Commentary,  Software

Sometimes, it is the User’s Responsibility

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I’m generally a user advocate, but there are limits to even my patience and understanding. For instance, users who knowingly use beta software pretty much are out on a limb. Users who use Beta software as part of an active, primary production system are, well clueless. Dori Smith linked to this post from Mary Hodder regarding losing data (in the form of subscription feed data and post data) using a beta of an application. Now, frankly, if she’d just been unhappy about losing the data, I’ve have been far more sympathetic and understanding.

I’m not at all sympathetic since Mary Hodder posted what I can only see as a public attack on Ranchero Software, the developer of NetNewsWire, a beta of which Mary Hodder was using. Having decided she liked it “better than Shrook” she decided, based on the beta, to buy NetNewsWire. Here’s an excerpt of what she wrote (the entire post is linked above):

When they synced [I think she misunderstands syncing and how NNW works] my local copy of NetNewsWire with their server, to make sure I’d paid for the license, they lost all my data from the previous 30 days.

I emailed them. And they knew they blew it, offering a refund, and said they’ll fix this eventually. But they don’t understand! I’m tracking data on tons of services, people, companies, websites, blogs, projects, as well as reading feeds. This is fucking social media after all, people. And it’s my work, professional and academic. It’s a huge part of what I do. This is aweful [sic]!

Just so we’re all completely clear about how risky this kind of user behavior is, I’m going to enumerate the sequence of mistakes, mistakes that Mary Hodder made.

  1.  She’s using unfamiliar software in an active production environment.
  2.  She is using unfamiliar software that is clearly labeled as beta software. She could have downloaded 1.0.8 the current stable version at any point and used it, but she chose to use the beta.
  3.  She apparently doesn’t make daily backups, even of her production data, data that she herself says is for “my work, professional and academic.”

Mary Hodder clearly blames Ranchero Software, yet she herself made very poor poor choices at several points. Ranchero, to their credit, not only apologized for a bug in their beta, they refunded her money (yes, that’s right, she was purchasing a software beta). You should note that Ranchero has placed the beta download link on an entirely separate page on their site, a page that is clearly labeled as a beta download page. What’s more, right at the top of the page it says:


Beta software has bugs! Nasty, vicious bugs with great big, sharp teeth!

Don’t use beta software unless you’re clear on what “beta” means and you’re comfortable running beta software.

You can’t be much plainer than that. But Ranchero, like the good citizens and good developers they are, have a second warning. They explicitly advise making a backup, and tell you how:

This is a beta, and you may want to go back to NetNewsWire 1.x. Before installing the new version, back up your preferences and data folder:



Data folder: ~/Library/Application Support/NetNewsWire/

But the final touch is this bit here from Mary Hodder’s original post:

ANSWER: I’m paying for the Shrook license now, because I need a backup, because I can’t trust NetNewsWire. But I will have Shrook’s data from two months this summer, added to current data, which [sic] a huge 2.5 month hole in the middle.

Because she “can’t trust” a beta, she’s going to use a product she’s already said she doesn’t like as well. Moreover, not only is she using beta, which is, by its nature, is buggy and unfinished, like all beta software, she’s not using it in an intelligent fashion. What she really should be using is a local database, perhaps DevonThink, or any number of other similar products, but she’d still have to learn to make backups. If it’s critical data, back it up daily, even hourly, and in more than one way, using more than one kind of media.

One of my old bosses, when I worked in development, was known to refuse to sell our software to some users, because in his judgement, they didn’t deserve it, or they weren’t smart enough to use it. I think maybe he had the right idea.

Update: I notice in the comments to Mary Hodder’s post that she says “Also, I didn’t download this from their site. It was sent to me to try. .” That’s an engraved invitation to disaster.

Update: Mary Hodder has had some second thoughts and toned down her attack, no longer referring to Brent Simmons as a moron; good for her— it changes the entire tone. I’ve mollified my own tone as well, though my essential take is unchanged.