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.
This seems like an obvious case of products/teams that should work well together. Something about synergies and all that.
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.
The iOS userbase I can understand, as the devs apparently teased them with iPad screenshots.
"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.
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.
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.
>> ...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.
Expecting lifetime support for a one time flat payment of almost nothing is pretty silly.
Nice opportunity for an fast opportunistic developer to go and develop a kickass alternative and start selling it..
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And how did anybody get "screwed" here, as you stated in your original post?
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?
How much do you value your time? For most software professionals, $10 is not even rounding error.
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.
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?
As for the hair dryer example, see the top-level comment by makecheck.
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 $.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
I don't know of any $10 apps that have that type of guarantee.
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.
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.
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.
Dwarfed by the numbers burned by pivots or outright failure though.
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.
No the sky isn't falling :)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Why in the world is it wrong for people to feel bad when something they like is cancelled?
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.
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.
"Sparrow OWE me new features, since when you're buying a software produced by a startup, you're also supporting the development."
This is not the quality of posts I usually find on the front page of Hacker News.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 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.
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 :-)
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.