Gina Trapani, of Smarterware.org, Lifehacker, and This Week in Google fame, wrote a great article about doing what you love and not settling for anything short of meaningful work. You can read the article on Smarterware.org, here.
I feel compelled to write something that has been stirring around in my brain for quite some time. In a way, it's very much related to her article, but it also carries a different message. I leave reading Gina's article up to you and I also recommend reading the articles she links to as well.
To come right out with it: As consumers, everyone owes it to themselves and their fellow human beings to encourage innovation and meaningful works by just being nice people. It's that easy, I promise.
Something truly interesting should capture an audience and draw attention. However, that attention isn't always easy to handle. Our world has no shortage of companies that tried to shoot for the stars and couldn't manage the consumer demand or couldn't quite figure out the problem fast enough before people forgot them. The demand for new things is high because they're new and interesting, but patience must also be plentiful while it is developed and refined.
On the other hand, the low hanging fruit is tempting because consumers eat it up. The demand may not be as high, but it's cheaper and requires less testing and support. It's just easy. That's why we have so many calculator apps for your iPhone and only one Instapaper.
When a developer tries their hand at something new and a bit more difficult they need support and constructive feedback. Too often people forget small companies exist. The average consumer seems to expect every tech company is an Apple or a Microsoft. The reality is these small companies will try to tackle something big, new, and exciting with a handful of developers. Heck, it might just be one or two or three guys. They might very well succeed, but their work will need time to evolve and mature. In the meantime, while they wait, the consumers must remember that technology can be a fickle mistress.
Technology is infinitely complex. Every computer is unique, no two smartphones are 100% equal, your home network is not your neighbor's home network, and so-on-and-so-forth. For something to "just work" a great deal of time and effort must be devoted to it. Don't be fooled. Even the most solid product acts up for someone out there and it can be for the most simple reasons that no one ever suspects.
I'm not saying consumers should accept poor solutions. No, no, and no. I'm saying you may not have personally asked Company X to fill some technological gap, but if their work is really interesting to you then support them. That doesn't mean giving them your money, not unless you want to. You can support them just by participating in beta testing, offering feedback, or even just following their progress.
Remember: The first attempt may not deliver on every hope or expectation. There are a lot of examples out there of one company falling short while proving a concept for another company to run with. But if you don't support the first company then it's less likely another company will take notice. Interest might appear low, or negative, and that won't foster interest among other companies that might buy the product, hire the developers to give them new resources, or try their hand at it from scratch.
As someone who works in a small company trying to do something new, I see/live the ups and downs of this every day. Every day I read emails full of expletives, threats, insults, etc. all because something didn't work for someone. I've rad everything from spiteful comments about our developers to outrageous claims that our software downloaded viruses to their PC.
It's not fun when something doesn't work, but that's technology. Investigate the problem and see what's going on. Developers that care about their work will fix a bug if you find one, but you have to work with them and tell them what happened - not throw an email tantrum. Don't overreact and lash out at someone. Sending an email is not the same as trolling some backwater forum as an anonymous user. You will not receive love from any developer with that kind of attitude.
All you will do is make their day a little less enjoyable. If that is your goal then you are part of the problem.
There is one simple rule I want everyone to remember: You contacted them for help and support using their product. Yes, you may have paid a fee to use their product so they may owe you support. Yes, bad technical support exists. Yes, it can be frustrating to work with the "stereotypical tech support guy" who seems to never understand your problem and you think is reading from a script. However, none of that changes the rule. Trust that the person you contacted and asked for help knows their business. Provide a clear explanation and listen to their questions and suggestions. Even if you think something won't help or has already been done. Just listen. Ask questions if you really, really believe step X is a waste of time. Chances are there is a very good reason for it.
We want to help you, really. Please do not assume I, or any of my counterparts at any company, are automatically terrible people because that one time you called that one company and had a really bad experience.
If you're made it this far, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I, and people like me, are trying to do something to make your world a little bit more awesome. Please help us do that by helping us help you. Tell us what you want and we will do our damnedest to accommodate you. Help encourage the development of new, exciting stuff by giving feedback, offering ideas, and just talking about it. Stir the pot (in a nice way) and I bet you'll be pleased with the results. That's what I want you to take away from this.
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