Disco Inferno

There has been a lot of reaction on the web recently to the app Disco that (maybe) started as a result of seeds planted by John Gruber at C4 with The HIG is Dead, moved on to ThinkMac Rory’s Triumph of Eye Candy over Usability (mostly echoed by TUAW’s Dissing Disco), then Rogue Amoeba’s Paul Kafasis on the Delicious Generation, which covered a lot of ground and so is now about everything from Delicious Library to MacZOT to MyDreamApp to your second-cousin’s former roommate called Will.

Well, it’s good to see people are talking about stuff. Good job also there isn’t an election on in the US that might distract from matters of such importance. Nobody is dying in Iraq, after all.

Anyway! I’ve harboured my own reservations about Disco and some other apps out there, which I’ve inflicted on people in private and publicly in a comment on Rory’s blog:

[Agreed] it would be good to have some consistency and you’d expect that from Apple in its own apps, at least. I know the apps are evolving quicker than the OS but I’m not sure I like the way it’s heading (iTunes).

Also, I think Disco is butt ugly and simply trying too hard. It looked alright in the screenshots, but there was no need to make every window semi-transparent. Plus, I think it would have done better to at least try and fit in with the OS a little more, its monochrome look is dark to the point of depressing and there’s very little reason for a lot of the effects it employs.

I wouldn’t care, but with guidelines out the window there is the risk of a move to the tasteless.

So, that covers Apple and Disco, respectively. Look, it’s not my intention to jump on the bandwagon here. I don’t mind what anyone else does, although I do worry when I think something could damage the reputation of the Mac platform. From the beginning, Mac OS X has made a big deal of looking good in addition to working well and therefore what some (e.g. jealous people on other platforms) might dismiss as eye candy must serve a real purpose or the critics will have a valid point.

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 too 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, be a pleasure to use and have the functionality you need. Erik Barzeski (someone I followed when I was setting up this business) sums it up nicely.

My real point is to relate my experiences of late and some perspective I have from the last 5 or more years developing software for Mac OS X (around half of which has been running this business) and, er, clear my name.

I think it’s up to each developer if they want to sacrifice features for gloss, hand out thousands of free or heavily discounted copies, get everyone and their dog to blog about it, find announcements miraculously appear on the front page of Digg, whatever. Nobody has to buy into it. I refuse to believe buyers don’t see what’s going on after the same tricks are repeated time and again, but I guess that if people are getting good deals and it’s all good fun, then who cares. It’s not for me.

Woah! Check out that elephant! Why is he sitting on my sofa, reading the latest copy of MacUser? Could it be because I featured KIT on MacZOT not too long back? And not just any old ZOT but that week-long StoryZOT? And didn’t TUAW receive some leak that KIT may be been in the bundle, and didn’t that make it onto the front page of Digg, and didn’t I sell tons of copies?

Well, mostly. I’ll try anything once, but for the record I told ZOT that I preferred to be surprised, so I didn’t know any of that was coming. All I did was agree to include KIT in a bundle after being approached via a third party, have a rough idea of the number of copies that would be sold and later write a long story that got edited (to make it even longer, yikes) for the MacZOT site. I didn’t agree a price upfront, I didn’t know how it would work, I didn’t know what else was in the bundle, I didn’t know when the mystery would be revealed – nothing. I just went along with the whole thing. “Whatever” was my standard response.

My aim was to get KIT some exposure. People like KIT when they see it, but don’t know to look for it. KIT got a lot of attention, so that worked and the objective was achieved. Kind of.

For me, what happened afterwards is what was most interesting. Unsurprisingly, I was inundated with support emails, some were bugs, many, many more were feature requests and others were just questions. All were welcome. I did underestimate the impact of this, however. After working my way through them all diligently I found it was the middle of October.

Six weeks vanished and financially, it wasn’t actually worth it, but I see that as an investment for the future. I gathered a lot of valuable feedback and now have more users for KIT that may potentially wish to upgrade to KIT 2.0 at a future date (a long way off, if you’re wondering). There have been times running this business when that alone would have been the ruin of me.

Perhaps most significant thing is that normal sales of KIT didn’t change one iota. What I was selling before the promotion was exactly the same as afterwards. I think I know why.

I have a theory that the world in which MacZOT, blogs, Digg etc operate is only so big, or rather, kinda small and insular. Its population consists largely of people who spend regular time online and frequent the other Mac sites and blogs. These are a particular hardcore of enthusiastic Mac users. Nothing wrong with that!

