The End of Glassboard

Justin Williams brings the unfortunate but inevitable news about the end of Glassboard:

Over the last year we have tried a variety of different methods of converting Glassboard into a sustainable business. The reality is that we failed to do that.

Starting next week, we will be converting everyone’s account to a premium account for the remaining few weeks so that you can export your boards and keep an archive should you desire.

I’m sad to see Glassboard go away. It was the first Android app I wrote, and I have great memories with the team of friends I worked with at Sepia Labs. I feel bad for Justin that he invested so much time and money in keeping Glassboard alive only to see it fail to gain traction.

For me personally, Glassboard was a reaction to the whittling away of online privacy. I’m proud to have worked on something that said “privacy is important” at a time when so many other apps were sharing, leaking, and even stealing, your private information. None of us foresaw Edward Snowden, of course, but we did foresee a backlash against the loss of privacy which I believe is still in its infancy.

It would be easy to blame Glassboard’s failure on users’ lack of concern for their privacy, but I think it had more to do with our flawed initial experience and downright terrible business model.

Our initial user experience made it hard to get started with the app, which killed any chance of the viral growth necessary to build a large user base. And we did so little to promote our premium version that very few Glassboard users knew we even had a premium version (and those that were aware of it saw little reason to upgrade).

There’s certainly no guarantee Glassboard would’ve succeeded had we not made those mistakes – as Brent Simmons points out, an app like Glassboard “is going to be a challenge no matter what” – but I do think those mistakes guaranteed it wouldn’t succeed.

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.

Glassboard Finds a Home

A few months ago Glassboard went looking for a home, and I’m  happy to report that a home has been found at Second Gear.

When finding a new owner was first discussed, I was very unsure of the idea. We wouldn’t be just handing over our software to someone else – we’d also be handing over our customers and their data. That was such a concern of mine that I suggested we simply kill the product.

Luckily, clearer heads prevailed, and in the end we found someone we can trust to keep Glassboard going. Best of luck, Justin!

A New Home for Glassboard

for-sale-by-ownerThree years ago I joined a team that set out to create something different: a social app that values your privacy. We wanted to make an app which enabled you to share only with people you trust – no privacy settings necessary.

We’d all seen the coming storm: we knew that concerns about privacy were the next big thing. We wanted to build an app that said, “privacy is important, don’t give it up.”

But we failed.

Glassboard didn’t succeed, and is in need of a new home.

Our biggest blunder was that our focus on privacy made it hard to get started with Glassboard. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., let you immediately find and follow your friends, but after you installed Glassboard you felt like you were the only one using it. Not exactly a great first run experience.

We also had a lousy business model, but that’s a post for another day.

I continue to believe that we need more software that respects your privacy. I look at the current crop of privacy-violating social apps and shudder when I think of where they’ll take us a decade or two down the road. Or even next year.

I’d love to see Glassboard taken over by someone who shares our commitment to privacy and can take it where we never could.

Glassboard for Your Kindle

When my Kindle Fire HD arrived, I was impressed – it’s a slick tablet. But like many people, I was disappointed by the limited selection of apps. Some of my favorite Android apps don’t work on the Kindle.

Luckily, Glassboard isn’t one of them. Glassboard is now available in the Amazon App Store, and it looks great on the new Kindles. It takes advantage of the larger screen and hardware acceleration to provide a fast, fluid experience.

Note: This is the same exact version that’s in Google Play, but it does have one limitation: due to device differences, push notifications aren’t available on the Kindle. We’re looking into ways to address this in a future release.

Glassboard Shines on Nexus 7

Earlier this week I announced a new version of Glassboard for Android which supports Glassboard premium. What I didn’t mention is that this new version is also optimized for tablets like the Nexus 7.

If you used an earlier version of Glassboard on your new tablet, chances are you were disappointed by how photos didn’t resize to fill the larger display. And if your eyes are like mine, you probably squinted to read anything. You may also have noticed that scrolling wasn’t as smooth as it should be.

The latest version changes all that. Photos are now big and bold, text is much more readable, and scrolling is buttery smooth.

