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Sell with Sizzle, Sustain with Steak

In "The Delicious Generation," Paul Kafasis writes:

A fellow developer joked that Disco would be released to much fanfare, and then the developers would realize they'd forgotten to hook up the disc burning functionality, having been so busy with the Smoke.

In my own brief review of Disco, I dismissed the sizzle and attempted to find the steak. Instead, I found recycled beef grounds. Recycled from Mac OS X's built-in disc burning frameworks.

Now, I've been accused in the past of doing a little marketing (prior to PulpFiction's release), but nobody could compare PulpFiction to Disco. The first goal was functionality. Appearance came later. And smoke, particle effects, and useless animation never appeared at all.

As much as I'd like to say "better software always wins," that's not been proven true. After all, the Mac still has significantly less market share than Windows. Disco App has sold at least $25,000 and isn't out of beta.

I agree with Paul's conclusion that this isn't a battle of "old school" (standard-looking applications that focus on functionality) and "new school" (market the shit out of your app, make it look whizzy bang, and go easy on the actual features). It's a matter of old schoolers adding a few of the good ingredients the new schoolers have to offer - a better understanding of how to market your application and a little pizzaz - and adding those ingredients to their proven recipe of functionality.

It's an approach I'm calling "Sell with Sizzle, Sustain with Steak." Paul makes a good point: of the 2000 users that bought Disco at $4.95, how many of them will require support of some kind? Every email - even if it's just to say "even at $4.95 I feel ripped off" - require time and effort. How long can you afford to support a $5 application? Or are the Disco developers hoping that people simply realize there's nothing to the app and content themselves with having spent $5 to $15 to play with smoke for a few minutes?

I'm not sure the market for Disco is sustainable. Just as with steak, the sizzle wears off after a bite or two. After that, it's apparent whether you're sitting down at Ruth's Chris or Ponderosa.

Among some, Disco is the latest punchline in an ongoing joke. Many of those are prominent Mac bloggers. The joke? It's on anyone who paid for Disco, or anyone who succumbs to sizzle over steak, or marketing over functionality. We're Mac users, after all. Shouldn't we be better than this?

7 Responses to "Sell with Sizzle, Sustain with Steak"

  1. In my opinion, Disco goes beyond "recycled beef grounds" by far. It *does* do it all with DiscRecording.framework, but you can't honestly say that there's not more to do than implement one or two API functions, or that everything using DiscRecording.framework is on equal footing with everything else. I would like Disco just as much if it didn't emit smoke, if it used standard UI widgets and if the motion sensor feedback simply displayed the "hey, calm down" text. I consider the flow that Disco presents solid and not something crutched up by visuals.

    I think My Dream App is a much worse example of "money matters more than the end product" or "sizzle matters more than steak".

  2. [...] Update: Paul Kafasis and Erik Barzeski discuss “The Delicious Generation.” [...]

  3. [...] Consistency is at the core of usability. Sure, you can present new ways of doing things and, by convention, they can be adopted by others and widely understood, but when you start messing around with stuff for no good reason, you’re beginning to go to far. If others follow this trend, by convention, then it really could snowball, but hopefully that’s not going to happen. I do think apps should look good and be a pleasure to use. Erik Barzeski (someone I followed when I was setting up this business) sums it up nicely. [...]

  4. Jesper…, I feel like I'm following you around the interwebs but again I have to strongly disagree with you on this.

    There is a trust factor with software that handles data. My data.

    Erik, Rory Prior and others have pointed out clearly some major flaws with the handling of data in this application. The flaws tend to not be at the actual "bits on your hard-drive and CD" level (largely because they reused the Apple frameworks) but lie solely in the user interface.

    For instance the delete button that is way too close to the scroll bar in the file list is such a huge user interface flaw… I can't imagine hiring a person who couldn't notice an error like this when doing a design mock-up.

    These are not "beta" mistakes… look at all the time and effort they poured into the whiz-bang natural window effects… but they couldn't be bothered to make sure I don't accidently delete a file entry from my list of items to burn?

  5. [...] P.S. The title is in reference to this entry. [...]

  6. What I find funny, and what nobody has mentioned, is that many people probably would have paid $5 for the ability to have "smoke" on their windows as a separate extension. Disco wasn't out a week, and other people figured out how to attach the smoke to any given window, and therefore brought the value out from the depths of the app. If only the disco folks had done that to begin with...

  7. Anyone coming to this entry from here should probably just move along. The post you just read (and that I just linked to) is full of inaccuracies and reads like the childish rant it is.

    In the end, at $14.95 or so, Disco is really just a buggier version of the Finder's or Disk Utility's burn capabilities with the addition of dangerous and obnoxious user interface design.

    The post you came from called that "a positive review."