Kakuweb Blog Rants and raves. Some interesting stuff, most of it not.

Kickstarter - Great idea, poor execution?

I’ve backed 3 or 4 Kickstarter projects so far. The ideas were great and were, of course, products I was excited to use (or consume in the case of a comic book). However, the final execution of the projects have not been so great, in fact they’ve been extremely disappointing. Let me explain.

Project 1: Thermodo

Thermodo is a doohickey that connects to your iOS device and shows you the temperature. Yes, it’s a thermometer for your iPhone basically.

It sounded great when I read about it. I’m obsessed with temperature, I’m really sensitive to it, it’s always too cold or too hot for me, seems like I can never be comfortable since I moved to Europe. It’s one thing to whine about it incessantly but quite another to whine about it with hard scientific data backing you up! Ha! So this thing was for me, I could carry it with me everywhere and annoy everyone around me by pointing out how cold or warm it was and how uncomfortable that made me feel. Win, win for everybody.

So it was with no hesitation that I pledged my hard-earned cash to this project, it was $99 bucks or something like that, I don’t remember. So, pledge went through and now it was time to wait and suffer because I couldn’t whinge properly without my digital thermometer. So I waited, then waited some more, then some more… as is inevitable with all Kickstarter campaigns, things will be delayed. This is both the curse and the magic of Kickstarter: most projects are by people who’ve never done this sort of thing before and, for the most part, have no clue as to how to go about doing it, they’re learning as they go. But they are also taking chances that no big manufacturer, the ones who do have all the experience and infrastructure in place, would never take. Best of all, they’re realizing a dream., they have enough passion for a particular idea that they’re willing to bet the farm on it.

Thermodo for example was created by some design nerds in Copenhagen who didn’t have a clue about manufacturing anything, yet they had the passion and the vision to do it. If you can be a part of that, helping these people realize their dreams and also get something useful in return then I think that’s wonderful.

Long story short, after many delays and manufacturing issues and unexpected issues that cropped up once they had prototypes on their hands, Thermodo shipped to all us Kickstarter backers. It was an immediate disappointment to me. It didn’t work properly, simply didn’t show accurate temperature no matter what I did. I cried, I yelled, I sent angry emails, I cried some more, nothing. Finally I tested Thermodo with my brand-spanking new iPad Mini, hey it worked great, showed the correct temperature, was fast and accurate, awesome. Except I don’t take my iPad with me everywhere I go like I do my iPhone, in fact, it never leaves the house so the Thermodo was practically useless.

To this day I don’t know why it doesn’t like with my iPhone 4, it simply refuses to give an accurate reading. I’ve tried it on 3 different iPhone 4’s (not 4S but the plural of iPhone 4) and same thing, no accurate temperature, their tech support has no idea why.

So Thermodo has been relegated to an expensive keychain and nothing more, and once again, I’m back to whining about temperature with no supporting data behind me, oh the heartbreak.

Project 2: Macaw - The Code-Savvy Design Tool

This is by far the worst offender of all the Kickstarter projects I’ve backed.

Macaw was supposed to be the next great thing in web design, it promised to be the Photoshop of web design, the holy grail of web design, a WYSIWYG tool that actually worked, that wrote correct code and respected web standards, unlike Dreamweaver for example, and that allowed you to create a web site completely in a visual form; no code writing, no fighting with any CSS styles or javascript. It sounded too good to be true. I should have known. When things sound too good to be true they usually are and Macaw is no exception, in fact it’s pretty useless.

That’s a pretty strong word to use for a new piece of software: useless, especially one that the developers have, apparently, worked so hard on. Again, let me explain.

So, I was really excited about Macaw, I’ve been making websites on and off for about 17 years, since 1997 more or less when I created my first website with a text editor of some kind. In those 17 years I have not found a really decent WYSIWYG web editor that would actually work as advertised. Back in the old days there was Go Live before Adobe bought it and, like everything Adobe touched after 2001, ruined it, turned it to shit. I can’t remember the name of the company but I bought a copy of this out of my own pocket and used it extensively, even to make the website of the company I was working for at the time, it was great, not the holy grail of web editors but pretty close. Then, as I say, Adobe bought it and ruined it. So I turned to Macromedia Dreamweaver, once again, before Adobe bought it and, you guessed it, turned it to shit. By the way, how was it possible for Adobe to buy their only competitor Macromedia and then destroy its apps? In a country where monopoly is supposed to be illegal? How was that possible?

Politics aside, Dreamweaver was destroyed by Adobe, they still sell it but it’s an overpriced piece of shit. What’s a web developer to do? I tried everything else out there, from the Open Source Bluefish and Mozilla, Eclipse, Apatana, etc to the funkier apps like Rapidweaver and even Apple’s short-lived iWeb thing (was it called iWeb? I can’t remember). None of them were satisfactory. So it was with a heavy heart that I went back to coding everything by hand. This is a very tedious, sad and depressing thing to do. Sure you feel all powerful because you have full control of your code, nobody can sully your beautiful code with weird inline styles and other crap, I’m looking at you Dreamweaver, but it is repetitive, grinding work, especially when you have to write a fucking javascript mouseover effect for the 500th time!

