inessential by Brent Simmons

Why I Love Indies and You Do Too

As much as I love Macworld, I have to say that the one indispensable website in our community is Daring Fireball — an indie website.

As cool as Twitter is, its early success in our community was due entirely to Twitterrific. And it took The Iconfactory to come up with the word “tweet” and the bird logo for Twitter.

It took Loren Brichter to invent pull-to-refresh in Tweetie.

It took Marco Arment to invent the entire read-later category with Instapaper.

And me, I shipped the first Cocoa RSS reader at a time when Mac users mostly hadn’t heard of RSS. (And while corporations have dabbled with RSS, it’s pretty much back to its roots now as an indie technology.)

* * *

I can’t find it now, but I was asked on Twitter a couple days ago why I placed such emphasis on indies. Isn’t the point that we want high-quality software, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from indies or corporations?

I’ve noticed something obvious about popular music — it’s almost never instrumental. There’s always a human voice singing a melody. We humans love human voices.

That’s what we get from indies that we don’t get from corporations. We get that human voice and the emotional connection that goes with it.

* * *

But it’s not just that human voice, and the thrill it gives us to see a smart person or team doing great work. It’s also that indies make software that no corporation would ever make.

Think of MarsEdit, a desktop blog editor that works with a variety of blog systems. While WordPress writes an app that works with WordPress, it takes an indie to write the app to connect to everything.

Or think of Pixelmator and (my favorite) Acorn. What corporation would go up against Photoshop? It takes indies.

A great example is Capo. I can’t imagine a corporation building this — and, if they did (with a team of six, probably), they wouldn’t be one-tenth as hardcore as one Chris Liscio.

Inventiveness, passion, and courage comes from indies, not from people who watch the bottom line.

* * *

But indies do have to watch the bottom line — at least enough to be able to survive as an indie so they can keep making software.

And I think we’re already missing out on great software that would have existed in a better context.

So it’s worth thinking about a few things. One is how things could be better for indies — Marco, for instance, suggests that the App Store should get rid of the top lists.

Another is that you, as an indie or potential indie, should know what you’re signing up for, and you should have enough information to make smart decisions that will allow you to keep doing what you love.

The advice I’ve seen boils down to a few things:

  • Start with small apps. Do a few of them.

  • Strongly consider doing Mac apps too. (You can charge sustainable prices for Mac apps.)

  • Start your business as a side business until it’s making enough money to support you.

  • Do contracting as needed to make up the income gap.

  • Don’t skimp on marketing. It’s important.

  • Persevere.

But know that you’re still going to fail, most likely.

I would love for you to prove me wrong. Write something that blows my mind and that makes you successful.

Ignore the doom and gloom. Make me eat my words. Please!