What they are not are the millions of other people who, every day, turn on their Macs and do what they always do to get a job done. The lesser connected, if you will. People with lives. They might glance over Mac news sites occasionally, or prefer to read printed Mac magazines or, most likely, read nothing at all on a regular basis. Applications will only come to their attention when they go looking for something.

And it’s these people for whom the experience of buying Mac indieware (shareware, whatever) needs to be compelling, so that when they look for an app, they can find something that really fits their needs. Ideally, it’ll have good reviews and a reputation for good developer support. It’ll be featured on sites they feel they can respect, which could include magazines, Apple’s downloads or good reviews on VersionTracker, MacUpdate or wherever these people know to look.

This sort of thing can’t be achieved overnight, but only with a great product, hard work on the behalf of the developer and resultant goodwill from customers. It may sound dull, but when you think about what you would consider the best stuff out there in the real world, it’s the way it always works. Good things earn respect over time. I, as a developer, create something because I see a genuine need for it. I try to make it as good as possible. People find it, like it, tell others. That’s how I believe my apps sell consistently every single day and my business keeps running.

From a developer perspective – or this one’s at least – if you care about what you do, then the money really isn’t everything. Obviously I need to live, and I need a little more than I’m getting, but I cannot operate at all if I am not satisfied with the work I am doing, my business ethics, etc. And I don’t think my customers would be so happy with anything less than my best either. I want that relationship with my customers to be paramount, otherwise there is no point.

Glossy apps, buzz and hype all has its place but nobody should forget the fundamental reasons for the Mac, indie software that fills niches where big corps aren’t going to go or enthusiastic users who support and contribute to the process. This combination makes the Mac platform the best and most amazing there is.

25 Responses to “Disco Inferno”

  1. Don Says:

    I have a theory that the world in which MacZOT, blogs, Digg etc operate is only so big, or rather, kinda small and insular. Its population consists largely of people who spend regular time online, frequent the other Mac sites and blogs. These are a particular hardcore of enthusiastic Mac users. Nothing wrong with that!

    What they are not are the millions of other people who, every day, turn on their Macs and do what they always do to get a job done. The lesser connected, if you will. People with lives. These might glance over Mac news sites occasionally, or prefer to read printed Mac magazines or, most likely, read nothing at all on a regular basis. Applications will only come to their attention when they go looking for something.

    Great post Steve!

    I’ve singled out these two paras for particular comment and i have to say I’m in total agreement. Not knocking the the hardcore connected Mac community but there is a much bigger Mac community that both developers (and in my case) podcasters need to reach out to.

    That’s one of the biggest challenges I’m facing in promoting ScreenCastsOnline to try and get infront of a much bigger audience. I’m seeing my audience figures plateau but I just know there are hundreds of thousands (not just thousands) of mac users who could really benefit from seeing the occasional ScreenCastsOnline episode. Well, at least I think so!

    How to reach them though?

    Let me know if you come up with anything 🙂


  2. TommyW Says:

    Well…. as someone who came across your software via MacZot, I was very pleased to do so. A great post and an interesting insight into what the broad mass of indieware (like that term…) must be thinking as the dazzle of Digg/MyDreamApp/Disco etc goes on.

    It’s interesting as the Net becomes more a site of entertainment than information how this whole phenomenon has sprung up.

  3. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Great writing style and an interesting perspective on the situation. Especially the bits about ZOT and the fallout from that. I think you’re right that this is a very small fraction of the real world.

  4. Steve Harris Says:

    Thanks, Don. I know that podcasting is afflicted with a very similar problem. It’s pretty much an already tech-savvy crowd and reaching outside of that is difficult.

    I like it when traditional media outlets produce and promote their own podcasts because it brings the medium to a wider audience. In time, nobody will need to be told what a podcast is or where you can get one (or that you don’t need an iPod, for that matter) and the medium will really take off with all the variety it can offer.

    As you focus on Mac or web-based software, I feel you’re in much the same boat as many indie software developers, so exposure counts for a lot. There are probably a lot of people out there who would appreciate your show, but it’s getting them to hear about it that’s tricky. Word of mouth, magazines, and other places considered uncool could be the route to many Mac users. I find it difficult to quantify the impact of Feeder’s magazine reviews because they all happened within a short timespan, but a number of people did tell me they’d read about it in MacUser, Macworld, etc and that felt good.

