They want Sandy

Friday 28 November 2008

Rael Dornfest ran a company called Values of n which built two web services, stikkit and I Want Sandy, both of which seem to have been well designed and very well received. But the intellectual property of the company, and Rael himself, have been acquired by Twitter, and both services are shutting down with two weeks' notice. People are naturally upset (from a comment by ToddZ):

Chalk me up, too, as disappointed in this rather callous decision. Not only disappointed in the loss of Stikkit and Sandy, but disappointed that the Twitter folks would bring someone onto the team who is so willing to scuttle a boatful of passengers to leap unencumbered to the next lucrative opportunity.

Yeah yeah, these are free services - but they were made, allegedly, to benefit users. You invited us to make these services part of our day-to-day lives. That was their purpose. Now, having been successful at that, to so easily dispose of their users calls into question your motives.

No more trust from me. No more investment of my time, energy, and evangelism. I'll be canceling my Twitter account. Not going to get burned again.

There's more user reaction at the thread on getsatisfaction.com.

I understand this dilemma all too well. We have fought to keep Tabblo alive after the acquisition by Hewlett-Packard, and have not always done a good job of it. These web 2.0 companies all offer free services, and something has to pay the bills, so it isn't always possible to be altruistic forever.

But at the same time, we live in a web world where the culture is to offer services free or very cheap. None of these interesting technologies would have flourished if they had to be bought from day one. How many photos would Flickr currently have if you had to pay $25/year to upload anything? How many tweets would be sent if you needed a credit card and paid 2 cents to send one?

So it's a delicate balancing act. Closing down a service with two weeks notice seems pretty harsh to me, especially if one of those weeks is Thanksgiving when many people may not notice. How hard would it be for Twitter to keep those services running? For the sake of all of us that want to experiment with free services to try out cool new technology, everyone has to be careful not to be too cavalier with the trust users put in us. It's hard enough for a small team to build something people will invest their focus in — to shut it down as if it were no big deal is careless indeed.

As it is, I only heard of I Want Sandy because of this controversy. Will its legacy be that it was the Web 2.0 thing that burned a bunch of users? Rael and Twitter were remarkably clumsy with this transition. Forget about the technology, they are both in the business of building stuff that people want to use. That includes building trust that those services will stick around.

No amount of disclaimers now that the service was free will change the fact that everyone involved in building it really wanted users to invest their time, energy and trust in the service. If you want users to use your service, you have to treat them right. "It was fun, I'm on to the next thing" isn't good enough, and "it was free, what did you expect?" is insulting. No one starting a new service like this would say, "It's free, we'll keep it running until something else comes along," on their home page, so they shouldn't treat the shutdown of the service that way.

This is a black eye for the whole industry. People are already suspicious of using free in-the-cloud services for important data. Rael's handling of this shutdown seems uncaring. He and Twitter should have done a better job handling their most valuable possession: people's trust.

Comments

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thp 6:13 PM on 28 Nov 2008

True. I was using "I want Sandy" some time ago and liked it, but I try not to depend on such services for exactly that reason (and because the software I'm using would be non-free then).

I wanted to make an open source version of "I want Sandy" for my personal use and to benefit others. Maybe this would be an important project now.

This is also why I am happy to use such services as identi.ca (uses the open source laconi.ca software)- they provide a nice web service, and I think I'd probably pay for a good service there, because I know that in case I grow dependent upon the service and identi.ca goes away, I can go to some other hoster or install the software on my own servers.

So, whenever you decide to create a nice web service, please follow the good example of the laconi.ca folks and provide the source code for your service, so users can install it on their own servers.

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bcl 10:38 AM on 30 Nov 2008

This is a core problem with Web2.0, the cloud, and service based systems. When you are using something for free, and it isn't running on your own hardware, your data is available at the whim of the service provider.

Yeah, its harsh that the services are being shut down, but the reality is that we are going to be seeing this happen more often in the next year. Some people forget that all this stuff costs money. Hardware and bandwidth obviously aren't free, and when a service becomes more popular it suddenly has to scale without the income to support it, or suffer the wrath of the 'users'.

My mother taught me that 'you get what you pay for', which is certainly true in the Web2.0 world.

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Ned Batchelder 1:06 PM on 30 Nov 2008

"Some people forget that all this stuff costs money". True. But Twitter seems to have forgotten that you reap what you sow. By shutting down this service, they've taught everyone not to use services that are free, which seems like shooting themselves in the foot. It wouldn't have cost them much more to keep the thing going until there was a clear path out for their users.

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David Boudreau 2:47 AM on 1 Dec 2008

Interesting take on it, but does this mean that if you decided to take down your blog or simply discontinue it, would we, your loyal readers, have any right to be upset with you? Disappointed, certainly, but I mean would you have wronged us somehow?

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thp 3:47 AM on 1 Dec 2008

A blog is not a tool that you use, like Sandy or Twitter. Closing down a blog can be better compared with the "owner" of a Twitter account closing down her account on Twitter. In that case, they close down a whole service, which would mean something like closing down Blogger or some other blog hosting service, but not a single blog.

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Ned Batchelder 3:54 AM on 1 Dec 2008

If I had touted my blog as an awesome service that would make your life easier, and did everything I could to encourage you to incorporate it into your daily workflow, then yes, you should be upset. If I did it because I was moving on to another blog somewhere else, and tried to get you to then incorporate that blog into your daily workflow, you would have every right to say, "Screw off, I'm not getting burned again".

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David Boudreau 12:35 AM on 2 Dec 2008

...ok, point taken. If I lost my free email account I'd be screwed. Maybe this could be a strong marketing move to work something into similar free web 2.0/cloud services' EULA's, like we the company agree that if we don't want to do this anymore, we will allow someone else to take it over. A lot the value of those services lie in all the other users using it too; the more users, the better the service itself. So if I Want Sandy and stikkit are so popular in this sense, I don't understand why someone else didn't just make this guy an offer to take it off his hands and keep it going.

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masukomi 8:36 AM on 20 Dec 2008

And now Six Apart has hired the creators of Pownce and summarily executed it too. There's fairly long thread on a Six Apart (i think) entry about it where people were very upset because they'd built communities within Pownce, and really appreciated the features it had that set it apart from the other microblogging tools.

What I don't get about all of these is why they don't sell them. Yeah the services may have been free (Pownce did have a paid version similar to Flickr's pro account) but it doesn't mean that there isn't some creative entrepreneur wouldn't happily step in and make a go of it. Any existing community of size is worth money... The legal fees of setting up the "here's what you're buying" document would be trivial and they'd all certainly bring in thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands. And who doesn't want a check with lots of zeros?

The communities get to live on, the creators get to pocket more cash, the company that bought the creators, obviously doesn't care about the services or their communities so they're not loosing out....

I just don't get why you would kill off these sites like that.

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masukomi 8:38 AM on 20 Dec 2008

ok, I missed the part where sandy's dna was going to live on in twitter, but even so.... If you leave the site running until you've integrated the stuff into twitter then you can invite sandy's users over with "all the stuff you loved about sandy is now here in twitter...." and voilla, a pile of users who aren't pissed at you for killing their favorite service.

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