As part of this year's WWDC coverage, TMO is meeting with several notable developers to bring our readers insights into the people behind the apps they use. In this first interview, we chat with Mickey Roberson, founder of MRR Software in Saquoit, New York and the developer of the Syrinx Twitter client.
TMO: We're here with Mickey Roberson in the WWDC dining hall. (I'm using Recorder v 7.1 for the iPhone from Retronyms Software.) Mickey, how did you get started doing a Twitter client?
Roberson: When I started doing this a few months ago, I didn't really like the look of any of the Twitter apps. Back then, there was only Twitterrific and a few others. I didn't like Twitterrific because it didn't seem to be a first-class citizen on the Mac. It didn't have a window; it didn't have a dock icon. It took me fives minutes to figure how to quit it. There was so much I didn't like. Then I started looking at NSCollectionView in Leopard and realized that if combined that with MCML's Twitter engine, right there, I'd have a Twitter client with very little work invested.
TMO: Then what happened?
Roberson: Well, then I started work with Michael Fey, and he also didn't like anything out there. SO I started improving on it, and Mike had feature requests that I added in. Eventually, I got to the point where I realized, I'll bet a lot of people would like this. So I put it out there and a lot of people started downloading it and giving me feedback. They really liked the look of it.
TMO: Why, then, hasn't Syrinx gained wide popularity?
Roberson: Right after I released it, there was a wave of Twitter clients released. That's when I realized I was only about five minutes ahead of the wave. So it got washed away a little bit.
TMO: How long did it take you to write the first version?
Roberson: Wow. Let me think. A few months I think. The first version was pretty simple and straightforward. It didn't have a lot of features, and I just did it in my spare time. [Mr Roberson has a day job writing Java code.]
TMO: You built it in Xcode and Cocoa, right?
TMO: And as I recall, Syrinx is a free app?
Roberson: That's correct. Donations are accepted though!
TMO: Had you thought about taking 2.0 to be a paid version?
Roberson: I had thought about it, but I decided not to. Mostly because I'm doing it as a learning experience. My first app was NameChanger, and I still get ore downloads for that than anything. It really surprises me how many downloads I still get for that. Actually, I'd rather start with a paid app with a new idea right now.
TMO: Are you thinking about doing an iPhone version?
Roberson: I am. I actually started very simply. [Pulls out his iPod touch and starts a demo.] Basically, I started a little differently. In the desktop version, the focus is on the timeline. For the iPhone/iPod touch version, I started with the user list -- that's all I have implemented so far. But my thinking was that I wanted to see where that led me. If I started in a different place, I might get a new perspective.
TMO: Are you thinking that in the iPhone version, one might want to just follow a few friends rather than the hundreds -- or thousands -- of people followed on the desktop?
Roberson: Yep. I'm trying this approach because I don't just want to put out the next iPhone Twitter app...
TMO: Tweetie already did that...
Roberson: Yep. Maybe if I start at a different origin, I'll arrive at a different destination.
TMO: Will the iPhone version be free also?
Roberson: I think I will charge for that one because one has the US$99 overhead to get into the developer program.
TMO: And people are more than willing to spend 99 cents in that market.
Roberson. Yeah. And ultimately, I'd like to get the bookmark (for last read tweet) synchronized between the desktop and the iPhone version, but I don't have that working. I think a lot of people would like that.
At this point, we diverged into a discussion of NameChanger -- which is also free. Again, NameChanger was the result of Mr. Roberson's frustration with other similar apps, but they were just too hard to figure out and use.
TMO: So it seems that one of your specialties is looking at other apps and figuring out how to make a new one that's much easier to use.
Roberson: Yep. That's my approach. Simplicity, easy, intuitive to use... If I don't see something I like, I write my own.
TMO: [Laughs] That's probably why I like Syrinx so much! By the way, is this your first WWDC?
Roberson: It is! And it's much, much larger and more exciting that I ever imagined. Even after I read stories on line and talked to people.... [Mr. Roberson was in line for the keynote at 5:30 AM.] Everybody said, for the first time, you should really get in line early -- for the whole experience. Even at 5:30, I was still number 242 inline -- an Apple staff member was counting heads, and I asked.
TMO: Well, I think were just about done. Is there anything else you want to add?
Roberson: There is. I wanted to mention that in Syrinx 2.0.1, I added some important accessibility features. This version will speak the tweet as well as the name of the person sending the tweet. This feedback wads from a blind person using my app, and I had never even considered that! But now that I've done that, I think it gives me an edge over most of the competition. However, I believe Twitterrific does have that accessibility. I think it was the same guy who sent them feedback.
TMO: Mr. Roberson, thanks for taking the time to tell us about Syrinx. Good luck!