The demise of the add-on service

A few days ago users of Mailbox and Carousel, two very different services, saw e-mails in their inbox telling them about the impending sunsetting of said services.

Mailbox was a rather innovative approach to e-mail inboxes, allowing people to do fun stuff like deferring mails and having them return to their inbox at a pre-set, hopefully more opportune time.

Carousel on the other hand was an app that worked like a phone’s gallery, allowing users to share their pictures with friends and family. It was a good app, even though it wasn’t, even by a long shot, the only contender in the field.

So what did both those apps have in common? They both belonged to Dropbox, the massively successful service that allows people to upload their files to a remote server, both as a backup and collaboration tool.

Carousel was announced only about a year and a half ago, and to me it was a rather logical kind of thing to have for Dropbox. Dropbox has facilitated the automated upload of pictures taken with your smartphone for a while now (I think it actually was the first service to do that – now everyone and their grandma begs you to allow them to upload your pictures into their cloud – from Google Photos to Facebook and Flickr). It made sense then to have a mobile app that worked well with the pictures uploaded to Dropbox, simply because Dropbox’ own mobile app didn’t let you do much with your photos.

Mailbox, on the other hand, was a bit of a head-scratcher. The app saw light as the product of a company called Orchestra, and as Wired noted two days ago, Dropbox bought the app before it was even fully released (according to them for a whopping 100 million USD). I never saw why users of Dropbox would want to use an e-mail app, simply because Dropbox bought it. But, some people did like it.

Now, a few years later, Dropbox realized that they weren’t really interested in offering these kinds of services anymore, and both of these apps will see their early demise in February and March respectively.

Admittedly, for the companies that get bought and taken along for the ride, even if it ends prematurely, it’s not that bad. Because, hey, early exit and maybe even a job on the side at the company that bought them (at least until their options get vested). That’s not too shabby. For the actual users of the products: well, tough shit.

Instead, Dropbox says they want to focus on Paper, a service that’ll be integrated into their service and promises to provide new ways of collaboration (it’s currently in a closed beta). Definitely a nod towards their enterprise goals, even if it’s to the detriment of the above apps more geared towards their consumer clientele. As to its actual use: Really too early to say, but I gotta tell ya, there’s already a ton of collaboration tools out there, and Dropbox will have to fight an uphill battle to actually get customers to use it over the likes of Google Docs, Microsoft Office 360 and the plethora of smaller tools that basically do the same thing. Abandoning smaller, but well-liked apps for that seems like a gamble. But again, if it doesn’t work out, they’ll probably just shutter that too in a year and a half.

But, that’s not all: there’s other examples of add-on services that get shutdown after a short while. I’m not even going to start with companies like Google or Yahoo!, simply because they’ve sunset so many apps and services, it would make this already unbearably long blog post even longer.

Let’s look instead at a company of similar size (and popularity) as Dropbox:Evernote! Evernote is this great behemoth of the note-taking services. And it’s that for a reason. It’s multi-platform (even though it steadfastedly refuses to support Linux), it innovates at a reasonable pace and it’s just hugely useful for anyone who likes to collect notes, texts, ideas, pictures or simply whatever you want to throw at it. So, in 2011 Evernote created an add-on service called Food. Right on time, no? The foodie-craze was just sweeping across the lands and instagramming meals was the hot new shit. I, too, loved the service. You could take and store pictures of your food, but you didn’t have to share them. Instead the app would find out where the pictures were taken (geo-location, yeah!), and then you could archive all that in your Evernote account. It was great for someone who liked remembering when and where they ate what, without having to abandon their careful craftet anti-social persona. Through the years it underwent a few iterations, and got the added functionality of becoming something like a centralized recipe vault. I wasn’t too much into that, but still, I liked the effort.

And then, in August this year, Evernote announced they’d shut down the app. Not surprisingly, their main reason cited was their desire to move more towards the workplace and business uses of Evernote. To hell with the pesky consumer and their obsession with food. It’s time to focus on those yummy spreadsheets instead!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I see where these companies are coming from. Once they reach a certain size and their Armada chests are filled with all that investor money, they go and either develop or buy apps that might work with their core service. I like that they do, because I, like most of their customers, trust these services to provide a good product, so they get my trust when it comes to all that other stuff they want me to use.

So what exactly is my problem with what’s happening? Doesn’t it make sense that a company would focus on these parts of their businesses that promise the most profit? Sure. But in the case of Dropbox and Evernote, who were built on the trust they received from their consumer-base, I feel side-lined as one of those consumers myself, the above mentioned trust in them abused. In the case of Evernote’s Food, I actually spent time curating my collections, which now barely exist somewhere deep inside my Evernote archives, never to be looked at again, but still there, resentfully lingering in this worst kind of user created content limbo.

But hey, at least I wrote another blogpost, bumping my total number to 996. And in contrast to Mailbox, Carousel or Food (the app, not the actual sustenance), this thing here won’t go away anytime soon.

PS: I noticed that apps that use dictionary words as names happen to have a really short life: Disco, Color, Carousel, Food, Mailbox, Hello. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide!