Market in Every Touchpoint

At Android Open, I chatted with some developer relations folk from an up-and-coming Android hardware platform manufacturer. They invited me to review a document related to their upcoming SDK launch. The document, while informative, seemed overly focused on what developers could not do with their platform, spelling out all sorts of rules and requirements, not always with solid technical explanations for them.

This manufacturer forgot one cardinal rule: EVERYTHING YOU WRITE IS A MARKETING DOCUMENT.

Here, by “marketing document”, I mean that everything you write must have, as part of its mission, marketing to your target audience. If you are trying to recruit developers, everything you write must, in part, be designed to make developers be interested in and more comfortable with your firm or organization.

In this case, your product documentation, down to the last README, are marketing documents.

Simlarly, your EULA, terms of service, and similar legalese, are marketing documents. They spell out how you want your relationship to be with the developers. Too many firms simply delegate this document to “legal counsel”, who usually couldn’t sell snowshoes to Eskimos. As a result, most of this legal stuff suggests that the firm’s relationship to developers most closely resembles shoving a fiery hot poker into a developer’s sensitive bodily orifice.

This, as much as anything else, explains why open source is so popular with developers: the legalese is balanced (and typically short).

Nobody is perfect, of course. I am certain there is more I could be doing in this area myself. In my case, the very structure (low-cost, DRM-free, frequently-updated books) is designed to increase comfort, above and beyond any words on the sites.

This is one of the reasons why I fear for PhoneGap. Today, PhoneGap is excellent, because at every touchpoint, it supplies comfort, from the license to the tech (“it’s just HTML/CSS/JS”) to the build service. Yet, they just got aquired by Adobe, which tends to be hit-or-miss on these sorts of things. Their hits tend to be top-notch, but they screw up far too often, as many a Flash developer has noted over the years. Most likely, this is simply a facet of the sclerosis that major corporations inevitably develop, but one can only hope that PhoneGap will be able to retain their consistently pro-developer attitude as long as possible.

If you are introducing a new product or service for developers, you need to go through everything with a fine-toothed comb and ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, it makes your target market (developers) feel welcome and wanted. “All your IP are belong to us” EULAs, “you’re a screw-up, so we must defend against you” guidelines, and the like are all filters — some percentage of developers will abandon you because they get turned off by the ‘tude you exude.

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