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Perhaps I've missed some sarcasm, or I am not quite getting it, but I disagree quite a bit with this, what… "rant." As someone who's recently seeded "software amongst reviewers/ bloggers/ journalists," as well as someone who's reviewed software for MacAddict and his own 'zine (Apple Wizards), I certainly speak from experience here.

I'm usually loathe to review software I've received for free because it seems to me to be, well… dirty. Unethical. They've solicited the review and are, in effect, paying for it. It's cash for comment.

Actually, by providing you with a copy of a license key or whatnot, they've allowed you to perform the function of reviewing: nothing more, nothing less. MacAddict wouldn't dare dream of reviewing some demo version of an app. That's not what customers buy and that's not what they review. A license to a piece of software unlocks the full features, enabling a full review.

…when you're dealing with small or independent developers it's really quite different. There's no way you can say "CampbellCan 5.0, by Randy Warhol, is a hunk of shit… no offense to Randy" without coming off as a total jerk.

Completely incorrect. I have done it, as have others. The keys to success here? Logic, reason, fact. Chris is right in that it's usually in poor form to say "this sucks." It is decidedly not in poor form to say "this sucks because of x, y, and z." I am a software developer (at 5'10", "small" is debatable). I get upset when people say "your stuff sucks." I don't get upset when people say "your software sucks because it doesn't {support Java, work on Mac OS 9, blow me daily, etc.}." Criticism alone is not enough. Criticism with concrete backing, however, goes a long way, as Chris oddly mentions:

More often that not I'll suggest alternative methods to the parts of an app that annoy me the most…

This is nearly the perfect way to go as long as you can appreciate that the developer (and perhaps even the majority of other users) may disagree.

In the end it all boils down to the simple fact that I'm a spoiled Mac brat with UI opinions out the wazoo.

Most Mac developers - especially the "small or independent" ones - are too. FSS, I've said several times, builds software, releases software, and then listens to the feedback. We may not agree, and we may not do everything that's asked of us, but we like to make software people like to use, and so we listen to a lot. We like to let people tell us what they'd like to see. FSS is three or four people. 1.0 releases of our software is usually equal parts personal preference and SWAG - the customers tell us which way to go after that.

Is Chris talking about the copy of PulpFiction that we sent him? I could be wrong, but I believe that he is. We sent copies to Ben and Mena Trott, Adam Curry, and others. Adam listed some negative things (including speed and a crash, both of which we've fixed and improved - after all, the advance copy is still a beta). We appreciate it and the software is now better for it.

It's important to keep in mind that we're a software company! Some people aren't going to like our software. It might crash. It might lose data. No developer can tell you any differently. What we can do, however, is trust each other to be honest. We can engage in open communication between consumer and creator. FSS is four people. Version 1.0? That's our best guess as to what will be most useful to most people (while still being useful to us). The nice thing about software, after all, is that you can change or advance its behavior pretty easily.

A free license isn't "cash for comment." It's a recognition that the recipient's thoughts are usually thorough and intelligent. Adam Curry was chosen for a reason. Ben and Mena have great UI skills and are deeply vested in the whole "syndication" thing. I couldn't care less whether any of them write about PulpFiction on their blogs. Had Adam send his feedback to us in a private email it would have been just as useful (or perhaps moreso as we'd have seen it earlier). The free copies weren't a publicity stunt. They weren't a bribe. They were an attempt to create some honest, open discusssion, which benefits everyone.

It'd certainly benefit Chris more than this did. But, hey, maybe he's talking about something else, eh?

Achoo. Pepper makes me sneeze.

8 Responses to "Pepper"

  1. I appreciate that this is how the review cycle works, and has worked this way for many years and for many people; but my (incredibly short) time working with journalists in the past gave me a taste for all the idealism, without all the baggage that "the real world" carries. I've seen ethical guidelines and official codes of practice blatantly ignored by *real*, *live* journalists more times than I care to count, and I find it pretty disgusting. We've seen it before, particularly on the Mac web, the culture of rewording press releases and distributing them as "news", and I like to think that there is a better way.