So you can imagine how excited I was about Macaw, I gave my $99 bucks to them and waited. At first with bated breath, then with a little resignation. Finally, version 0.6 was delivered to us Kickstarter backers, oh such joy. It wasn’t bad, it was actually quite impressive. I mean it was very limited and half the stuff that was in there didn’t work, but the promise of it was awesome. It wrote nice code, albeit funky, but nice code. Every element had its own styling, which is very heavy handed, and positioning was either relative or absolute, it was full of bugs, but hey, it’s a 0.6 version, c’mon what do you expect?

Then version 0.7 came out, fixed some stuff, still every element had its own style, still no real way to share styles between pages, still full of bugs, hmmm… but hey, 0.7 right? Not done yet, don’t be so quick to judge.

0.8 fixed more stuff, still every element with its own style, no way to share styles between pages, bugs, uh… Ok, don’t despair, let’s wait for version 1.0 shall we?

0.9 changed a bunch of stuff which sounds good right? 0.9, almost ready for prime time. But it changed things so much that you couldn’t open any of your Macaw projects, you had to recreate them all from scratch! WTF? But hey, that’s what you get for playing around with a non-release software right? They told you it was beta and subject to change so don’t bitch too much.

Alright, so finally version 1.0 comes out and everyone is excited, I get an email saying to upgrade now, of course I’ll upgrade now, what do you think I’ve been waiting all this time for. So I upgrade and… I can’t even access the application. I mean, I’m locked out, can’t use it. WTF? Turns out I have to update my Kickstarter license or some shit but there are no instructions anywhere on how to do it. I send an email to support and after about an hour of uncontrollable rage I give up and go to sleep.

Next day I get an email from the Macaw guys saying I should update my license, an email, by the way, that should have been sent before the one about upgrading, right? OK great, I can finally use the program I paid good money for. Click on the link, it says, and your license will be updated, I click the link, no dice, I have to fill out a form, OK, fill out the form, it says my license has been updated, super. Go back to the program, nope, your password is incorrect. Shit. Try again, and again, and again. Nothing, no way to get into the fucking program at all. I can’t even get the trial version working.

So, more emails to Tech Support, no answers, can’t get the damn thing to work. I give up again and go to sleep. Two days later, I get an email from support, nothing they suggest works. Finally at the end of the day we get the thing working. So after all this struggling I can use the software, finally, the coveted 1.0 version, this is going to be awesome.

I try to make a website, not even a website, a single web page with 2 links in the top and an image in the middle. Nothing could be simpler than this. It doesn’t work. I create some text next to the right margin, Macaw says it’s 20 pixels from the top, fine. I copy that text and create the second link right next to it about 30 pixels to its right. Weirdly, Macaw says this one is -33 pixels from the top, what the fuck? The baselines are aligned, how can one be 20 pixels from the top and the other one be -33 pixels? But who cares, right? It’s a WYSIWIG, as long at the page looks good, who cares what the code turns out like? Well, I care, I want good code, not shitty code that is later going to come back and bite me in the arse. But right now, to get this far I’ve been fighting with it for about an hour so I don’t care, I just want to be able to create this fucking web page. So I just ignore it and plunge ahead.

I add an image to the middle of the page and the rightmost link, the one that was -33 pixels from the top jumps out of its container and lands a bunch of pixels below where it used to be and now says its -77 pixels from the top. I never touched the bastard, was nowhere near it, all I did was add an image to the middle. I move it back up with the mouse and it jumps back down, over and over again. Then I try moving it with the cursor keys, hey, great it stays in its place. Alright. Let me add some text to the bottom of the page. Boom, the fucker jumps down again, bastard!

Long story short, after another 40 minutes of fighting with the program I cannot get the link to stay where it needs to, it’s just not possible.

I finally give up on Macaw, once again, and do it all from scratch by hand. It takes me 10 minutes to create that web page by hand coding everything. It took me almost 2 hours fighting with Macaw and I was not able to make it work. Oh, and did I mention that version 1.0 doesn’t even have a manual of any type? All it has are some videos on the Macaw website, most of which apply to pre 1.0 versions where things were quite different so are not much use.

So, yeah, overall not great. I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing, I’d say it’s useless. If I can’t use the program to create a simple website then guess what? It’s useless.

Maybe in another year it will be somewhat useful, for now it’s a waste of time and money.


Does that mean that Kickstarter is a bad idea? Not at all, I think Kickstarter is a great idea, where else will you find people so passionate about something that they are willing to be the farm on it? And you back only the projects that interest you. However, be aware that the first iteration of everything is far from great. This happens to all companies, all products, even Apple’s first generation products are crap, but they are at least useful. Keep backing those Kickstarter campaigns, just know that if you really like a product, expect to spend more money on the second or third (and useful) iteration.

Twitter Share this post if you want, or follow me on Twitter if you're into that stuff.
comments powered by Disqus