Why app developer opinions are worth the costs of going viral

Shane Schick

I feel guilty linking to Marco Arment's blog post, or even mentioning it, but I'm hoping he'll forgive me.

Earlier this month, Arment, an iOS developer based out of Westchester County, N.Y., posted something that will probably end up proving far more viral than any app he or most of his peers will make. It was a post about Apple, about the flaws in its software, and the company's need to work harder to improve its platform for the sake of developers, customers and itself. It was well-argued and honest. When you visit the post now, however, there's a link at the top which reads: "I regret having published this."

Arment was surprised, and then dismayed at how quickly his words were parsed, excerpted, regurgitated and in some cases made to serve someone else's point in the days following his posting. In other words, although he started a discussion, he lost control over its direction, forcing him to reconsider his choice of words. (I'm paraphrasing here, because to quote directly from the posts would seem to perpetuate a situation that's made him uncomfortable).

This whole thing feels unfortunate, because I think Arment's post was far more valuable, and less sensational, than perhaps even he realizes. Were the comments written somewhat off the cuff? Maybe, but that doesn't mean they weren't true. They were also far less mean-spirited and ugly as much of the feedback from the "trolls" that is leading some publications to abandon comments altogether. They also came from a highly reputable, credible source--an app developer who cares about the product, the surrounding ecosystem of users and his peers. 

Much like a negative app review that stubbornly sticks to the top of search results forever, Arment's post might feel, even to its author, more like a one-sided attack than a thoughtful analysis. The reality of the Internet, however, is that what begins as sensationalism only graduates to real discussion with time. There have been, and will continue to be, rebuttals to his critique. It may be something that sparks questions in panel discussions at developer events, or even within Apple's boardrooms. The ultimate answer, in fact, may come in future versions of OS X and iOS.

There is always a risk of being misinterpreted, or having your opinion taken to an extreme by your intended audience. That's not a reason to shut up, or to second-guess yourself. We need more insight from app developers to join the chorus from vendors, analysts and, yes, journalists like me. I'm sure Arment will think carefully before pressing the "publish" button again, but I sincerely hope he still presses it. There has to be a better alternative to perceived sensationalism--in discussions of software as in anything else--than silence.--Shane