Sustainable Software and Customer Support

I’ve been having trouble with Dropbox on my laptop. No matter what I do (reboot, pause and resume, etc.), it keeps syncing away saying “20 files remaining”. The process continually eats CPU which destroys my battery life and constantly makes my machine hot.

I finally dropped a note to Dropbox support to see if they could help me. Here is the response I received:

Hi Alex,

Thanks for writing in.

It doesn’t look like there’s a Dropbox for Business account associated with this email address.

Please write in from the email address connected to your Business account, as that’s the only way I can troubleshoot with account-specific information.

Below is a link to one of our help center articles outlining general troubleshooting tips for syncing issues:

https://www.dropbox.com/en/help/72

As I mentioned earlier, happy to tackle any account-specific issues you are running into if you write in from the email address associated with your Dropbox for Business account.

I was surprised to see that a company the size of Dropbox is unable to provide any type of per-account support to non-paid users.1 I don’t blame them, I’ve struggled with this myself. Their response is not dissimilar to the Product vs. Customer Support approach I’ve taken with the WordPress themes and plugins I’ve written and released. However, I didn’t expect this approach from a big money VC-backed company.

The iOS indy development community is starting to talk about sustainable pricing again, spurred by the line in the sand recently drawn by Q Branch for their Vesper note-taking app.

On a recent episode of ATP Marco talked about how he manages the support email he receives for Overcast. Basically, while nearly all of it is read, most of it goes unanswered as he focuses on improving his product; largely in reaction to these emails. According to the financial information he released, I think he’s doing the right thing – at his current price-point and volume he can’t afford to provide2 customer support (he can’t take the time to reply to the emails).

The “pay for support” model that is bandied about in the Open Source world doesn’t work in the consumer space.3 When someone runs into trouble with software they almost always blame the software. Their perspective during the support transaction is “I’m helping you, the software vendor, by reporting a deficiency in your product.” And many times they are right, even when the solution is to improve the UX for an existing feature or product element.

When striving to create sustainable software, the most important building block is happy customers. This necessarily includes the ability to provide support. Not matter how :scare: easy :/scare: it is to use, providing support enables more people to successfully and happily use your product.

I’m saying that most WordPress plugins and themes are not sustainable. I’m saying that most iOS apps are not sustainable. And I’m saying that most VC-backed/freemium services are not sustainable.

This situation isn’t good for customers or software developers.


  1. The included link actually was useful – it’s likely a file permissions issue, however I don’t know that a blanket permissions change over all the files in my Dropbox is a good idea. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. 
  2. Including outsourcing or hiring someone to do it. 
  3. I think it actually does in the business space, which is cool. 

Hosted on WebFaction

This site is now hosted on WebFaction1 (if you’re seeing this post, you’re on the new server). Hooray for DNS propogation!

WebFaction was one of the hosts recommended to me. I tested it and a handful of other hosts today, going through the account creation process, the process of setting up multiple sites and databases, and speed testing the results. WebFaction’s control panel made the website set-up and management process easy and still gave me the sort of control and access I wanted but took me off the hook for server security patches, etc.

My testing indicates the site is loading much faster than it was on the previous Linode box, but if that isn’t the case for you (or if you see some other issue) I’d like to hear about it. Thanks!


  1. That’s an affiliate link – I get some kind of kickback if you sign up using that link. 

Nightly Charging Means No Sleep Tracking

As I plugged in my Garmin VivoSmart this morning for a couple of hours to give it its week-long plus battery cycle it occurred to me: if I had to take this off every night to charge it I wouldn’t be able to track my sleep the way I do now. 

Something to think about given the daily-charge battery cycle predicted for the Apple Watch.

Hosting Recommendation?

I need to transfer my sites to a new web host. Having been out of the web hosting shopping arena for some time now, I could use a little advice. My main traffic site is this one (~30-40k pageviews/month) which is a WordPress powered site. I also have several other PHP apps installed on this…

Web developers that prevent1 pasting into password fields can die in a fire.


  1. For normal people that don’t hack the DOM using the inspector. 

JSONView for Firefox →

The document is formatted, highlighted, and arrays and objects can be collapsed. Even if the JSON document contains errors, JSONView will still show the raw text.

Yes, I still use Firefox as my development browser. I’m comfortable with my dinosaur status.

What is your recommended mouse these days? My rechargeable Logitech Performance MX is driving me nuts by doubling ~75% of my clicks.

My Yesterbox Gmail Setup →

I really like this approach to email. Thankfully I don’t have to deal with the volume of email I used to, but if it ever approaches that level again I’m going to give this a shot. It is easy to replicate in Mail.app with a smart folder and a second window.

To: Family & Friends

Date: February 13, 2015

Subject: Clinical Trial Progress / CT Scan Results

Hi Everyone, I got some good news yesterday when I went in for treatment. The results from my CT scan earlier this week show a significant reduction in size of my abdominal lymph nodes and with the nodules in/around my liver. There is some minor growth in the nodules in my lungs, but these are…

Continued…

Designing Twitter Video →

I love in-depth pieces like this. A lot of TLC went into this feature and it feels nice to use (although when I launched the official Twitter client to check it out I actually had trouble finding it – click into the photo/camera, then you can switch to video).