    'Salt' doesn't pertain directly to FSS or to PulpFiction, but it was (given the timing) clearly inspired by the situation. Meanwhile, I'm going to get back to work, and I'll have my review up sometime soon.

  2. I didn't take salt as anything other than a chance for me to title my post "Pepper." 🙂

    Anyway, we're Mac users. I specifically avoided the word "journalist" because - let's face it - how many times (especially between 1992-1999) did we face so much crap from "journalists."

    Chris, all I ask is that you trust us to receive honest feedback. There's a difference between being mean-spirited and offering constructive feedback. We trust Mac users to do the latter.

  3. Well, honest feedback is really all I have to offer... so I'm going to have to go with that.

    PS- During testing I've noticed your software doesn't blow me daily. Will this be part of the 1.1 release? Will there be a 'blowjob interval' preference?

  4. I wonder what would happen if you get kernel panic during the "session"? 🙂

  5. Chris, that feature was left out of the preview and beta releases so that you guys wouldn't say anything about it sucking. 😛

  6. I should make it clear from the word go that I'm a different Chris. There. Glad I got that out of the way.

    I make my living writing for a Mac magazine in the UK, and I'd be curious to know from Chris why he feels particularly obligated to review the software he is given. Am I missing something, or could you not simply decide which titles to review on the basis of their quality rather than anything else? Of course, you then get into the sticky realm of why give magazine space to poor products, to which the answer is usually "if people are in danger of spending money on it, they should be told it's bad because...".

    As for offending the developers, well, that's not where your allegiances should lie. Your first duty as a reporter of any kind is to your readers (and thence to nice disparate concepts like truth), and Erik is right, I think, to point out that what software developers like most (other than bug-free code, or possibly a pepperoni with extra jalapeño) is constructive criticism.

    One of the best things about shareware (and please don't let's get bogged down in defining the term) has always been how close customers can get to those who actually code the damn software, and this is even more true of the relationship between developer and journalist.

    My buddy list is stuffed full of developers, and the beauty of IM is that it's dead easy for these guys to be both proactive and reactive in dealing with the press and anticipating published criticisms before they can be an issue. I have a very good relationship with lots of developers over IM; it's a great way to bat ideas back and forward, and so long as the final printed criticisms are constructive, I haven't yet had a developer get narked by my comments.

    With his MacAddict background, Erik is better placed than most developers to understand the dynamic between software companies and journos.

    One of the most worrying things in Chris's blog though is his gripe about keyboard access. I think he's broadly correct, and I may be falling foul of the lack of expression in the written word, but it seems to me that he's guilty of that very worst reviewer affliction: reviewing for himself alone.

    I don't mean to suggest that Chris would be so unprofessional as to not take into account the needs of other users, but that like so many reviewers he appears to have a personal hobby horse that he gets on when reviewing stuff.

    I'd feel uncomfortable reading a review of something by a writer if I knew there was one thing, one particular thing that he was looking for. Chris makes a good point about accessibility, and as I say he does have reason to make the criticism of poor keyboard support, but he does appear to be particularly biased.

    We divide the review space we have between products people want to know about and products we think they'd like to know about. Titles from small independent developers tend to all into the latter category, and we're happy to get serials for them so we can give 'em a good workout.

    If they deserve it, we'll tell our readers. If they don't, we'll tell the developers why.

  7. My keyboard hobby horse is really just up there with my usability hobby horse, my accessibility hobby horse, my aesthetics hobby horse and my "mac-like" hobby horse. perhaps I am guilty of reviewing for me. If I'm talking about a movie, I have a whole 'nother team of horses to pull out. Or books, or food, or comics, or nightclubs, or first dates.

    This is, unfortunately, what weblogging is all about-- personal opinion and personal experience. I'm not a journalist, nor do I pretend to be; I'm neither paid for my efforts nor do I expect payment. My weblog is, indeed, my hobby, my soapbox, and my diary; so I tend to enjoy just doing... whatever.

  8. pulfiction dev.

    The guys developing Pulpfiction , the new rss reader for OSX are doing a great job of fielding feedback in anopen forum with their [future] users.