts for the cost to the user. It's not just $10. It's also the time invested into learning the software, setting it up, etc.

He also makes a bunch of assumptions (of course they asked google about open sourcing, but google said no for example) and also skips over other serious problems (things sparrow said they were working on for the future).

Sorry, but this article is pretty bad.

Really? This is the very first quote he has in the article:

"Sparrow OWE me new features, since when you're buying a software produced by a startup, you're also supporting the development."

Dude, I could barely read the whole post through. It feels like he just HAD to respond to the rage against his tweet. I suppose he felt his manhood was at stake. He couldn't sound more of a douchebag with this phrasing really. Go on, phrase titles and respond to yourself then.

This is not the quality of posts I usually find on the front page of Hacker News.

Google beat us, the users, and Sparrow let them. Google is better at aggregating wealth than either we or Sparrow was.

That's the problem. Now, a solution.

What I think would have been interesting was an auction. Us against Google. Google bids first. $25MM. Then, in a Kickstarter fashion, we could bid against that, within a certain timeframe. I think this kind of "end user buy-out protection clause" should be a standard for startups like Sparrow, looking to both assure the userbase that they will not be pulled out from under them, and their own team that they'll get a comfortable payout no matter what.

Granted, a weakness of this plan is that if the consumers win the auction, what is to prevent someone else from making another offer immediately? The auction becomes something like an extortion scheme at that point. To deal with this the consumer side of the auction is time-limited - if the consumers win the auction, then product improvements are assured for, oh, 3 years.

The fact is that there are still rather obvious error modes. What if the developers sit on their hands? What recourse would the consumer bidders have? The simple answer to this, of course, is "very little." The burden will be on the team to show that they would like to continue to work on the project if the consumer side makes it make financial sense.

You're saying that there's a chance that a company who's total sales EVER are maybe 1/10 of that $25MM offer is going to get every one of its users, who ALREADY PAID once for the app, to pay 10X as much to keep them from being acquired?

I have no idea, but I like the idea of empowering people, of at least giving them the chance to control their fate. And Kickstarter shows that consumers can aggregate some serious dough if they want to.

I don't normally do this, but I'm replying to my own post, because I think it's fucking brilliant.

There's so much hand-wringing about the sparrow acquisition, and there are many words and few to the point. My first line, "Google beat us, and Sparrow let them," gets to the heart of it, with, I'd argue, the fewest possible words.

Any argument that involves the word "should" should be ascribed an extra helping of skepticism. What does "should" even mean? At it's heart, it's an expression of what we'd prefer. That is, it's an expression of preference. But it's a preference given the patina of: "truth, justice, and the American way". "Should" is a dirty word.

The connection between "should" and "regulation" is an important one. We connect these when we believe that a behavior requires the brutality of force behind it. The behavior is so important that we cannot accept an exception. There are some, but very few, such cases of valid "shoulds".

Hence the auction idea. And this auction idea is more of a brand, or a label, that can be applied to any startup. And the only reason why it wouldn't work is that the market is too small for the brand, that there aren't enough people for whom that brand would make much sense. And yet, a "startup compatible" brand makes sense to me, and I think the argument could be made cogently to others, such that a startup without such a guarantee of the option of longevity would suffer compared to those that have it.

And so a novel business model is born. I am proposing a company who's customers are software startups that offers a guarantee along the lines of a buyout auction. If the startup is the target of an acquisition, the users will be given the right of first refusal.

Fund me, pg.

The one by Cole Peters is the most ridiculous. People work to make money, among other reasons. There is nothing wrong with that. We don't begrudge the accountant, lawyer, or other people in other fields for making money. There is this group of people in our world that looks down on the notion of making money or have no desire to make anymore money than is required to live very modestly in a third world country. Once I was on a thread on HN debating wheher like $75K a year was "FU money."

It's fine to have these views but it is very much out of the mainstream and I think it makes technical people in our field look silly to the public or technical people in other fields.

Now yes there are good and bad ways to conduct business, perhaps it's not good for Google to essentially abandon the software but I don't feel anyone should begrudge the Sparrow team for going for a payday they thought was worthwhile. Someone says there was a "firesale" last weekend, I would say if they knew they were about to strike a deal and made an aggressive marketing strategy, there probably is something a bit wrong about that but I don't know any of the facts regarding that issue.

