Don’t offer $50 for your favorite feature

This hasn’t happened to me in a little while, so I don’t think I’ll hurt anyone’s feelings by bringing it up. (I hope not. I don’t intend to.)

I bet every Mac and iPhone developer (and probably some Windows developers too) has heard this at least once, if not dozens of times, from someone who uses their software: “I will PayPal you $50 right now if you will add this feature for me.”

Note to world: don’t do that!

It’s actually a little bit insulting.

Least-important reason: time

The developers I know are empathetic and they know it’s not meant as an insult. But consider a few things:

The feature you’re asking for might require millions of dollars and a decade to create — or more, if the expected breakthroughs in AI and quantum computing don’t come through.

Or it might take a month.

Or it might take a few days.

Or might take an hour.

But $50 pays for about 20 minutes of development time at the going rates.

Developer pride

So what if the feature really did take only 20 minutes? Sounds like a fair deal.

But here’s the important thing: the developer you’re talking to has one thing in mind: to make great software that delights people.

With that in mind, the developer may or may not want to do that feature. The $50 is nothing. If it’s the right feature and the right time to do it, the developer will do it. If it’s not, then it won’t get done.

You can help your cause by telling the developer how you’d use the feature and why it would help you. But anything else is likely to work against your case.

The developers I know would rather rip up $50 bills, long sequences of them, than do something that, in their best judgment, is against the best interests of the software and its users.

And that’s why it’s kind of insulting, because it goes right to a developer’s pride and craftsmanship. It suggests they’d ditch all that for $50.

Update 11:08 pm: Here’s Daniel Jalkut on the subject: The Payoff Proposition.

16 Jul 2009

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