The campaign for a “beautiful, modern” (Linux) desktop email client was widely loved and publicised. It was also consistently seen as “too much” with a target of US$100,000, the company’s response that that was the cost of quality software seemingly not satisfying many. With the Snowden NSA revelations occurring later in 2013, it is tempting to speculate that the same campaign would rapidly succeed if launched today. Was Geary merely ahead of its time?
Adam Dingle is a software developer with a vision for usable media applications on Linux. He founded Yorba, a small company which writes desktop applications for GNOME, funded by donations and consulting fees. Yorba’s first hit was with photo organising software Shotwell, which is now the default option in Fedora and Ubuntu. In May 2012 they released Geary 0.1, a distinctly modern looking (that is, Gmail/Apple-ish) email application. In March 2013 they launched their crowdfunding campaign (and still found time to release Geary 0.3).
The timing of their campaign seemed fortuitous, with Google announcing the shut-down of Google Reader in the same month serving as a reminder of the capricious nature of commercial web-based services.
Throughout the campaign donors asked: why $100,000? Why so much? The boring answer that that is what the salary, tax etc of three developers would cost, didn’t seem to satisfy many. Others questioned why Yorba had used Indiegogo rather than Kickstarter. Eric Gregory commented that
A lot of it came down to payment systems. At GUADEC last year we talked to a number of people about Kickstarter and the consensus seemed to be that nobody likes Amazon Payments — especially outside the US.
Since IndieGoGo uses PayPal it seemed to be the “lesser of two evils,” so to speak.
During the post-mortem, Yorba stated that
First, it’s important to understand that the Geary campaign was a kind of experiment. We wanted to know if crowdfunding was a potential route for sustaining open-source development.
For Geary, the answer was sadly not. However Yorba continues to experiment with funding open source – in November 2013 they posted a bounty for someone to backport Geary 0.4 to Ubuntu 12.04, which a developer claimed a month later.
- Campaign: Indiegogo
- Campaign date: 2013-04-24
- Campaign status: unsuccessful
- Campaign backers: 1192
- Campaign raised: US$50,860 of 100,000
- Project type: prototype
- Project license: LGPL
Yorba did not set a timeline for releasing 0.4 if their campaign was successful. Instead they promised the following features:
- Fast searching
- Always-on notifications
- Support for all major IMAP servers
- Save and auto-save drafts
- Transparent GPG integration (digital signing and encryption/decryption of messages)
- Calendar integration
- Google Contacts import address book
During the campaign, Yorba promised that they would continue to work on Geary if the campaign failed but could not promise the same outcomes:
Well, we still have a little gas in the tank and can keep working on Geary. We won’t have enough time to develop all of the above features, however, so it would be a pretty limited subset of them. In fact, it may only be a couple, plus some bug fixes. That may be about it.
After that — who knows? There’s a lot of possible futures and it’s not worth speculating which one will develop. In any future, it’s hard to see continued aggressive development of Geary without further funding.
The 0.4 release arrived in October 2013 and included search and autosave to draft, of the above list (as well as many other features and fixes). OMG Ubuntu called it one of the best Linux applications of 2013 and “one of the the best mail apps on any platform, Linux or otherwise”.
- Slides from Adam Dingle’s keynote (with Yorba executive director Jim Nelson) at GUADEC 2012 on Crowdfunding GNOME Applications
- Techcrunch: Crowdfunding, Micro-Patronage, And The Future Of Free Software
- Yorba blog: Geary crowdfunding: how did we come up with that number?
- OMG Ubuntu: Why did Geary’s fundraiser fail?
- Yorba blog: What went wrong