Earlier this afternoon, I tried to open up Echofon, my desktop Twitter client of choice. It gave me a persistent “401″ error, which meant that it wasn’t working with Twitter’s API. I did some searching and learned that Twitter had changed its API, and if I wanted to continue using Echofon, I’d have to upgrade to the current version.
No problem! I upgrade things all the time! I hit the update link in the menu, and the app told me that I was using the current version. Uh oh. A little more searching, and I learned that Echofon wasn’t supporting the version I bought, but was supporting a version that I could buy through the App Store. I didn’t want to pay again for the same app, so I looked for something different, and now I’m very happily using Tweetbot.
An interesting thing happened, though, that I thought was worth discussing in more depth than 140 characters at a time allows.
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) June 12, 2013
A non-zero number of developers were offended, and a growing shitstorm swept across my desktop. The general gist of the response was that I suggested users should expect free support forever and never pay to upgrade software. I read what I believe to be a large number of false equivalencies, and rather than try to respond point by point on Twitter, I’ll talk about it here where we can probably have an interesting and informative discussion.
First off, I never suggested that developers should not get paid for their work, because I do not believe that. I did not mean to imply that all upgrades (like OS 1 -> OS 2) should just be free. I also realize that, in this specific instance, Echofon did nothing wrong. The developer ended support for its desktop version (which I had bought a license for in-app) and began to support mobile and App Store versions. So I would be wrong to expect Echofon to give me the App Store version because I’d already paid for the version I was using. In other words, I wasn’t paying twice for the same app; I was paying twice for essentially the same app that would be supported through different channels. I still don’t feel okay doing that, and I think it’s silly to expect users to pay again because Twitter changed its API, but I support Echofon’s decision to conduct their business the way that they feel is best for them. For the record, someone at Echofon offered to give me a license key to use with the App Store if I sent an e-mail copy of my receipt to them. I don’t know if they’re extending this offer to everyone.
One of the many false equivalencies was “would you do Star Trek again for free if it was reshot to 16:9″. This is absurd, not only because I’m more suited to play Riker than Wesley, but the more I thought about it, I began to consider what this person may have been saying.
What I think this person may have been saying was something like, “if you were asked to do your job again because the technology had changed since you first did it, would you think it’s reasonable to not be paid for your job.” Another wondered if someone who paid for w00tstock 4.0 could reasonably expect to get into w00tstock 5.0 without paying. Again, I believe this is a false equivalency (the w00tstocks are entirely different shows — versions, if you will –, while the specific piece of software I was talking about had stopped working and would not work again if I didn’t pay for the same software in a different distribution channel), but I see where that person is coming from. If I was a software developer and I read my tweet, I may have pulled out my jump to conclusions mat and decided that Wil Wheaton was saying my job isn’t worth getting paid for, and what I make isn’t worth supporting. Man, that Wil Wheaton is really a dick!
So, to be clear: everyone who makes things deserves to be compensated for their work. I fully support developers who make awesome software (and Echofon is awesome) and fully believe that those developers should be able to earn a living from their work.
Further: I would never expect that I am entitled to OSX 10.5 simply because I bought OSX 10.4, especially if the new OSX was fundamentally different from the old one. However, I do believe that it would be wrong for Apple to make me pay an additional fee because something I already bought from them stopped working through no fault of my own.
This point is where I feel like what I was saying and what developers on Twitter heard diverged. If you invest lots of time and energy into a new version of your product, and you believe it’s fair to charge users for that new version, that’s entirely your prerogative. I do not believe that it’s right to charge users for what’s essentially a maintenance update, but as I am not a developer, I can’t say if that’s fair or not.
What I do know is that I will always support development of projects I love and which provide me value when I use them. All things (in this case, features) being essentially equal, though, I will give my money to the developers who provide me with the best service experience, and in this case, I got a better service experience from Tweetbot than Echofon. Your milage may vary.