April 18, 2016

TextExpander 6 and Mac Celebrities Show Their Colors

TextExpander | Simply Indispensable version 6.0 just launched. This is a product I have been using for a long time. It is a valuable part of my workflow so I was excited about the new version. It does a few things which are new, notably:

  1. They have built their own sync service, which lets you have your snippets on every machine you own. More importantly they have gotten rid of dropbox sync.
  2. They have built in an infrastructure to share the snippets with team members.
  3. They have moved to a monthly/yearly subscription service.

I was unimpressed with the changes.

  1. I don't want another proprietary sync service. Dropbox was working fine. Why do I need to switch to an untested, unknown sync service? Some of my snippets contain data I am not eager to share with the world. How secure is this new service?
  2. I have no team members I want to share my snippets with. This is a feature I do not need.
  3. I did the math. This was way too expensive for my perception of the utility of the text expansion service.

I am not complaining about the price. I don't like complaining about price. The seller sets a price, they think is justified. As an user, I am free to agree with that perception of value and buy the product, and if I am not, I can always take my business elsewhere. Price was not a factor in my decision to switch. Value was. I didn't see the utility of the new offering. I am not looking for a new syncing service, neither am I looking for collaboration features. It seemed to me that the product was being redesigned for corporate customers and Smile was telling me that they don't need my business anymore. They are perfectly justified in doing just that. If focus on the corporate customer is what their strategy is, I have no beef with that. I can just wish them luck and go on with my search for an alternative.

So that is what I did. I switched. Took me a day to research the alternatives. There are a couple I was already familiar with: Typinator - the fastest text expander in town & TypeIt4Me - the original text expander app for Mac.. I was not familiar with aText - Typing accelerator - Text macro utility for Mac.. I downloaded the trial for aText. Played with it for half an hour and I switched to aText. It cost me $4.99, and the whole act of switching took about 4 minutes. It imported all my TextExpander snippets into aText, and I was set. The switching was painless. I have been using it for the last few days and so far, I haven't noticed any glitches or pain points which have made me regret the switch.

Now the interesting part.

Smile has been very active in sponsoring blogs and podcasts in the mac community. Most of the thought leaders in the Mac community have had a long relationship with Smile through its sponsorship of their content, so naturally, I was curious. I wanted to see the reaction of the community to this new direction which Smile was embarking on.

Here is Gabe Weatherhead of Macdrifter talking about The New Old TextExpander, and the response from "Smile's business partners."

But it also revealed some true character. Not only was Smile willing to suck it up and take what I assume are major losses but it revealed the character of their "fans." It was enlightening to see how Smile business partners responded to a change that was contrary to many of their own tenants. Some clearly rejected the new change, some endorsed it, and some were silent. I still think one of the most thoughtful and straight assessments came from Merlin and I will forever trust his recommendations.

This is one of those issues which have been bugging me while I think of ways of monetizing this blog. Does your editorial content have an impact on your choice of sponsors? How likely is it that you are going to take a sponsor to the woodshed when they do something boneheaded? In other words, how do you stay unbiased when the sponsors are the ones paying the bills? Do you have to be unbiased, of course, is the more general question. I have tried tackling this question before.

This was a great opportunity to look at the impact of sustained support of a company on the reactions of the thought leaders of the Mac community.

A good overview of the reaction was compiled by Michael Tsai, Michael Tsai - Blog - TextExpander 6 and TextExpander.com, and Michael Tsai - Blog - TextExpander Adjustments. You can go through the originals to make up your own mind about the credibility of the various Mac celebrities.

I am going to point out a few of the reactions which got my attention.

This is TJ Luoma at Rhymes With Diploma — TextExpander 6 (Or: “How NOT to launch your SaaS”):

To be clear, I’m not saying that the Smile folks are bad, evil, mean, money-grubbers or anything like that. What I am saying is this: as an experienced power-user of your software, I do not have the slightest clue why you decided to make this service mandatory when it seems to offer very little for individual users, and I have no idea why I should pay a monthly fee for something that has worked fine before. What problem does TextExpander 6 solve for me? I can’t answer that question. And if I can’t answer that question, Smile has a big problem.

