Win the Developers, Win it All
Day One of the MeeGo Summit was very promising, but Day Two has revealed some cracks in this facade. To some degree, that's expected. The opening keynotes were thoroughly planned and put on by high-level executives with a great deal of presentation experience. Knowing how to transmit information to a crowd is something that takes experience.
Experience that Ronan MaClaverty, MeeGo's developer advocate, apparently lacks. He held a developer Q&A earlier today. Or at least he tried to. The end result was a bit like watching a gang of schoolchildren throw rocks at a stray dog.
Having a modern, expansive app store is crucial for any mobile platform hoping to compete with iOS or Android. The only way to get a large number of high quality apps is to attract developers to your OS. At yesterday's keynote, it seemed that MeeGo's revolutionary openness would be enough to get the ball rolling.
But the developers themselves weren't convinced. They tore into Ronan at every opportunity. How many developers does MeeGo have working for it? Ronan had no number- although he assured us those developers did exist. What is the long-term plan for MeeGo's development? Again, no answer. When will we be able to sell our apps? At one point, a developer up front shouted something that stopped the presentation dead in its tracks.
"We don't care about openness, we need to be able to make a living."
How do you respond to something like that?
To his credit, Ronan was honest. He agreed that the man had a point.
So much of MeeGo's future is still up in the air. How much support will the platform really get? Are Nokia and Intel in this for the long haul, or will they back away at the first sign of hardship?
The complaints didn't stop there. Several presenters bragged about MeeGo's many mailing lists and online user groups. But developers don't want to root through a bunch of old emails to find the information they need. A modern app marketplace needs better infrastructure than that.
"We don't want a mailing list. We want a person to talk to."
One thing seems very clear. MeeGo has not yet succeeded in convincing Serious developers that it is a Serious platform. Hobbyists may love all this openness, but people who make their living designing applications need something more solid beneath their feet. Ideology isn't as important as being able to make mortgage payments.
It's worth noting that Hobbyists, people who fiddle around with app coding just for the hell of it (or to make pocket dollars), are the largest subset of the dev population. There are thousands of professional app developers. There are millions of amateurs.
The level of quality that amateur devs bring to the table will generally be a step below what the Big Dogs push out. But that isn't a hard rule, and the Android Market is proof that attracting the dirty masses can reap big dividends. MeeGo needs lots of apps, and lots of developers. Courting the hobbyists is one way to get that. Perhaps even the fastest.
But right now, MeeGo is in danger of drawing in those amateurs and alienating the Elite. That could lead to an app market filled with buggy, low-quality gimmick apps and almost nothing worth taking seriously. Think the first year of Android's app market, but ten times worse. And forever.