Vaporware, pre-announcements, and conch-bleatings (oh my)

by Linda Sharps on November 28, 2006

Years ago I worked for a Very Bad Software Company (no, they weren't located in Redmond). My job involved creating millions of graphics-heavy PowerPoint documents with little in the way of information but lots and lots of colorful stock art depicting great success for the company we were pitching to. We offered several different “technology solutions” that were “powerful and extensible”. Oh, and they also “engineered a rich, sticky shopping experience”.

(I am not even making that up. Rich. Sticky.)

It took me a while, but I finally figured out we had no actual products. What our company owned was some proprietary knowledge about delivering media over the internet, and around that nebulous concept a number of solutions were dreamed up by the CEO, who either truly believed they existed or thought they could be built immediately after a purchase was made (I was never quite sure which it was, I think it depended on the alignment of the planets and the amount of reality distortion in the man's head at any given moment).

Those products were vaporware, pure and simple. They did not exist, the “features” they offered varied based on who the salespeople were talking to, and the half-built, buggy technology that was supposed to be the base of all these fantastic offerings did nothing more than crash your entire system and maybe the computer of the person sitting next to you for good measure. Then it went and kicked your dog.

In its current state, OmniFocus is a little bit crashy, too. Okay, maybe our internal nickname for OmniFocus is Crashy Von CrashaLot, That-Which-Triggers-Kernel-Panic, but hey, that's why it's not in beta yet.

But it's not vaporware. It's just not completed. There's a difference, and it has to do with being sincere about what we want to offer, and not touting magical features that we have no idea how to build.

The reason we've been open about the entire process isn't to generate hype (goat trail: the Segway was hyped. Zune was hyped. Mentioning a product a few times on a blog with a readership of…well, a smallish readership? Not hype, unless you want to greatly elevate my contributions marketing-weasel-wise, which is fine by me but then we'll have to discuss a new benefits package involving chocolate covered pretzels delivered to my desk on a weekly basis); it was initially to gauge interest and figure out if this product was a good investment for us. We could have done research on our own and maintained radio silence about OmniFocus, but we wanted to start a dialogue about it and get your feedback early on.

We are not trying to persuade you to avoid looking for other solutions, and we're not trying to unreasonably build up your expectations. I don't consider what we've been talking about with OmniFocus to be a pre-announcement, which is something typically designed to generate early interest in a product and hopefully build momentum towards the final release.

Being upfront about OmniFocus was not a PR activity, or a strategic marketing decision, or anything involving a slide presentation and the word “paradigm”. It was rewarding to tell you we were thinking about working on it, and it was awesome to get all your positive feedback, but now we're in the boring part of the process where we feverishly code and have UI meetings and chew the ends of pencils and there's just…not much news.

Think of OmniFocus like a movie that's being filmed. You read who is starring in it, you maybe see some stills from the sets, you forget about it for a little while, and all of a sudden it's in theaters and people are writing comments all over its IMDB page debating whether it sucks or rules.

Or something.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that we enjoy interacting with you guys, that's why we started this blog. It's not solely a vehicle for Official Product Announcements, and I hope you can appreciate some of the more informal conch-bleatings. It's more like we're talking with you instead of just issuing press releases, you know?

Now, let me just wrap things up by saying: we are still considering the “Feed Rowan the Disgusting Food Item of Your Choice!” booth display at Macworld, so I hope you plan on coming by and visiting.