That’s Fine For Marco
This is a piece I’ve been thinking about writing for many months now. Some recent Twitter drama (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what, it won’t be too challenging) prompted me to finally put it on (digital) paper.
We have a problem, in the Apple-centric tech community, of being exclusionary of newcomers and dismissive of opinions that don’t mirror our own. This is particularly evident when it comes to the small group of prominent bloggers and podcasters, most of whom are friends with each other, and how they treat those who are outside their circles. We’ve ended up with an echo chamber of voices that reinforce each other without letting anyone else in.
The first thing I want to get out of the way is that I truly believe these people should be applauded for their success. I don’t mean to lessen any of their accomplishments or diminish the value of their creations, and I recognize the amount of work that they’ve put in to their careers. Relay is a great podcast network. Overcast and Vesper are good apps. The Loop and Daring Fireball are excellent blogs. I have read, listened to, and used these products for years. However, the success of these creators has often seemingly left them with a skewed perspective on how they became successful.
Anytime this is brought up, there are two frequently-heard retorts: That 1) anybody can have this kind of success with enough hard work, and 2) the benefits of the attention are not significant because they’re short-lived. I think both of these are misguided.
Too many people who have had success discount the element of luck in achieving that success. This is sometimes called the self-attribution fallacy, and you see it a lot in arguments about welfare and taxation, in the form of successful people who believe that success comes purely from hard work and therefore unsuccessful people must be lazy, and unsuccessful people who believe that successful people got where they were just because they were lucky. It applies to the Apple community as well: Working at the right startup, having the right friends, being selected for an App Store feature, maybe even being picked in the WWDC lottery can be the little bit of luck that greases the skids for an entire career.
Building a good app doesn’t guarantee anything: You won’t necessarily get noticed by the big Apple Tech Sites, let alone featured by Apple themselves, if you’re not already prominent in some way. If you haven’t had previous success, you might not be in the comfortable position of being able to work for months or years on a product that you will then give away for free. If you don’t already have an established fanbase, you probably won’t find success with a patronage model. You can record a great podcast but if you don’t already have thousands of Twitter followers, you might only have 6 people listen to it (hi mom!). You can write an incredibly insightful article, but if nobody is going to your blog, the only comment you get might be from V1aG4a4CH34P.com.
Don’t discount that launch either: For some projects, a good launch week could recoup the investment right away, making the whole effort worthwhile even if sales drop off quickly, while projects without that attention may never reach any audience at all, turning out to be disasters for their creators. A strong launch will likely lead to a better tail as well: The more people using the product early on, the more word-of-mouth and continued attention in the press.
The words of some prominent members of our community have been unthinkingly mean-spirited to the legions of developers, podcasters, and writers trying to make a go of it. We’re told that if we haven’t had runaway success, it’s simply because we haven’t been trying hard enough or for long enough.
These community leaders aren’t doing much to help those who haven’t “made it” yet, though. Do we really need documentaries focusing on the same developers who have already told their stories time and time again on podcasts and blogs? Do we need more podcasts hosted by the same people, with the same guests with already-successful products? Apple doesn’t help, either, with their App Store features and Twitter accounts usually promoting already-successful apps and games.
I hope that those with the strongest voices in our community can recognize the influence they have and try to be more thoughtful about how their words and actions affect others. My message to you: Recognize the privileges that you may have that aren’t necessarily shared by everyone else. Ask yourself if you’re using your position to promote other perspectives or to simply help your friends. Look at how you can assist those who don’t already have a strong voice. Our community needs leaders, and you’re in the best position to help. It might not be the reason you got into the business, but by choosing to cast your voice loudly you have taken on a responsibility that you’ve largely been shirking thus far.
I realize that some people will discount my words because I won’t put my real name behind them. Why am I publishing this anonymously? Because I live and work in this tech world. We saw with Samantha’s piece that suggestions that don’t fit in with the Accepted Truths of our insular community can be met with pettiness and viciousness. I wish it weren’t true, but there it is. Let’s try to do better.