The Indie Advantage (and criticism) – Computerphile

The Indie Advantage (and criticism) – Computerphile

I feel like one of the areas that independent people like me can have a little advantage over big companies is that we can inject more personality into our apps and we can not put up some façade that looks like we are a big company. We can do things that big companies can’t do. Big companies can’t have personality. They just can’t. That’s just not how people come together and work by committee. That doesn’t — Personality does not come out of committees. BRADY HARAN:
Do you like the idea that people identify your app as, like, one guy, like, homemade, this is Marco’s app, or do you prefer the idea that people are getting Overcast and maybe even think it’s made by a big company? MARCO ARMENT:
I used to care a lot about that. And you see a lot of independent developers do this, where they will do things like they’ll say “we.” In all the copy that mentions, you know, the author, it’ll say, “Well, this is what we believe,” or “You can contact us,” and with Overcast I decided to just drop all that and to just say “I” everywhere and to inject some more personality into the app, because for so many years computer software has been bland and devoid of personality in order to be neutral and all-inclusive and make sure you don’t offend or turn off anybody, and there’s a place for that. In fact, most software should probably keep doing that. The reaction for Overcast having personality in it has been universally very positive. I did not — Every time I do something, maybe I’ll add some little copy in the app, like, I recently added a setting to put the icon badge on the icon of how many episodes you have unplayed and the description text of this is this “add[s] stress to your life,” because I hate that option and everyone who asked me to add it, so I was like “OK, fine. I’ll add it, but I’ll tell you it’ll add stress to your life” as this kind of tongue-in-cheek remark about why you shouldn’t use this setting, and that’s on a screen called “Nitpicky Details,” which is basically a collection of settings people have badgered me into adding to the app that I don’t think are necessary. Every time I do things like this, I think it’s a risk, and I think maybe it’ll turn off some people, and every time it’s had the opposite effect. Every time, I’ll get hundreds of tweets saying, “Hey, look at this! This is so great! I’m so happy to see personality,” because I think people are kind of starved for some kind of personality in software, which is so rarely the actual case. BRADY HARAN:
Do you worry that if people know an app is made by one person, they might think it’s less professional or reliable? Does that ever enter your head or is that a silly question? MARCO ARMENT:
That is a very valid concern for a lot of kinds of apps. I don’t think it’s true of a podcast player. You know, like, if I was making software for dentists to run their office from. — which, by the way, if you’ve ever seen dental office software, it’s… wow. That could use some interface help. — but, you know, something like that, you would want a company behind that, you would want that to seem official and conservative and, you know, have resources behind it, but something like a podcast player made for people who like podcasts on their iPhones, I don’t think that really matters that much. I also think that, you know, the assumption that a big company’s software would be more reliable unfortunately has proven itself not to be the case very often recently! I think the big companies keep showing us over and over again that they actually might be less reliable than what independent people are producing. I was not always good at this, and I still often have misses, and, you know, not everything I do succeeds. What I’m able to do is I make things for myself, and when I step out of that, I don’t do very well. As long as I just keep making things for myself, those tend to do pretty well, and there are enough other people like me — not a ton, but there are enough — that it can support one person’s salary pretty well. BRADY HARAN:
When you do it right… MARCO ARMENT:
… which I know you don’t always, but when you do it right, what do you do right? MARCO ARMENT:
If I knew, I wouldn’t have misses. [CHUCKLES] BRADY HARAN:
Professionally, what’s your problem? MARCO ARMENT:
[CHUCKLES] I need to stop blogging. [LAUGHS] BRADY HARAN:
What is it about blogging that causes you stress? MARCO ARMENT:
I have a really hard time taking the criticism when I — it isn’t just criticism, a lot of it is just trolling, but some of it is legitimate criticism, and I always just feel awful about it, and, I don’t know, for whatever reason, I can say whatever I want in a podcast and get almost no crap for it from anybody. It’s amazing. If I write anything on my blog, it is put under such a massively higher level of scrutiny that I just get the worst responses from people. And it takes a lot more time to write things for a blog. I haven’t written a lot recently and that’s part of the reason why, that I know I can just get out my ideas in the podcast, and not only will I be able to get more out with less effort, and then it’s also in a conversational format where my friends in the podcast will also, like, they’ll build on it and they’ll disagree with me and we’ll have a discussion, so I think it’s better for everybody, and then all of that will also then be greeted by a much better response from people, where, if you write in a blog, you don’t get that, you know, if you write it in a blog, it feels more formal and permanent to the reader, and so the reader comes and looks at something — if I say on a podcast, “Well, I kind of think maybe this might be the case,” if I write on the blog, “This is the case. Period,” then that’s a very different environment. and so people there will attack it: “You didn’t think about this!,” and the people who are reading the blog, a lot of them are kind of like these drivebys, that, these people who don’t know me, they haven’t been reading my stuff, so they don’t really have the context of who I am, how I talk, the kind of person I am, and what I am probably really thinking if I didn’t say things exactly right or in the best way, whereas in the podcast, you have so much more context of, like, people’s humanity. You have their voice. You hear all their imperfections. You hear them in a discussion with other people. You kind of feel like it’s your friend talking. Every time I’ve started a controversy recently, I regretted starting it. I don’t usually start controversies intentionally. And people who read my stuff probably, they probably think I’m just BSing about that, because it seems, afterwards, looking back, it’s like “Yeah, that was probably going to stir up some controversy,” but I don’t usually intend for that to happen, and I don’t feel good when it does, so I try to avoid that now. BRADY HARAN:
Our thanks to for supporting this video. I like to listen to audiobooks from Audible when I take the dogs for a walk, and with over 180,000 titles in the Audible collection, I don’t imagine I’ll be running out of options anytime soon. Currently on my reading list and sitting on my phone here is “Pandora’s Star” by Peter F. Hamilton. It’s a science fiction book. It was recommended to me by a few listeners via Twitter. I’d rather not give away the plot, but I’m enjoying it so far. I think there’s a fair chance you’d like it, too. But no matter what kind of books you’re into, Audible is sure to have something you’ll like. They’ve got a huge collection of spoken word material, you can put it on various devices, and you can try a free one-month trial including your first book, by going to That’s so they’ll know you came here from the channel. Give them a try. Audible are a great way to pass the time on your long commutes, at the gym, or, like me, out walking the dogs. And our thanks to Audible for making extra videos like this one possible. MARCO ARMENT:
“… or if I just have a really awesome idea of something else I want to do instead. That doesn’t happen very often. Most of my ideas are terrible, and I can recognise that early on that, you know what? This idea that I thought was really cool, I should not do that.” BRADY HARAN:
“… do you write things on paper, or storyboard a game, or what’s it, like, look like at this point?” MARC TEN BOSCH:
“Start typing!”