If you’re one of the many folks who bought a Nexus 7 and are annoyed by how few apps take advantage of it, give the latest version of Glassboard a try. It’s a much better experience than before.


Glassboard Premium

Perhaps the question we hear the most about Glassboard is, "if it's free and you don't do ads, then how do you make money?"

The answer is with a premium subscription, which is supported by new versions of the app that are now live in Google Play, the App Store and on the web.

For an overview of the goodies our premium version has to offer, head over to the Glassboard Blog. But I will give a shout-out to what has become my favorite premium feature: bookmarks.

At Sepia Labs, we use Glassboard to build Glassboard. Every feature, fix and improvement is discussed on Glassboard itself. Being able to bookmark messages and comments is a big help – bookmarks are my to-do list of things I need to act upon. I also bookmark photos I really like, as you can see in the screenshot below this post.

If you're a Glassboard customer and you want more out of it, I hope you'll sign up for Glassboard Premium. But even if you don't, be sure to get the latest version of the app because there are a lot of improvements for non-premium customers as well.

PS: We'll be adding some great new premium features over the next few months – there's much more to come!

On Glassboard 2.0, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog

…but they may know you're a dog person if you join my "Dog Pics" board, which I originally created so my friends and I could share photos and videos of our canine companions on Glassboard.

If you'd like to share with us, use the invitation code "dogpics" in the app to join the board. Just follow these steps if you're not sure how to do this:

Now, you may find it odd that an app that's all about private sharing enables anyone to join a board this way. So I'll clarify that you have to explicitly create an invitation code for one to exist for a board. An invitation code provides a simple way to get people into your board quickly without having to invite them – just share the code with the people you want on your board, and when everyone's in you can disable the code so it can't be used to join the board again.

Glassboard 2.0: Nailing the Privacy Experience

When we released Glassboard 1.0 last year, I think we nailed the privacy aspects. We built one of the only social apps that truly respects your privacy.

We didn’t, however, nail the experience. Glassboard 1.0 wasn’t ugly, but it sure wasn’t pretty, either.

I think we nailed the experience in Glassboard 2.0, though. The new version – which we released today on Google Play and the iPhone App Store – doesn’t just look better, but it’s also easier and more fun to use. Check out the screenshots at the bottom of this post for some examples of how the new version looks.

We also answered the #1 request of our customers and built a web-based version of Glassboard (currently in beta). My favorite thing about our web app is that it enables you to share PDFs, Word documents, MP3s, Excel spreadsheets, and many other files from your desktop with your friends, family and co-workers – even if they’re using our mobile apps.

There’s a lot more I could say about the new version – like how it enables viewing a gallery of photos people have shared – but hopefully I’ve said enough to get you interested. We’re really pleased with Glassboard 2.0 and we hope you’ll give it a try.

Are You Paying Attention to Facebook?

Way back in 2004 I wrote about how a scrappy young Google was replacing an increasingly stodgy Microsoft as the predominant tech company. A year later I wrote about how Google hoped to benefit from knowing what you're paying attention to.

These days Google is turning into the stodgy company and Facebook is the scrappy upstart. And now Facebook is the one hoping to benefit from what you're paying attention to.

Frictionless sharing is Facebook's latest attempt to find out what you're paying attention to. They want to know what sites you're visiting, what songs you're listening to, and pretty much everything else about you, so they can surface more relevant content in your newsfeed and show you more relevant ads. They also want to build a more thorough profile of you in order to enable up-and-coming features like timeline, and to open up more possibilities for those who develop apps on their platform.

But if Facebook wants to collect this information, they need to do it in a way that doesn't lead customers to believe their privacy is being violated. And based on the reaction to frictionless sharing, it appears they've failed to do that. They're gathering – and exposing – all this attention data in way that scares an awful lot of people and will surely invite increased government investigation. That could backfire on them in a big way (remember how diminished Microsoft was following their wrangling with the DOJ?).

All of this makes me more confident of our decision to make privacy the focus in Glassboard. When we created Glassboard, we anticipated an eventual backlash against popular social networking services that violate your privacy. And based on the news we read every day, it seems like that backlash may come even sooner than expected.