Software Love

How many software and web applications do you love?

I mean really love. I mean love like love for your favorite song or pet. You love it because it’s perfect the way it is and there’s nothing that could ever replace it. The kind of love that everyone knows about because you keep telling other people to use it too.

I mean the kind of software love that makes you happy when you use it. Not “my first cigarette of the morning to sate my addiction” happy. I mean happy like heart flutters that you get anxiously waiting for the app to load. It’s the kind of happiness that comes from realizing that you’ve used it for hours but you didn’t notice the lost time because you were having so much fun.

I honestly can’t think of any applications that I love. One reason is because I’m forced to use many applications that I hate. That’s not love; that’s suffering. MS Outlook — I mean you. It’s no fun to be forced to do anything, especially being forced to use a crappy application.

And I definitely don’t mean the love of an experience versus the love of an application. Teens don’t love MySpace or Facebook. They love the interactions and connections that those sites facilitate (and they don’t necessarily love that either). That’s not true love; that’s playground love. That’s why Friendster, once loved by millions, was displaced in time by MySpace. And that’s why MySpace and Facebook will be replaced by the next new .com in time.

Why don’t we love the software we use?

We don’t love the software we use because we’ve become accustomed to mediocrity. By “we” I mean both application developers and application users. The developers settle for mediocre applications by removing the best and most desired features, not testing with their users, and releasing applications with known bugs and useless error messages.

When confronted, developers handwave the problems away. “It works for me.” “It was designed to work like that.” “I know what our users want.” If the developers felt the pain that their users feel, maybe they would produce better software.

Users settle for mediocre applications by buying them, tolerating them, and not demanding more. There’s an old joke about what would happen if MS Windows was a car — how the car would break down all the time. Users accept the fact that their applications will have errors. And because (most) software errors aren’t life threatening (compared to errors with your car), there’s no mass revolt in the populace to demand better software.

But not all software is buggy; sometimes it’s simply unusable. You enter a command and it does something completely unexpected. You can never remember where the buttons are. It’s not your fault. However, most folks aren’t motivated to speak out about these problems. And even if you do speak out, why should they change it just for you?

Every hindrance further entrenches developer and user in their points of view. From the developer point of view, all users are stupid. From the user point of view, all applications are crap. So from the first moment that someone sits down with your application, you have to work that much harder to get over the users’ initial application pessimism.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In fact, it isn’t always like this. There’s only one application that I’ve ever heard someone say they love. That app is Flickr.

Why does Flickr succeed where others fail? Because it’s fun. And easy to use. Few (if any?) problems. It’s a pretty simple formula. Other app makers should try to understand the phenomenon of Flickr before they start their own application development.

There’s a similar reason why Apple products are so popular. It’s because they’re designed. By people with skills in designing things. Apple’s designs aren’t perfect. But their designs stand out because they design their products (unlike the rest of the computer industry which doesn’t design their products at all).

It doesn’t have to be like this because we know the best methods for creating easy to use, fun, well designed, bug free applications. Most people don’t follow those methods though. The result is another crappy application; it makes good apps like Flickr or good designs like Apple’s stand far out from the rest of the pack.

What’s your lesson from this? You can get people to love your software. You just need to put the time and effort into it. Users know crap software from the good stuff.

If your stuff is crap, don’t be surprised when your users flee when a marginally better competitor surfaces. Your users might not love the new application more than yours. But without love for your application, there’s no reason for them to stick around when something — anything — better comes along.

Dear Mr. Time Magazine Editor

Dear Mr. Time Magazine Editor,

The site I work on was listed as one of your 5 Worst Websites — 5 worst of the year? Month? Hour? Doesn’t matter — it’s a backhanded slap from a distinguished magazine like Time.

First, let’s clear up something. There is no adware or spyware on our site. Putting the name of our site next to those words is insulting and deceptive. You’re journalists; you know the power of words as well as I do. Take those back.