    Tommy – a lot of good came out of that MacZOT promotion and I’m glad I did it. Really my point is that there’s nothing to worry about as far as MacZOT, MyDreamApp, MacHeist and the like from a developer perspective. I think these are all fun ways for people to get software they never knew about at a nice price and it’s fine for developers to promote their apps through them. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not actually such a big deal, but developers should also be aware of what they’re getting into when selling over 1,500 copies of an app in a single day.

    And Daniel. Thank you! You know where I’m coming from, I can tell. 🙂

  5. Joel Mueller Says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s interesting to hear some of the behind-the-scenes on how these things progressed, and how you feel it effects your own sales outside of promotions at big discounts. You’re writing is quite good as well. -j

  6. Brad Says:


    I like the cut of your jib there, sporto. I know the pain of trying to get more people to find discover something that you do and do well – I’ve done the “not so worth it financially” promotion in the hope that more people will just find out about what we’re offering, and I’ve been there in the “well, that didn’t seem to make much of a dent” place.

    BUT – while your sales may not have increased substantially after the Zot, I’m willing to bet your fan base did; I can attest personally that it went up by at least one. So you’ve got that going for you.


  7. Alan Schmitt Says:

    I’m one of the numerous persons who bought KIT because of MacZot. At the time I was trying to find a way to do incremental backups of my Yojimbo database, and this is when I stumbled on KIT. I’m really glad I did. I’m not sure I would have bought it at the original price, as I (unfortunately) don’t find that I have much time to invest to test software I might not buy. So the Zot thing was a great opportunity.

    I also did send many bug reports and feature requests, and I’m really happy at the speed you addressed them.

    So now I’m a happy KIT user, probably like many other who tried the Zot. As happy users talk to their non geek Mac friends, and may recommend good apps when they see them, you might be in a good position. (And for the record, I also own other apps bought through MacZot that I haven’t had the time to try yet…)

    As Brad said, the exposure through your fan base might pay off one day.

    Thanks for KIT.

  8. jonathan Says:

    This may be a bit off topic, but it brought these thoughts to my mind while reading this. No matter what kind of turn the design is taking in apps, I think that it is so important to support the smaller software developers, they are the ones that keep the mac experience special.

    It’s funny how my whole outlook on software developers have changed since I started podcasting, and even using the Mac for that matter. I can’t explain it, but I feel more in touch with them, and would feel awful using a piece of software that I didn’t activate legitimately. Whether they gave me a copy or I purchased it, I consider that legitimate.

    There is something about receiving a personal email from a small developer who is responsive to your complaint, problem, or compliments. When the average person thinks of piracy issues, you think of big companies. Microsoft, Adobe, etc. Are they losing money because you got a copy of photoshop from your friend, even if you weren’t going to buy it? Yes they are.. because their product is becoming a commodity and passed around like a kleenex. I think that is why piracy is so widely accepted by even non-techhy users. Photoshop is on every machine I see… and I know they didn’t pay hundreds of dollars for it. I help people in the community with their computers and almost always there is rampant piracy among the masses of people you would think are the most upstanding in the community. The people that we are supposed to be admiring and powerful in the tech industry, such as Kevin Rose (who I do like btw), carefully talk about how they are going to bit torrent something. This makes is cool for the new generation of teenagers.. which is going to make it continually tough to SELL good software.

    Regardless, I have no specific data, but I think pricing has a lot to do with how well a small developer can sell a product. I am a consumer, and I know what price-point takes to make me push the ‘Buy’ or ‘Register’ button.

    Maczot sells products in masses at a discount amount. I think you would’ve probably done just as well to drop the price (temporarily) to $9.99 and get exposure on the media outlets which could cause a flurry. For that matter, with all of the podcasters out there, who are looking for advertising or some form of income.. you could get attention by offering KIT for $15.00 and giving them $ 2 or $3 for every sale. This would provide plenty of exposure, and its an ad to a target audience that people trust. People are iffy about maczot. They have repeated too many apps, and the bundles are frequently less than spectacular. I bought two of them, and haven’t purchased since.

  9. Steven C. Brown Says:

    Another MacZot convert here. I got it, initially discouted it (OMG, he copied Yojimbo!), realized it suits me better, apologized to you in my head, switched my stuff over, began checking your site daily, looking forward to paying for the update.

