About a year ago, I stumbled upon a free service called ‘I Want Sandy‘, which, in a nutshell, is an online virtual assistant. The way it works is, I can send Sandy an email asking her to remind me to do something or to remember any pertinent detail, and she would do it quickly and efficiently in the background.
For example, I could send her an email saying “Remind me to call Paul to arrange lunch next Thursday”, and lo and behold, next Thursday morning, I would get a friendly reminder email from Sandy to do just that. Sandy could also remember phone numbers, appointments and various other things. She had a Twitter interface so you could use it on your phone, and a Jott interface as well so you could even speak your requests to her. And all this came at NO cost!
Well, unfortunately Rael Dornfest, the creator of IWantSandy, is shutting down the service as of 8th December. That is less than 2 weeks away. Rael has been offered a job within Twitter, and they have absorbed all his IP in Sandy, and another web service that he offers.
This is a sad day for Web2.0 and SaaS in general.
Firstly, let me point out that I have nothing against Rael personally or professionally. He is obviously a brilliant designer and programmer, which is exemplified by the elegant and useful service that he built. The dismay that I feel is moreso in relation to the betrayal of trust that Rael has shown to his user base.
IWantSandy was always promoted as a ‘life changing’ tool, and an indispensable one at that. And judging by the comments on the IWantSandy support site, it certainly was so for many, many people. Unfortunately, the new owners, Twitter (yes, the people who regularly bring you the ‘fail whale‘), have not committed to keeping the service alive. In fact, there has been no definitive roadmap given by any party as to the IWantSandy service, other than that it will be permanently taken offline in a week and a bit.
The biggest problem I see here, is that the way this whole thing was handled has now tarnished any trust that the general community would have had in Web2.0 companies in general, especially the smaller, relatively ‘unknown’ ones. This whole saga is going to make it harder for other SaaS companies to convince their current and potential users to trust in them staying around for the long haul.
A lot of people are defending this decision, along the lines of “Well, it was a FREE service, so there is no commitment from the site owners to hang around losing money”. Ahem, I have to respectfully disagree there. I would have gladly paid for Sandy’s services (and judging by the comments on GetSatisfaction, so would many other users). I never saw any attempt by Rael to monetise his service or get revenue in other ways.
One could also argue that GMail is a free service – and what would the uproar be if Google said they were going to shut down GMail in two weeks? At least with online email, there are several other providers that you could turn to, but from what I can see, IWantSandy is a pretty unique service and no one else seems to offer the same sort of functionality (yet).
In my view you cannot promote a service as a useful, everyday tool, and then revoke all that functionality and convenience on a whim. People have already bought into the value that this tool gives them. To me personally, there was great value in the convenience and simple email interface of the system. This is value that I would have had no hesitation in paying real dollars for.
I cannot understand the business logic behind Twitter purchasing a standout excellent service with a loyal following, and an extremely strong, personal brand, (did you notice how I constantly refer to this service as ‘Sandy’ or ‘she’? – I never do that with any other service I use) and then shelving it with really no idea what to do with it.
A hell of a lot of work has gone into building a persona and positive feel about this service, and I would really like to know why Rael didn’t just sell the IP to another Web2.0 company like Remember The Milk or 37signals, or even a new player on the block, who could have taken the service and kept it free, or monetised it – anything, rather than just ‘putting it down’.
But now I am afraid that Sandy has got the sack – another victim of the economic downturn…or was it corporate greed?
I’m going to miss her…
(Guest post by Devan Sabaratnam)