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Platform Whore: Apps & Services

Platform Whore is a series on Tech & Coffee designed to identify areas of self-imposed complexity, and contemplate if the complexity brings any added value. This entry focuses on apps and web services. For the sake of simplicity, the remainder of the post will speak of the "app", but the content refers to both.

The Attraction

It all begins innocently enough. You're just wandering along online, minding your own business. Suddenly you see two sets of terms that are totally avoidable used singularly, but when used in conjunction are a trigger for your weakness.

Set 1:

  • beta
  • pre-beta
  • alpha
  • pre-alpha
  • v0.X
  • dev build
  • pre-release demo

Set 2:

  • invite code
  • beta invite
  • alpha invite
  • early access
  • seeking feedback
  • early adopter

Combining words from these two sets is like combining the two agents that make up an epoxy-style adhesive. You know two things when you see them used together.

  1. There's something new and not quite yet ready for non-geeks AND

  2. you can be one of the special geeks that has access to it.

Geek Seeking App

The seed has been planted and the hunt begins. Normally at this point, the invite code is elusive. You weren't one of the first 100 callers when the text infomercial caught your eye, and so now you must resort to alternative methods. Not to worry though, you're a geek dammit! This minor delay shall not detour you from your targeted treasure. The tweet/email/blog post/sky writing says something like this:

Anyone have any spare invites to X?!

Most of the time, this will do the trick. Crafty developers are smart. They let you into the crack house (give you access to the app) and then give you a small sample (usually 3 - 5 baggies) to get your friends hooked. This is in their best interest and is not to call their motives into question. They need users, but they aren't quite ready for the masses…the unwashed, un-geeky masses. You get that reply and the endorphin button in your brain is pressed:

Here you go: DHSDFK495. ENJOY!

Honeymoon

You're in, and you're awesome for it. You use the app/service. You tell everyone how great it is. It's your favorite. You can't imagine how you got by all these years with anything else. It is just as awesome as you had imagined, and when it is released, you'll know you had your turn before it turns to shit. Life is good.

Granted, this is not always the feeling because sometimes the app sucks. When that is the case, you do what any good geek would do. You tell the developer what is wrong with it, hopefully through whatever channel they've asked you to use for such a thing. If the app improves with revisions, you know it was your feedback that made the difference. When it is officially released, you'll know you had a hand in its success. Affirmation achieved, you're still awesome.

Occasionally, the app sucks and doesn't get any better. You remind the developer several times of how bad the app is and how your recommended features and bugfixes will make it whole. If your feedback continues to be ignored, you do what any self-assured geek would do. You abandon it, and inform your fellow geeks through non-developer monitored channels that it is crap-ware and should be avoided for the good of all humankind. You've saved the world.

Sometimes, as in marriage, the honeymoon lasts forever. This is ideal, but seldom achieved. If you're a good user, you understand when an update is pushed that causes a crash and you forgive the developer. You use the app through good times and bad. You don't entertain the other apps that are shiny and new and do mostly the same thing, but the icon is sexier. You're a faithful geek, and as long as your app doesn't sell itself to the highest bidder, you'll stick by its side.

The Divorce

You've used the app. The app is not what it used to be. The app has decided to move on to someone else (usually to someone rich and famous). Sometimes the app has decided it doesn't want users like you anymore. It wants to be part of something bigger. It wants to join a cult and shave its head and let its data be for the good of the movement. You've been served with papers, but you had warning. The first warning was when the app told you that it was moving. Not to worry, the app said you'd still be supported; you still matter. Then you get the email informing you that they've decided to end development; strike two. You are told that you were loved and appreciated, but the app is no more. It wasn't you, it was them. Strike three, app is out.

On the flip side, often times you are the driver of change. You find a better app with better functionality, and you don't feel like there is anything wrong with deleting this app for the new and improved. After all, these are apps, not people. No harm done, no guilt generated. You keep this one around just in case, for a time, but you've basically started over at The Attraction and it is time to hunt. The thrill of the hunt is what you enjoy most, and therefore, you switch apps often.

Polygamy: The Divorce Alternative

Then there are the collectors, which is the group that I fall into, or fell into, most of the time. You find a reason to use more than one app for mostly the same purpose. You like having options and the more the merrier. You use several different apps and if questioned, you'll be happy to explain in detail why each one is special and each one deserves your precious time and attention. After all, when you are in a crowded category like Twitter applications (well…once crowded), or more recently, App.net applications, someone has to have tried everything so that the true victor can be identified. That someone is you; sweet, sweet affirmation.

Afterlife

You have ascended and can now think more clearly without the woes of the world clouding your judgment. You realize that using everything had its advantages, but came at a cost. This phase can actually happen due to circumstance. I started thinking more critically about the cost of time and attention when two little people (my sons) came along and now remind me constantly how much they want my time and attention. In this ongoing process of self-analysis, I've discovered that all of the above has occurred with startling frequency. I've paired things down. I let mentions of beta invites and new services pass me by and while the itch remains, I'm happy to have saved the time. That's not to say that I don't still switch apps occasionally, but I no longer do so without a clear understanding of the time it is costing me. Let me share a recent example of how the above stages occurred, start to finish.

Simple, Kind Of

Many of you will already know what Simple is. For those that do not, click here. I applied for my invitation to the shiny new online bank (which now more accurately describes itself as a banking service). After over a year of waiting, I got in and switched over my personal checking account to it, leaving my savings account (which it does not support) and credit card with Bank of America (who I've banked with since it was Barnett Bank here in Florida). The card came, and it was just as minimal and beautiful as I had imagined.

A clean, white card with only the Simple logo (which is spectacular, by the way) and the small Visa logo clouding its face. The mobile apps are awesome. The website is awesome. I even helped beta test (yes, I know…really driving it home here) the Android app. The transactions finally started showing up in Mint, which was one of the only early frustrations I had. Then, inevitably, the honeymoon began to end and I realized that for as awesome as Simple is, it adds unnecessary complexity for me.

My wife and I keep separate checking accounts as it is what works for us. We manage finances as a team, and I track purchases and trending through Mint, which connects to all of our accounts. My wife takes a portion of her paycheck and gives it to me in cash so that I can deposit it into my checking account and use it towards bills, etc. Simple does not have the ability to accept cash deposits; strike one. So, while using Simple, my workflow has been to take the cash my wife hands me, and deposit it into my still open Bank of America checking account via the ATM. I then need to remember which bills I pay from that account, and which I have setup to auto-pay or pay online using my Simple account. This is not hard per se, but it is more complex than having everything in one place for bill payments. For those that are wondering why I bother putting the cash in a checking account at all, Mint is much more automated with where the money goes if it is a debit/credit card transaction. Otherwise, I'd need to manually add each cash transaction to track things accurately. Complexity where it isn't needed once again; strike two. My mortgage financier changed, and I now no longer have the ability to make fee-free payments through their website. I can pay without sending a check, however, I have to sign up for auto-deductions from my bank account. I cannot sign up for this without a voided check. They will not accept the "sample" check that Simple provides on its site, and Simple does not offer paper checks (it is 2013, and this is actually a selling point of the service; not a knock on them at all). Not Simple's fault, but strike three.

I'm going to be moving away from Simple and back to Bank of America for my checking account needs. I have enjoyed Simple's service and the edge they have on website and app design will make them the better choice for many people. It is just one example of how my mentality to try something new caused a reduced level of simplicity in my life. I chose to use it as the example here because the irony of the service being called Simple was too good to pass up.

Afterlife entered, simplicity achieved.