    So. Many thanks. This is a great product.

  10. Fancy Windows, &c. « Important Shock Says:

    […] I’ve had a project idea brewing in my head for some time now, and after a lot of planning and drawing up drafts, it’s starting to come to fruition. However, this throws a new wrench into the works – if I want to have a lot of users, I need to have a nice interface; however, if I use too many of the above fancy widgets, then I will resign myself to being labeled one of the Delicious Generation. Besides, the target audience for my application is developers, and developers have a notoriously low tolerance for bells-and-whistles without functionality – most of the harshest criticism I’ve found has been written by developers. (If you ask me, I think it’s ugly and doesn’t do anything that Disk Utility or the Finder don’t.) […]

  11. stainboy Says:

    sorry for responding to an old blog entry, but i was sent here from Daring Fireball. i too picked up KIT from macZOT, and have been using it off and on. however, i find myself in the position of recommending software to my company and aquaintances from time to time. if they are looking for somthing along the lines of what KIT does, because of my (positive) experience with it i’m going to be recommending KIT. so hopefully you’ll receive a few more customers in the long run.

  12. Wired Up And Fired Up Says:

    Relaunch On MacZot

    I’ve just been reading about Steve Harris’ experience on MacZot, both on his Reinvented Software Blog and on Daring Fireball .
    Relaunch was featured on MacZot about a week ago and I’ll admit that my motives were largely the same as Steve’s, namel…

  13. Geoff Says:

    KIT is *the* best organizer available for OS X. I’ve not registered it yet, but it’s on my list (unfortunately others are ahead on that list). Since buying my first Mac in ’03 I’ve had to keep that list because I’m on a very tight budget. I can’t afford to buy every piece of software I want as soon as I discover it. So, I put those I like on my list and I wait. Every so often I buy the top one on the list. And yet the list grows longer.. When my father was looking for an app to keep up with notes, passwords, snapshots of web pages, etc I mentioned it to him. So, he’s got KIT and I still wait. It’s worth the wait. KIT is awesome.

  14. Augie Fackler Says:

    Just as a heads up, your link to kit has the “software” part of your domain misspelled…

  15. LKM Says:

    First, to get this off the table: Yeah, I bought KIT via MacZot, but I came here via daringfireball.net (Gruber has an article on this post).

    I was looking for a “snippet keeper” for a long time. I tried every program I could find, but they were either too expensive (like Yojimbo – despite of what Gruber says, you *can* price your app too high; I’m not one of the people who write “make it 10 bucks cheaper and I buy it” mails, but I have often ignored apps because of the price, and I have bought lots and lots of apps I didn’t really need because they were cheap enough) or they just didn’t really work for me. I had never heard of KIT and got it pretty much by accident. I tried it and liked it. I’m also one of those who wrote a bug report 🙂

    I wouldn’t have found out about KIT if it hadn’t been for MacZot. Since then, I’ve been using it every day, and I absolutely will upgrade to 2.0, whenever that comes out. But that’s not all. I’m kind of the guy people ask when they have Mac problems, and KIT is one of the applications I will recommend to others who have similar needs. I think this is one way to break out of the “digg crowd”: get people who influence others excited about your app. MacZot may not be the best way to get to these people. I would guess that a mention on something like the O’Reilly blog (the publisher, not the idiot) would go a long way – target the “alpha geeks.”

  16. Pierre Bernard Says:

    I had HoudahSpot featured twice on MacZOT. The first time as a regular ZOT. The second time as a BlogZOT. While I didn’t expect much good to come from the regular ZOT event, I had high hopes for the BlogZOT thing. After all, this would leave me with hundreds of blog entries pointing back to HoudahSpot. This should draw people and increase my Google ranking.

    Well, can’t say HoudahSpot took off after that. Sales are slow. The conversion rate is the expected 1%. So it is actually a lack of traffic I am suffering from. Still most of my traffic comes from macupdate.com and versiontracker.com.

    I am still wondering if this BlogZOT thing hurt my sales. Maybe I gave free copies to just the people who would have bought HoudahSpot…

    Yet I am tempted by http://www.mupromo.com. Maybe MacUpdate has less of a techie audience.

    BTW, I believe very few of the BlogZOT people actually use the license they got for free. But I still get the occasional mail from people who got it for free, forgot about it and now want to retrieve their license key.

    P.S: The link for KIT is broken: typo in the domain name.

