Sunday, September 5, 2010

I Abandoned My Users (and they're doing ok without me)

It's a pretty common scenario for a developer. You get an idea for a fun project. You start working on it. You build something half-decent. Then you get bored and move on to something else.

That's all fine until someone ELSE finds your project useful too. It's exciting that other people like your project, and you work even harder for a while. But usually you still end up running out of steam sooner or later.

That's what happened to me with PockeTwit. I wrote it to scratch an itch-- I wasn't satisfied with existing twitter clients for my phone at the time. I also wanted to play with code to do something more than the usual "winforms" look for most software written for that platform. I came up with something small and put it online just to see what people thought. Next thing I knew, it grew pretty popular and a lot of people relied on it for their twitter fix every day.

But honestly, I got tired of it. My phone broke. After that I, like so many others, left Windows Mobile for a different smartphone platform (at the time the hardware specs still lagged horribly behind others). And once I could no longer use my own software to access twitter, I didn't have much motivation to improve on it.

Luckily, it was "good enough" for most users for a very long time, until Twitter decided to shake things up and change the way applications authenticated with their service. Twitter no longer allows an application to simple provide the user's login and password -- they switched to a more complex system where the user has to authorize an application through their own version of OAuth.

This change killed off a LOT of twitter applications like PockeTwit, where the original author simply didn't have the motivation to update their software. Even some that were purchased by users-- their company simply didn't have the time or the profit motivation to revamp their software. And for those applications it is probably the end of the road.

But not for PockeTwit. Because it is "open source", any developer can easily download the source code to the application and tinker. And luckily, there were a couple who were interested enough in it to update it to support OAuth on Twitter.

Thanks to the hard work of @roalvanderbrand and @ashley_brown, the latest releases of PockeTwit support OAuth and can continue to work on Twitter. They've not only tackled the OAuth issue -- they've continued to improve the application in many ways.

I can't tell you how great it was to see what started as a way for me to kill some time and have some fun be accepted by so many. But it might be even MORE rewarding to see that other developers cared enough to take up your code and continue to improve it. I've grown a lot in my development style since I started PockeTwit, and I'm a bit embarrassed by some of the code, but I feel I can be proud of what it became and is continuing to be even without me.

I'd really encourage other hobbyists to open source their code. I did so knowing fully that I would cringe as I read it later in life, but I still thought it would be worth it in case it helped someone else with their hobby as well. And to this day I'm still very glad that I did.