Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

Today is the third anniversary of Romantimatic, a silly little app that caused a silly little ruckus. The app is intended to remind the forgetful or the distracted to text nice things to their sweethearts. This profound assault on true love offended the sensibilities of some non-trivial percentage of the world’s romantics, and their condemnation was swift and wide-spread and did more to help publicize the app than anything I ever did. Thank you, humorless scolds!

But in the years since, Romantimatic has suffered the same fate as most software in the App Store, in that it’s been almost thoroughly ignored. In 2016, Apple paid me $134 for my share of sales, which is even less impressive when you subtract the $99 they charge to put your program in the company store. When software needs a wider distribution than a pay-model is providing, the usual course is to lower the price to free and start throwing ads at the user. (There’s no evidence that this actually works, outside of a handful of anecdotal cases, but it is the usual course. The usual course when people find themselves drowning is to die — it’s not good, but it is typical.)

So Romantimatic is now free! With ads! If you were offended by the idea of an app that treats relationship maintenance as something that can benefit from mechanical assistance, intermediating that experience with advertisements should send you through the freakin’ roof. Remember to post your disapproval far and wide! Since it’s free, you should also download it and stare ruefully at an ad for flowers, before spontaneously and romantically deciding to send some to your sweetheart.

But, yeah, OK: Ads are tacky. They’re ugly and off-topic and almost always obnoxious. The race to the bottom is long over, and the podium is crowded with winners. But if I’ve decided to be tacky, I can be at least a little less tacky than the usual:

If you use Romantimatic to send four or more messages to your sweetheart in a week, the ads will disappear the following week. Keep it up, you sweet-talker, and you’ll never see an ad.

This is a terrible business model, because it means that the people who use the app the most will be delivered the fewest ads. But, hey, there’s reward in just knowing people are using the software I wrote, right? And maybe — just maybe — enough new people will download and use the app fewer than four times a week to out-earn the massive $35 pile of cash that the for-pay version was generating.

(Also, if you’ve bought Romantimatic in the past, you’ll never see ads. And, hey, you didn’t hear it from me, but there’s an Easter egg somewhere in there that turns them off for a month. You should totally download it and watch a lot of ads while looking for it.)

There’s been talk for years about the death of the app economy. I’d be willing to bet that — even with all the unexpected publicity, and the sales that resulted — Romantimatic never justified the time I spent on it. Heck, I’m just as bad as anyone — I bought the half-dozen apps I really use years ago, and have been satisfied ever since.

That means that for the vast majority of people writing iPhone software, the App Store is a hobby. That statement has well-trod and pretty dark repercussions for innovation and independence and the iOS ecosystem in general, but it’s also the source of enormous freedom. (Which, I note, is just another word for nothing left to lose.)

Hobbies are where you can experiment and play and screw up and try something that’s more than a little stupid. Rewarding dedicated users by removing ads is probably dumb. Maybe it’s not. But it’s action, it’s movement, it’s not-drowning. At the very least, it’s better than just sitting there, not thinking about it.

Which was the whole point of Romantimatic in the first place.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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