inessential by Brent Simmons

Notes on being a nice person online who sells software

This originally started out as an internal memo about marketing, but I’m posting it here instead.

Marketing isn’t a bad word. But the word “marketing” can cheapen real experiences. This is really about being a nice person.

Here’s my theory: you are a nice person

If you’re not, then stop reading right here, you jerk, so I can be right.

The second part of my theory: you’re a nice person, but you wouldn’t mind some tips on how to express it.

Complainy people rarely achieve in this business. People hate “whiny developers” — as if they’re particularly prone compared to other people (they’re not; they’re less prone, I believe).

They also hate “arrogant developers” — again, as if it’s an epidemic (it’s so totally not). If anything, lots of developers under-value themselves and their work. (That’s the real, and sad, epidemic.)

So here goes, in random order, some human-to-human interface guidelines:

If someone reviews your software in a publication or weblog, thank them

As long as a reasonable person would consider it a fair review, that is. If it’s not fair, bring that up with them, but do it politely. Be cool. But unfair reviews on the web are rare, I’ve found.

Consider what they’re doing: taking the time engage with your software, thinking about it, figuring it out, doing stuff with it — and then writing it up for other people. It’s not nothing, and you appreciate it.

Consider other people when something’s going on

Say there’s a promotion of some kind you’re doing with other developers: think who else might be invited.

Or, in a simpler case, say you’re at a conference at some restaurant or bar — think of who’d like to be there but doesn’t know to be there. Text ’em, use Twitter, whatever.

Use people’s names!

Don’t skimp when typing or talking. Almost no word is as sweet to a person as their own name.

And be sure to get it right. I go a little crazy for two seconds every time I see my name written as Brett.

Worse… when I was in kindergarten, my teacher Mrs. Hitch told my parents I was hyper-active. I was certainly in trouble all the time. Getting mad and breaking stuff and punching other kids is bad, I guess.

It turned out that it was because she was calling me Peter (my first name), despite my insisting that I was Brent. Once my parents filled her in, I miraculously recovered from my hyper-activity.

(Recovered somewhat. I still got blamed for things I didn’t do. Bite me, Mrs. Hitch. I’ll remember you forever, and with a complete lack of affection.)

Don’t complain about other people and things

Stupid comments on a weblog or the App Store? Ignore them. (Or learn from them, even when all there is to learn is lessons about human behavior.)

Your competitors? Don’t denigrate them. You’re above that. (Winners are always above that. People who can get away with trash talk in this business are rare.)

Random big company that sucks? You can complain, yes. But don’t go overboard, because you end up looking like a bitch. I would recommend succinct over lengthy. Make your point, then stop.

Your platform vendor (if you have one)? Tread lightly. Constructive criticism, offers of help, etc. are good. You don’t want other people, especially people who work for your platform vendor, to go, “Oh, so-and-so, complaining again. Whiny bastard.” Then you’ve wasted your time — and you look ugly.

This calls for no drama, no hyperbole. It calls for intelligence, accuracy, insightfulness, compassion, and imagination. This is one of those rare occasions we have to pretend to be adults. Remember: this is business.

Okay, so you can complain, yes, yes you can, but take care in how you do it. I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude: I’m saying the web is full of whining, but whining is powerless. Kvetch Better.

Give out serial numbers and promo codes to people you know

Remember that the percentage of people you know is very, very small (or should be) compared to the size of the market you’re after. Be generous.

The web is part gift economy. Generosity is repaid over and over.

Help the next person

Did somebody help you out once? I bet they did. Then help someone else out.

I don’t know if the Mac/iPhone/iPad community does this more than other developer communities. Maybe we just think we do. But I know we do it a bunch.

A recent example I noted was Dave Wiskus raising funds to get Mike Berg of We Heart Games to 360iDev. It worked! Will Mike Berg help someone else some time? I have no doubt.

(It doesn’t have to be about money. It’s rarely a money thing.)

There’s more

But I’m drawing a blank at the moment. So I’ll stop. Back to coding. (Just fixed the one known crashing bug in NetNewsWire/iPad, thanks to a patient and helpful user, so it’s a good night already.)

PS I’m far from perfect. Example: every day it bugs me that I’m months behind on thanking Lex Friedman for a review he did. I should fix that.

PPS This advice is for software developers, not mythical creatures like John Gruber or the Macalope.