With the ever-growing popularity of smartphones and apps comes an incessant need to reiterate the age-old message, “You get what you pay for.” Unfortunately, with so many people on the “I want it free” bandwagon, and thousands of brilliant (and some not-so-brilliant) developers eager to spread the love, tech communities are riding a roller coaster that’s close to throwing us all off track.
Don’t get me wrong. I love free apps – I use several on my Palm Pre Plus. Fortunately, I’m not the one forcing developers to choose between doing what they love and feeding their families.
Manufacturers of pay-for products factor support costs into the price of the product. Adding more employees (like techs and customer service reps) and newer technology requires additional investment, and that’s all passed on to the consumer.
For free app and open source developers, it translates into less bug fixes and delays on new features while they spend endless hours answering customer service questions that are often already documented.
Case in point: James Harris created a stellar Free Music Ringtones app for webOS. I’m talking feature rich, slick and – yes – totally free! It was among the most popular apps for webOS until, on June 30th, he pulled it from the catalog. His reasoning was simple and understandable. James was spending too much time responding to more than 10,000 emails, the bulk of them asking questions that were addressed both in the app’s description and help menu. The end result is that future users won’t (as of yet) be able to use this popular app, which James spent the better part of a month tweaking-to the point where it was nothing short of award winning.
There have been some “internal” labels coined over the years, which describe the types of users with which many techs deal. There’s the ID-10-T error (if you’ve ever heard this term, they’re actually calling you something – ID10T) and the always popular RTFM problem (that means Read the F***ing Manual). Chances are good you’re not the dimmest bulb in the lamp in the long trail of support calls and email support threads, and things get better – IF you take action.
- Read the manual, help files and FAQ. Trust me, more often than not, the problem you’re having is addressed in one of these key spots. In fact, you’ll most likely get answers quicker than it takes to launch your email client.
- Search at topic-specific forums. Active forums usually consist of members eager to help others. The majority of common, yet undocumented problems are addressed amongst threads maintained by people just like you.
- Search the web. Start with a specific phrase, such as the error you receive, verbatim. You may need to broaden or narrow your search terms, but, again, this action will often lead you to sites and forums which you never knew existed.
- When you absolutely have to contact the developer, be clear and concise about the problem. Follow the protocol set forth – it’s there for a reason. And, be respectful. After all, these guys are spending many late nights working so you can have something for free. Keep in mind that, in actuality, they owe you nothing.
It is important to remember that one gets further by appreciating all the cool free stuff available, as opposed to expecting others to jump through hoops, only to get nothing but a headache in return.
On a personal note, I realize that the majority of visitors here are people just like me, and already “get” all this. For those readers, I request you pass this post around, in hopes that those not in-the-know about what goes on behind the scenes realize the importance of a developer’s need to eat, drink and rest.