The Deadly Ease of Happy Promises

Last week an independent developer brought a storm of attention on the process of starting to make apps for RIM’s upcoming Playbook tablet. Over the weekend a RIM representative posted an open answer to the open letter on the Inside Blackberry Developer’s Blog, trying to do the right thing. The response, unfortunately, falls short and provides a good lesson for product managers and anyone else tasked with community relations.

On the surface the response seems pretty good: the blogger is thanked for the feedback, the problems are acknowledged, and there are no accusatory tones or condescensions. But reading more closely shows a series of deflections couched in dodgy language.

So we’ve taken this feedback, along with other information we’re collecting from our dev community, and are prioritizing it as we continue to refine the platform and development process leading up to launch.

Prioritizing feedback and information? That’s the action plan? Alright that might be a bit harsh, but it’s a red flag when someone can’t give you something more solid than ‘more process’.

We are continuing to evolve this process and remain committed to ensuring developers can register and submit apps at no cost.

Currently it costs $200 to publish up to ten apps on the Blackberry App World. That’s fine, they can set their price. It gets awkward when you read that they’re committed to a no cost policy, but it’s just an intention. Why not just do that? I mean, why not just change the policy? Not great, but this next section is where things really go wrong.

We will be making a concerted effort over the next few weeks to publish more information to help our developers be successful in developing for PlayBook. We will work hard to resolve the issues being raised by our community, and we will use our Inside BlackBerry Developer’s Blog and forums to update you as key improvements are made. For those of you who are having challenges getting started today, we’ll be providing some updated information on our site to help you understand exactly what steps you need to take to get up and running with the latest Beta tools. We’ll also be providing more and more practical tips and best practices – from RIM and from PlayBook developers — to ensure you’re able to get going as quickly as possible. Stay tuned for further updates on this.

The list of promises is so long and heartfelt that it almost needs a piano accompaniment. Instead of ending with a push of the best documentation they could get out in limited time, any scrap of information that makes developers’ lives easier, there’s a request to ‘stay tuned’.

RIM got a bit lucky with this one, as the comments from readers are generally positive. They love that there’s any kind of response, they dig the apologies, and they’re willing to accept the promises. But promises can become a dangerous vice in public relations.

Like the Playbook, the response gives lots to expect but delivers nothing of actual substance. Developers want to get stuff built, and they’re able to work through things that are incomplete or not optimized to get there. But they can’t work with good intentions of what costs may or may not change and what information will be available at an un-named date. It’s quite a mis-read of the audience’s actual needs, belying an inability to deliver.

A few weeks ago Jim Dalrymple wrote a pretty blunt post about the announcements of three versions of the Playbook before shipping one, and how bad that looks. It’s a common malaise in large organizations to become so absorbed in planning and promising that the importance of actual delivery falls by the wayside. When that bad habit extends into having to promise documentation and tips and policy changes on costs, instead of just delivering them, that problem is likely organization-wide.

You can calm anger with a lullaby of apologies and promises for only so long. After a while, people lose their patience and wake up really cranky. And then they leave.

Links
Jamie Murai’s post “You Win, RIM!” that started it all
Developer Relations rep Tyler Lessard’s response

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