  17. James Head Says:

    Your link to KIT:


    is incorrect, it should be:


    feel free to delete my comment after your correction.

    – James Head

  18. Steve Harris Says:

    Thanks, James, Augie and Pierre – I have corrected the link.

  19. Ian Says:

    I, too, came here via Daring Fireball and apparently Gruber is making so much money off of charging for subscriptions to his ‘blog that he has no problem with suggesting that prices be jacked up on all software. That was the gist of his post: price = quality. Well, who didn’t know that. Donald Trump has gone by that philosophy for years, and it works! But you had better have the quality product to back up that price.

    My point? I would not have purchased KIT if it had not been for that macZOT. You see, while the price may have been bargain basement, the exposure is what made the sale. Until that point, I had been trying out Yojimbo and had just extended my trial of DevonTHINK Pro. I would have purchased one or the other had I not heard of KIT and tried it out.

    I will be upgrading to all future versions of the application as long as you continue to develop it. In addition, I have not sent one support email to you since my purchase, so for all of the work that it caused you, consider those who did not contact you. I’m sure you have all the numbers and can speak better to the ratios, but I’m willing to bet that there are some others who didn’t need support for the application.

    In any case, I like your application, but I’m a bit put off by the attitude. Gruber does not contribute by developing an application that I use. You, however, do. Gruber can shoot his mouth off about how offering a discounted price is a horrible way to attract people to your application and to build a user base, but then I would question why a prolific company like the OmniGroup would offer their OmniWeb browser at 50% off for the entire month of November? And you know what? At $9.95, I decided their browser was worth licensing. I’m glad I purchased it because I will continue to buy upgrades as long as they develop it.

    So a high initial cost of entry is not always necessary. Mind you, I paid full-price for my copy of Final Cut Studio. But there’s a vast difference between the functionality it offers and the small indie applications out there, no?

  20. Ian Says:

    Fair enough. I was alluding to this comment: “Six weeks vanished and financially, it wasn’t actually worth it, but I see that as an investment for the future.” Not really an attitude problem so much as a statement of fact. I can agree that if you aren’t making money or are taking a huge pay cut to do the same thing you’ve been doing, then it isn’t worth it. I would feel the same way were I in your shoes.

    Again, I’m glad that I found out about your product. Keep up the good work.

  21. Steve Harris Says:


    I praise MacZOT for bringing KIT exposure and me some great feedback and users. It did, however, create a lot work that was beyond what I expected, that the exposure only goes so far and that, if you’re poor, you want to be careful because it could end up costing you more time and money than you can spare. I was there once, back in 2004 when I first launched KIT.

    So that was at least part the point of this post – what it’s like for a developer, not what’s right and wrong about indie software pricing, MacZOT or related sites.

  22. pegaze Says:

    The action initiated by the French Mac-dedicated website macbidouille.com and its counterpart hardmac.com sounds like a another type of phylosophy to promote and support freeware and shareware:

    Freeware/Shareware Developers: Advertise (almost) For Free on Hardmac.com


    maybe the best way for the Mac community

  23. Uli Kusterer Says:

    Not quite on topic, but I think not using the abbreviation for KITs name would help you a lot marketing it. When I hear KIT I think of a kit for building something first, or maybe Knight Rider, and that’s my best guess.

    On the other hand Keep It Together immediately tells me this is an app that may help me organize stuff, that solves a problem I may or may not have.

    Your tag-line also simply repeats the name. I’d try to think of ways to increase the information throughput in your copy. Say Keep It Together every time you mention KIT, so people who land on e.g. this page via Google by accident realize this may be something they have a use for. Remove the “keep things together” part and instead mention how your app’s workflow goes, something like “tag, group, label, organize and find across applications” or whatever. (You know your app better than I do from reading your product page once)

    Clever names are nice to google for an app or to get trademarks, but if they don’t make it clear what they do from context every time they’re used, you’re missing a very cheap opportunity to get known.

  24. Uli Kusterer Says:


    I meant remove it from your tag-line on the product page. Guess the brain was faster than the fingers there 😀

  25. Steve Harris Says:

    Uli, thanks – the same thought about the name had occurred to me a little while back and I have been trying to market it more as Keep It Together. I plan to address that better with version 2.

    Thanks, for the other tips too. I will be updating my web site soon with new copy. I’m going to do this outside of the release schedule in the hope that I’ll be less tired and spend more time on these things.