I found myself agreeing with every sentence.

This is from New TextExpander and Video Series — MacSparky.

As a fan of productivity software, I’d really like the companies that make my favorite tools stay in business. In order for TextExpander to continue to get the love and attention it needs to make my life so much easier, it needs ongoing support. TextExpander is so worth it.

The whole review is a gush fest. It almost felt like David Sparks is describing a completely different product from the one we are looking at. There is no acknowledgement of the issues we are talking about. No realization of the stark disconnect pointed out by TJ Louma. If you wanted to see a Mac celebrity shill blatantly for a sponsor, this would be the article to read.

This pablum of supporting the developer has to stop. There is an intrinsic difference between the Brett Terpstra's of the world and Smile Software. Brett is one guy in Wisconsin trying to make a living by making cool stuff. He deserves all the support he gets. Smile is one of the select few medium sized companies in the Mac software space who have managed to grow to a reasonable size of 18 people. The other two which immediately come to mind are the Omnigroup and Panic. They have done well, they deserve your respect, but they do not deserve your charity. If they disappeared tomorrow it wouldn't be the end of the world. There are a ton of products which compete with their offerings and the world would go on fine without them. Stop conflating the myth of the individual programmer toiling away in his garage with the reality of a medium sized organization maximizing its revenue stream.

My advice to Mr. Sparks:

  1. Look at the writing of your co-host, Katie Floyd, and learn how to shill with subtlety.

Which brings me to On The New TextExpander — Katie Floyd and On The TextExpander Adjustments — Katie Floyd. This is some good shilling.

From Katie's Week In Review: April 10, 2016 — Katie Floyd:

You may have heard Smile made quite a buzz this week when they released TextExpander 6 and moved the product to a subscription model. This upset many long-time users of the software. Michael Tsai has a nice roundup of commentary along with his own thoughts on his blog. Greg Scown, founder of Smile has a follow-up post on their blog attempting to address some user concerns regarding pricing and the future of TextExpander 5. Personally, I’m very conflicted. I love the product and I have great relationships with the people at Smile, they are a long-time sponsor of Mac Power Users. (You don’t want to know how many people have accused me of being a shill in the last few days.) But, as an individual user, I’m not a fan of the pricing model either. Allison Sheridan had Greg on her podcast this week and asked some pretty tough questions regarding the switch to the subscription model, why the emphasis on sharing, and the customer response. I thought Greg’s answers were honest and insightful.

The technique used here is called "Hang a Lantern on Your Problem," you know you are shilling, you know people are not stupid, they will catch on to the fact that you are shilling, how do you get across that barrier? Attract attention to the problem, talk about how you have been accused of shilling, that deflects from the actual shilling and increases your credibility. Pretty smart stuff. If you want to learn more about this stuff, read Hardball: How Politics Is Played, Told by One Who Knows the Game: Chris Matthews: 9780684845593.

For the record, I don't personally know any of these people. I am a reader who follows their blogs. I was just stuck by the obvious disconnect. To end on a positive note, this got my admiration.

Dr. Drang on the controversy, The new TextExpander - All this:

So unless I discover some compelling reason to stick with the new TextExpander, at some point in the near future I’ll start exploring ways to migrate my collection of snippets over to Keyboard Maestro. I understand from Twitter that this makes me a horrible person who doesn’t want software developers to make a decent living. So be it.

If you noticed, I haven't made any attribution to Smile's efforts to correct the situation. Frankly, I don't care. This is a company which is entering a new market: the cross-platform enterprise market. To be successful it has to use its strength in the Mac market as leverage. The only problem is that they just told their existing userbase to go pound sand. Poof goes the leverage. I am not surprised that they are revising their stand. For my part, I am busy pounding sand.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

TextExpander Celebrities

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