Why I Left Indie Development


In what feels like a different life now, I used to be a fairly well-known indie developer. I spoke at events like SXSW, and my blog had a large audience of people who liked hearing about my work on HomeSite, TopStyle and FeedDemon.

I parted ways with that life several years ago, in part because it’s extremely difficult to be a one-man show and still have time to be a husband and father. I was also burned out from years of doing my own support. I had lovely customers, of course, but I spent so much time supporting them that I wasn’t able to spend as much time feeding my code addiction. Almost everything I do professionally is so I can enjoy the bliss of getting lost in writing software.

But I also gave up pursuing the indie life because I wanted to make the switch to mobile development, and I didn’t see much future for indie mobile developers. The economics of the various app stores coupled with the plethora of free software didn’t paint a rosy picture for one-person companies building consumer apps. In fact, I didn’t make the leap to mobile until I was offered a full-time job as an Android dev.

So it’s been interesting reading the latest round of blog posts about the state of indie mobile development. While there are success stories, there certainly aren’t many of them. Making a decent living as an indie developer writing mobile apps is ridiculously hard – and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

A lot of mobile developers have left the indie ship and done as I have and joined a larger company, many of which look at mobile apps as a free (or nearly free) complement to their other offerings.1 There’s plenty of opportunity here for mobile developers, and I think that opportunity will continue to grow for a while.

  1. As an aside, I’m not convinced the “mobile as a complement” strategy is the right one long term. Mobile is becoming the primary way people access their information, to the point that web and desktop software are turning into the complement.

Goodbye Blue Sky

My parents grew up in England during World War II. They used to tell me about the air raid sirens that sounded at night alerting them to seek shelter, quickly.

I often asked them about this, thinking they must still be haunted by the thought of bombs dropping on them as they slept.

But they said it was normal to them. It was all they ever knew.

That has always stuck with me.

It makes me wonder how many things we accept simply because we’ve never known any different.

Abolishing the Gingerbread Tax

A few weeks ago I said this:

Every Android developer I know will dance in the streets the day they can drop support for pre-ICS versions of Android

Well, it looks like it’s time for me to hit the streets because WordPress for Android – the app I work on – is dropping Gingerbread support in new versions.

Strangely, though, I was a bit nervous when we first talked about doing this. Leaving any users stranded really bothered me.

But then I thought about how much extra work we put into maintaining backwards compatibility for a dwindling number of people, and I considered how much better the app could be for the large majority of our users if we spent that time improving it for newer devices.

When I looked at it that way, I wondered whether we should’ve dropped Gingerbread support even sooner. And I wondered how many other Android developers are continuing to make the majority of their users pay this Gingerbread Tax.

If you’re one of them, perhaps it’s time your app stops supporting pre-ICS devices, too.


Settling on a Name


I remember during the LA riots of 1992 the media struggled with how to refer to Rodney King. Then someone decided to call him a “black motorist” and next thing you know every reporter was calling him a black motorist. Yes, they collectively decided, he drove a motor vehicle and he’s black, so he’s a black motorist. Problem solved.

During the war with Iraq, there was some confusion about what to call those who were fighting back. Were they terrorists, or freedom fighters, or what? Then the word “insurgents” was floated and it stuck. From then on, the media coalesced around calling them insurgents, even though nobody seemed to know what it meant.

We see it all the time even if we’re not aware of it. Climate change, financial crisis, bailout, and other phrases that try not to assign blame unless it’s in our country’s interests. We hear what these things are called and our mood is altered, our opinion on what’s being reported is changed.

I like to pay attention to how things are named because it affects how we deal with them, and it informs me about the opinions of those in power. Our media tends to favor those in power, and I tend not to, so when a name is settled upon I try to look behind the scenes and ask myself why those in power have chosen that name.


My Trusty FeedDemon Bag

feeddemon-bagYears ago, when FeedDemon was thriving, I had a canvas FeedDemon bag created for me by CafePress.

I figured it was a novelty, like having a t-shirt made from a picture of your kids when they’re young that you stop wearing once they outgrow the diaper stage.

But instead this bag has remained my trusty companion and shows no signs of getting old. It has outlived FeedDemon itself.

I’ve taken it everywhere, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about it. Probably for good reason: who wants to ask an obvious geek about their bag when it has a demonic logo on it?

