Farewell, Workflowy, you served me well.

You were a good friend, but the time has come to move on.

Between work and home, I’m involved in a lot of things that require a fair amount of organization. My organizing applications have gone through several cycles…..

  • Datebook+ on the Palm Pilot and later compatible hardware. This application had a feature called ‘floating events’. If you placed an event on tomorrow’s date but didn’t complete it, the event would move to the current day each day, causing them to pile up and making it very obvious you were falling behind. You could easily move them into the future to reschedule things.
  • When Palm went under, I move to Outlook. While Outlook has it’s strengths for integration between mail, reminders, calendars and other data, I hate Outlook’s UI and email interface in particular. The difficulties in showing a properly threaded email tree (NOT what they call a ‘conversation’ thread) are painful to endure.
  • Today, things are a bit convoluted. I moved to Thunderbird IMAP for email a long time ago and can not imagine switching to another email program. I can use it on multiple machines and my mail stays in sync. Since I have an iPhone, iPad and Windows PCs, the only way to have synchronized, consistent reminders was using Outlook and the iOS Reminders applications, since they all can synchronize to a Microsoft Exchange account. iOS Reminders has only one feature I like, and that’s the ability to add items to it fully by voice (Siri) and not use any buttons. Since I am forced to use Gmail for work, I resort to using it’s calender as well.

I stumbled across Workflowy online one day while looking into outlining applications. It was the least expensive of it’s competition and I immediately loved it’s simplicity. I purchased a subscription and immediately began using it to replace my Reminders application.

I quickly discovered that the ability to outline (hierarchically) my information was very powerful. The only things lacking (for me) were date support, notifications (Hey, this is due now!) and Siri voice support for quickly adding items.

But what Workflowy did bring to the party was worth it for me. I made some suggestions, discovering that I wasn’t the only one clamoring for dates, notifications and Siri support and contributed to those ‘feature requests’.

Workflowy did add date support over the last few years. I and other continued to suggest other feature support. A few time over the years, people suggested (myself included) that perhaps workflowy’s development pace had slowed, as we never saw any of the things we requested, and Workflowy didn’t do a very good marketing job of ‘announcing’ them when they did.

I recently added more comments to a thread on Workflowy development to which a few people agreed. Like most online discussions, some didn’t, including a Workflowy employee. It was implied that development of the features we had been suggesting wasn’t on the table, yet no one had told any of use who had been asking for years. Of course, the developers are under no real obligation to tell anyone what they are planning, but since this was an active discussion it seemed like we were being a bit mislead. All the discussions were very professional, both from Workflowy and users such as myself. I decided to look outside the Workflowy box for alternatives……there were several, among which I discovered Dynalist. It did most of what Workflowy did, was a little different and was a bit more expensive, but had a very open dialog with it’s users about features, planned items, and development seemed to move quickly. This was very noticeable by a history they keep online of features and versions as they are added. Development seems constant (monthly blog updates), whereas as every couple years I would hear that Workflowy was ‘reorganizing’, ‘hiring all new people’ or some such thing. This stuff happens, to be sure.

I was offered a chance to join a Workflowy beta program but I passed. The moderator then locked the thread for any more comments by anyone. Why? To prevent anyone else from expressing disappointment or debating the topic? The thread had been open for three-plus years.

Why did I pass on joining the beta forum? I was told that I could join if I “behaved myself”. Until now every post was all professional, if disappointing….But that last part pissed me off.

I cancelled my Workflowy subscription the next morning.

A sidebar here of some of my thoughts on software development over the last decade……

In the old days, when a user ‘bought’ a copy of software, you were then able to use forever. You owned it (technically, you owned a ‘license’ to do so, but that’s a detail) and that was the end of it. At that point, the company could improve upon their software and sell you updates with more features. A very simple relationship emerged from this delicate balance….they offer new things, you can chose to buy them. The converse of this is that they don’t get more money from you unless they create desirable feature. A simple check and balance system that worked well for decades.

Now, most software reaches a point in its development where it really ‘does everything it need to do’. Yes, yes, there are always other things it can do, but they can run out of primarily desirable and sell-able things to add. The application reaches a state of equilibrium, and development slows. Then people don’t buy updates, and it continues like this. A software developer then faces a choice: Stop developing something they aren’t making money on or get more creative about features. Many times this is why a software application disappears and a company goes out of business. No one buys it because it doesn’t do what they need, or doesn’t continue to add what they need.

These was an era I refer to as B.A.

Before Adobe.

Adobe (makers of Photoshop and a zillion other applications) began implementing an idea. And yes, before you try to correct me, there were others before Adobe but they are one of the most obvious at the time. The idea is simple and brilliant and fixes everything that is wrong about the previous software era from a business standpoint. If they didn’t, someone at Adobe should have gotten an award for this idea, which basically says…..

“We currently charge someone a large amount for purchasing our application, then a tiny amount every few years as we add things they want. Instead, what if we charge them a slightly less amount up front to make it seem like a great deal, but then charge them that same amount every year forever, and if they stop paying us the software stops working?”

Call it renting, leasing, whatever you want. You would have to be an idiot not to see the financial advantage this gives a software company. You must pay for every day you use our application, whether or not we add value to it. True, you can always switch to another competing application if you can find one.

Within a few years, most of the software my company used (and myself) began switching to this model (I called it the A.A. era, for After Adobe. In my opinion, software features/enhancement has never been as good for the user as it was in the B.A. era of development and will never be so again.