But let’s get serious for a second. Here’s the opening sentence from your tirade against my site:

It has become trendy to tack poems, photos, icons, logos and other digital flotsam and jetsam onto email messages.

This sentence tells me everything I need to know about the person who wrote this article. You’re a late-30’s, early 40’s person who reluctantly has adopted these new web technologies. Email is still amazing to you. All the kids who are on instant messing or using “the blogs” are wasting their time on the computer when they should be reading books, going outside, or subscribing to Time Magazine.

Signatures “[have] become trendy”? It was trendy to add a signature to your email a decade ago, when email was in infancy and everyone wondered, “how do you make that little line appear at the bottom of all your emails?” Now it’s expected that everyone does it.

Regarding your specific complaint that people are putting Meez in their emails, it’s a rare thing. The only people I know who put a Meez on the bottom of their emails are me and my coworkers, only in our professional correspondence, and only because we’re damn proud about the site we’re creating.

Let me be clear about this; the people using our website don’t use email. Seriously. They put their Meez in their blogs, in their IM windows, on their profiles, but not in their emails because they don’t use email. Let me repeat that in terms you can understand — our core demographic doesn’t use email. Yours does.

Another way of understanding your panning our site is “pandering” to the email lovers such as yourself who feel that Meez and “other sites of its ilk” have sullied your fertile ground of emails. You can have email; we don’t want it back.

Our Meezers love our website, come back regularly, and always are inspiring us with great feedback, ideas, and encouragement. We love the people using our site, and we do as much as we can to make their time on our site kick ass. I doubt Time Magazine or get glowing messages like these from your audience, or that you do as much as we do to make your users love your site. In your case, you should aim lower and first try to make your site tolerable. (You still have a long way to go until you get there.)

So why did you pick on our site?

Your comments said it all. You hate images in your emails, and you saw one of our Meez in your emails once. And then you decided to single out us among the many sites like ours to quell your email signature anger. I expect that kind of hack journalism from Bill O’Reilly, not from Time Magazine.

You also put us in the same camp as other signature and smiley providers; we share more in common with avatar sites like WeeWorld and Gaia Online than those other sites you mentioned. Then again, I don’t expect you to know what Gaia or WeeWorld are or what an avatar is. I’ll write a description of them and email it to you (with my Meez in the signature).

When I’m thinking about the new features on our site, I think about the people who will use it on our site — mostly teens — who love our site, tell their friends about it, and spend lots of time on it. But our site is not for everyone. It’s probably not for you. When you to cite my site as one of the worst ones ever, to complain that we’re clogging up your inbox, and to insult our “cutesy creatures” loved by our users, you reveal that you don’t understand the appeal of our website. You just don’t get it. That bears repeating.

You don’t get it.

And that’s why I don’t give a fuck what you say about my website. And you should be honored that I spent this time to call you on your bullshit. I don’t waste my time on elitist idiots like you except to point out their idiocy and make them look like the idiots that they really are. So take your list and shove it until becomes the top website on the web.

If you really want to see how much people are annoyed about email signatures, let’s put yours (with no Meez) and mine (with my Meez) side by side and ask folks which ones they like better. I’ll wager they’ll like mine better. If I lose, I’ll subscribe to your toilet paper roll of a magazine for a year. I’ll even read the whole thing every week. And if you lose, you have to put a Meez of yourself in your email signature for a year. Sounds good?

Last, and most important by far, your insult of my website isn’t an insult to me. It’s an insult to the millions of people who have come to, registered with us, and proudly displayed their Meez on their websites for everyone to see. Is it really the Meez that bother your or the people putting Meezes in their emails? Just like dissing MySpace for the spammers who have made it an ugly place, you’re dis of my site is really a complaint about the behavior of people expressing themselves through the Meez in their email signatures. You can insult email signatures all you want, but I won’t let you insult my users.

Those are my users. Stay the fuck away from my users.