It has been on every vacation with me, carrying sunscreen, towels, and books to the beach. I’ve taken it on business trips to hold my electronics. It has come with me to the grocery store to carry home ice cream, veggies, and beer. Now it goes to the gym with me to hold my headphones, towel, water, and post-workout snack.

It has survived storms, car wrecks, and even plane crashes. This is the Samuel L. Jackson of bags, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasts longer than I do.



The Atheist Pulpit

After my wife and I moved to a new town a few years ago, we talked about joining a church in order to meet people. This wasn’t easy for us since I’m a devout atheist, and I refused to take my kids anywhere that even mentioned the idea of hell.

At some point we tried out a nearby Unitarian Universalist church, and much to my surprise we both enjoyed the experience. My being an atheist wasn’t an issue – in fact, there were several other atheists in the congregation, all of whom wanted to be a part of something bigger that could do some good for society without all the dogma.

Not long after we joined, I was asked to speak to the congregation about what I believe. Here’s most of what I said:

If 20 years ago you had told me I would speak in front of a church crowd, I would’ve laughed hysterically. I decided I was an atheist at a very young age, so the idea of me standing at a pulpit would’ve seemed ridiculous, at least until I discovered churches like this one existed.

I guess you could say that by age 16 I had a pretty bad attitude about religion. For many years that bad attitude only got worse as I continued to witness people justifying cruelty in the name of religion.

That bad attitude reached its peak after I saw all the “God Bless America” billboards go up prior to the war with Iraq. At the time I took that as proof religion was nothing more than something politicians all over the world rely on to get people to approve of the awful things they want to do.

Yes, I was one of those smirking atheists who think they’ve got it all figured out.

But I’ve mellowed a lot since then. I’ve become friends with too many good people of faith to continue being a smirking atheist.

I used to believe that religious people were wrong, but now I believe that everyone is wrong – including me. We’re just monkeys with expensive haircuts. How on earth can we presume to have anything figured out?

I mean, look at all the mistakes we’ve made – we once believed that the world was flat, that the earth is the center of the universe, and that George Bush would never be a two-term president. Look how wrong we were!

Perhaps some of us have seen a clue of what the truth really is. People like Jesus, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and George Carlin may have caught a glimpse behind the curtain and seen further than the rest of us.

But they’re probably wrong, too, and it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that regardless of what gods we may or may not worship, I believe we’re all here for a very short time, so it’s not a bad idea for us to focus on enjoying ourselves and each other while we can.

And I believe it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to improve the lives of every person and every animal we share this temporary planet with.

I think we have to separate between what we believe and what we know. Atheism is what I believe, some of you believe in a religion. We believe we’re following something that gives us some answers or some comfort, but none of us actually know how we got here and where we’re going, and that’s great.

It’s only when people convince themselves that what they believe is also what they know that the bad stuff happens.

So anyway, this godless journey of mine somehow led me to this church. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t expect to like it here. I’ve wanted to run away screaming from every other church I’ve visited.

But much to my surprise, I like it here. I enjoy being part of this group of intellectual misfits. This church is like a non-conformist convention where people actually show up.

So I want to thank you for welcoming me and accepting me here – that’s something I’m not used to, and it means a lot to me.

Joe Meets the Confederacy

Soon after I entered college in 1986, a few fraternities asked me to consider joining them. I wasn’t the frat type so I politely declined, but one fraternity didn’t want to take no for an answer.

I don’t recall their name now, but they aligned themselves with the Old South – right down to a confederate flag outside their house. I was from Tennessee and they wanted a “real” southerner to join them (never mind the fact that I was born in England, which made them all Yankees to me).

They considered themselves southern gentlemen, which apparently required being Caucasian. Despite the diversity of those attending the school, the fraternity was completely white.

One day I was asked to attend some event they were having to recruit new members. Rather than turn them down again, I said sure and asked if I could bring my friend Joe. They thought it was a swell idea.

I’m not sure they thought it was so swell once we showed up, though, because Joe was black.

I figured bringing him would get them off my back and let me thumb my nose at them at the same time. Joe cracked up when I proposed my scheme to him and quickly agreed to do it.

We spent the evening eating their food and consuming their drinks, having ourselves a good old time. Joe, of course, stood out like a sore thumb in that sea of white folk, and tried his best not to burst out laughing.

After that night, I was never invited to another event at that fraternity.