All I can think of after reading this thread is "don't go into the business of selling software to consumers for $5-10".

The reason we are angry is that the Sparrow founders (and investors and board) failed to give enough of a damn about their customers, placing shareholders before customers.

They have damaged their personal reputations forever with this decision.

They placed money over karma, dollars over doing awesomeness, cash over changing the world.

I feel they just missed an opportunity to grow Sparrow to dominate email across all platforms - an opportunity worth a lot more in both karma and dollars, and an amazing journey as well.

In short a poor decision made for the wrong reasons.

They may help Googke change the world of email. But they have messed up a beautiful opportunity to do so themselves and will now disappear into the anonymous Borg.

This is probably the smuggest smug piece of smug literature that ever smugged. Like I couldn't read through this properly; the smug was hurting my brain and making me forget how to read. The whole blogpost read like he just got in an imaginary argument in the shower and won it by being as condescending as possible and throwing down those putdowns as he did just then.

The only way that this could have been better if it was a facebook screenshot of him replying to someone who's upset with acquisition by writing a large essay about how "GPL will literally kill your family" and other ad-hominems, and then top it off by liking his own comment.

"Sparrow’s acquisition is a success story. Indie devs make a great product, build a customer-base, and are rewarded with a buy-out from a big company and they get new jobs with that company. It might not be what your particular goal or end-game is, but it is a success."

So when you boil it down "mak[ing] a great product, build a customer-base, ... are rewarded" with a job at google.

Therefore building the product was, essentially, like a job interview.

Yes, with a signing bonus of a few million dollars.

Using your vast and deep pockets to terminate a threat vs. competing against it simply doesn't sit right for many HN readers. There are some parallels here to the outcry against patents-as-business-strategy.

Definitely some odd responses to this acquisition.

1. The sparrow developers decided to accept a buyout offer. That's their business (literally). Should they accept less money to keep their users happy?

2. Yes, Google bought them and is killing off their product because of strategic reasons. That's how huge corporations work, if Google/Microsoft/Facebook/etc. didn't do that they would be at higher risk.

Sorry if this is a considered a highjacking but I'm curious as to why this post is racing to the top and the post of an active HN member(cpercva) did not get enough attention to make the front page. Colin's post is also from the perspective of an independent developer.


My post was on the front page for a few minutes, then suddenly dropped down to page 10. Presumably one or more people flagged it -- I'm not sure why, but it happens sometimes.

I have a pretty strong reason to be pissed off by the abandonment: there is an incredibly annoying bug[1] in Sparrow, that has been there since launch, and now I'm sure will never be fixed. Am I "feeling entitled" to have the software I bought work correctly?

I really don't see the point in this article. He is mad at everyone because they don't share his lax attitude? What is he trying to prove? Gist of the article: they're winners, we are losers.

[1] when you switch inboxes/labels the email list starts at a position seemingly relative to the previous' inbox size. That means almost every time I switch to my main inbox I'm sent back to 2009, and have to scroll all the way back up.

Just a few points:

1. The cost is NOT $10, it was $10, a couple of hours of setup, including filtering my backups, working around two bugs and filing them with Sparrow, following up with more details.

2. I was more annoyed with the whole "Woo hoo, we got ours! Oh, and we're killing that product that's become an integral part of your life. But aren't you happy for us!" announcement, than the actual sale. Well that and the last minute sales push. That was just shitty.

3. According to RescueTime, I spend about 6 hours a week using Sparrow. I don't think it makes me a "jealous, confused teenager" to be a little pissed that it just dumped me :-)

Good points. I wonder how they'll feel 6 months from now. Google isn't the best place for startup folks post-acquisition.

With a little patience, I think that they could have done better for themselves as well as their customers. As it is, they may have done well financially with this deal, but they've thrown their fanbase into the garbage and it remains to be seen how they'll do at Google.

If enough people liked sparrow, there's a niche for another indie dev to step up and clone the product... and maybe it could even begin as some kind of kickstarter project. but this time make sure that the product has at least an open-source version.

"You made a buying decision based on a promise. Really, really stupid."


Usually. Especially with software, you should buy based on what it does now, not what is promised. Even from big vendors. Remember how much was originally promised for Windows Vista, and what it turned out to be?