65 thoughts on “The Indie Advantage (and criticism) – Computerphile

  1. I didn't imagine Marco's voice looking like this from ATP. This is like watching the face of CGP Grey all over again😭.

  2. That's really interesting about podcasting drawing considerably less grief from trolls than blogging. I think it must have to do a lot with the impersonal nature of text as well as the ease with which textual information can be analyzed and disseminated. It's a lot easier to copy and paste someone's words when it's written rather than when it's spoken when referencing someone's argument. So perhaps it all comes down to trolls just being lazy?

  3. I would say some large companies do have personality. Bethesda, for example. I'd even say perhaps Blizzard. Then agian, we might mean different things by "personality".

  4. Brady is such a good interviewer — always asking the right questions. Of course it also helps that the answers are very good in this case.

  5. Criticism… I have dabbled in making a couple games, but tend to quit early. Why, because I showed people, and they offered criticism. Then, my brain started focusing on that, and I obsess over it. For example, one person told me that my game would be better with a full interface change, and I totally agreed. Then, I attempted to implement it, and it just felt like so much work. I wasn't enjoying myself anymore, and I was doing something for someone else, instead of "because I wanted to." So I quit. It still sits unfinished on a hard drive somewhere, lol.

  6. I've purchased games from developers just because they were nice and polite to their customers. Example, Tom Francis and his games. He said thank you to his customers. Other developers, who shall go un-named, have bee aggressive and worse towards customers. Really, offering a great service and product, and people will want to buy it.

  7. Right click this very video and you will see an option "Stats for nerds".
    Big companies can just as easily have personality.

  8. This is great! Really love this series. I am also an independent app developer, although for Android, and nowhere near the level of Mr. Arment. I really appreciate his insight. Shameless plug incoming- search "Blues Guitar Riffs" in the Play store to get my free app and learn some blues guitar! Thanks for the awesome videos.

  9. You should be able to share a podcast even if its not downloaded. Also get rid of the soundwave on the play/pause button. The button isnt big enough to show that its sound so it just makes the play/pause button just look strange (half light orange/half dark orange)

  10. I think it's fairly well known in the software industry that often times small groups are more effective than large groups for coding. You really have to understand what you're doing and what's going on as well as communicate well to make good software. Good coding practices about modularity, abstraction, and encapsulation will only get you so far. You don't need that many cooks to have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to programming.

  11. Perhaps the best advantage is that you don't have a detached boss pushing a snake oil development methodology down your throat. You can move faster because you don't have all management and formality in the way.

  12. So odd putting a face to a guy that I listen to for at least 3/4 hours a week via podcasts. Also his voice doesn't sound right without 'Smart Speed' 😀

  13. "Big companies can't have personality"

    I am not a fan, but Apple products always have the Apple personailty.

  14. The question and response at 3:59 were excellent. I think a lot could be written/said about this difference in reactions between something that is written versus something that is spoken. My impression is that the spoken word medium is rising because we (as individuals) are only now able to record and broadcast our opinions or ideas.  It seems like more work could be done in understanding, documenting and explaining these idea. Probably not me and not in an youtube comment.

  15. I think that the best advice someone like Marco could give anyone is not to do what he did at Tumblr. He worked for make years making someone else incredibly rich – Tumblr was sold to Yahoo for more than a billion dollars! If you have talent and energy then make something yourself and be your own boss. He made Instapaper on the side but it clearly made as much as Tumblr.

  16. His point about personality reminds me of the "This apt has super cow powers" line in the apt man page, or the Trogdor ASCII art in the gaim source code. It's nice to see that another person is on the other side.

  17. Google's got their April fools jokes and Android easter eggs. Hell, the entire Google building, the statues and slides and ball pits, is a fun personality.

    I think there's a misunderstanding of what "personality" is, 'cause you can even say Apple has a personality by the way it presents everything.

  18. I guess the most reliable software is open source since it's being improved by multiple people.

  19. Every app coming from SOMA has too much personality. "core dumped" was so much more efficient than 1000 startups saying "our intern Mike is pouring bear on the problem"

  20. Unfortunately there are those people who will always judge an app simply because it's been created by a single developer. Like my professor when I showed him my music visualizer… grrrr

  21. Why spam us with this person's opinions on things and world views?
    What color does he prefer his underwear to be?

  22. What he says in the intro is generally true I think, but Spotify somehow manages to feel quite personal in various places. The "Discover Weekly" playlist, the otherwise recommended music, and especially the site coming up when you want to quit Premium. It brings up the song "Can we still be friends" or something like that. Plus, the support has been awesome for me.

  23. Depends if you genuinely care about the app you are working on. If you are doing something you love sure but this is not always the case. Sometimes it's nice to have your company decide things for you so you can live your own life privately. Not everyone is 'passionate' about everything especially if it's very.mundane.

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