If you did it on the App store, yes.

If you do want to make a buying decision based on a promise, there's a place for that - it's called Kickstarter.

I'm happy for the Sparrow devs and that they have been able to exit for a (presumably) attractive enough sum. What I do feel sad about is that I think they sold too early. It feels like the Sparrow team stopped on first base, when the ball is sailing out of the park.

To me, it boils down to this: Sparrow is a success story because its acquisition will make tens of teams try to imitate it and innovate further and we'll end up with some even more amazing email clients. (hopefully some of them open source :)

Yes. When I saw this, it summons this to mind: http://xkcd.com/743/

I'm not sure if sparrow could have ever existed if it was open source. Maybe it could have. Maybe it could be released that way. However, if one is into the longevity of their choice of tools and wants to have a sense of ownership over the tool's future, this is a suitable reminder.

Sparrow customers now have no economical route to iterate on their tool of choice because of some plaintext forbidden to dissemination, and that is really Too Bad, but it is not mere misfortune: it is entirely predictable.

>Sparrow worked, in part, because it wasn’t open source. No, Firefox isn’t a counterexample - it’s funded by a huge corporation.

Google? Isn't that more of a mutually beneficial business relationship than funding? It was my understanding that Google pays Firefox to be its default search engine, which drives traffic to Google.

Similar business models might be possible for other open source projects. For example, I've contemplated open source forum software which would display ads benefiting the person running the forum 80% of the time, and ads benefiting the author of the software 20% of the time (or whatever).

"Mozilla’s consolidated reported revenue (Mozilla Foundation and all subsidiaries) for 2010 was $123 million, up approximately 18 percent from 2009"


We are told that if you don't pay for a product than you are the product.

So when we pay for a product and then get sold (Google wouldn't have bought the team if they didn't have any customers), it does feel disappointing.

Ah there's a better post explaining what I mean: http://www.elezea.com/2012/07/sparrow-google-acquisition/

In this case, though, the customers were still not full customers. The Sparrow developers were being paid less than their real market value. How do I know? Because the market just said they'll be more valuable at Google.

This ignores the linked post's author, who was willing to pay as much as they charged, and probably more. Unfortunately, he was apparently in the minority.

Matt Gemmell has always insulted people and this is no difference. It's okay that Sparrow was acquired but his blog posts, along with Benjamin Brooks, is why I never pay attention to it. It may be intelligent but it's riddled with hate. Most times it is directed at the customer or theists.

He never places the blame on devs like Culture Code who promised Things sync but were quicker to release an iPad app to make more money.

I don't find Benjamin's posts as user-blaming, per se, but I definitely don't feel he adds anything to the conversation besides "I got to try an app before you and here's how it doesn't fit my iPad-only blogger lifestyle and therefore won't fit into yours. Have I namedropped one of my friends yet?" That he feels his blog is Daring Fireball subscription-worthy put me (and how he updated his layout to look very similar to Gruber's), a previously everyday reader, off to reading it even in its free form.

I guess the whiners would have been happier if the company behind sparrow went bankrupt. It would have given them more closure I guess.

I can't believe everyone is so upset about this and it didn't even have push notifications. Get an Android device already!

Totally awesome. Love this piece!

I still wonder how much they got :)

I could not possibly agree more. This bunch of butthurt is just the latest in a long, LONG history of self-entitled Apple fanboys whining that someone found their super secret clubhouse.

There is no grand conspiracy. They weren't hired because Google was "AFRAID" that their software was "TOO GOOD" and was somehow a "THREAT" to their bottom line. That argument reeks of that tired old "there's a technology that lets cars run on water, but THE GOVERNMENT covered it up BECAUSE OF OIL!!!1"

Google makes popular mail service. People want a better UI. Third-party team develops a client with a better UI. Everyone loves the new client. Google hires the team that made the new client.

If your first reaction wasn't "Oh neat, now they're going to make the core gmail webapp more like Sparrow!", and was instead more along the lines of "OH NO, now EVERYONE will get to use what I've been enjoying!", then you are a fanboy. There is literally no other meaning.

Where the hell was the outrage when a neutered Siri came out with 4S showing that the original Siri that was shelved used to be much more useful?

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