A Love Letter To Defunct Software

I love technology. There’s something exciting about opening up a new product and seeing the thought and care that went into designing it. And it’s equally sad to watch a product that speaks to you disappear from the world. What follows is a love letter to software that is no longer with us, but was still loved.

Pownce

In 2007 Leah Culver and Kevin Rose launched Pownce, a personal microblogging service similar to Twitter, but with a very different approach. It was a web app first and foremost and because it didn’t need to rely on SMS, it had support for rich content.

I loved Pownce. I thought it was a lot nicer than Twitter and offered more features that I found valuable. They used Adobe Flex to create a desktop client, which made the experience feel nicer. However, they failed to achieve the marketshare of Twitter and eventually sold to Six Apart.

The people that bought in on Pownce really loved it. But the world was dominated by Facebook and Twitter was growing. It’s sad that Pownce didn’t stick around, but I’ll always remember the small community I had there.

Google Wave

I have a question that I ask tech people: What is the last thing you can remember one of the big tech companies building, where you looked at it and were shocked that it had been built?

Most people will answer with the iPhone. But for me the answer is Google Wave. I watched in awe as the Wave team demoed their answer to modern communication. The rich client experience was incredible and unlike anything I had seen before. Rich client side push notifications, collaborative editing, publishing, and chat. It felt like Google Wave could do anything.

At a time when HTML5 was just beginning to take off, Google Wave was a demonstration of what the web could be. It implemented several features that felt like they traveled back from the future. On stage, Vic Gundotra asked viewers to remember “I am looking at what is possible in the browser.”

It was an incredible keynote and I think about it all the time. It showed so much promise for the web.

Most of Google Wave’s best features still live on today in Google Drive. But the magic of watching that first demo is something I’ll always remember. I sometimes watch that Google I/O keynote again just to look back on one of the best web products I had ever seen.

Mailbox

Hoo Boy, are there a lot of opinions about email. Email has become one of those things that is just so annoying. Back in 2013, a small company created Mailbox, a client designed to make email feel better.

It organized emails into conversations, like Gmail. But, it also had a very clean design that felt a bit like chat. It was a refreshing design when compared to the cluttered clients of the time.

The biggest features were swiping to organize emails and its snooze functionality. They made it so much easier to process email.

Mailbox eventually was purchased by Dropbox and discontinued after Google launched essentially the same client with Inbox by Gmail.1 Google would later discontinue Inbox.

I have not found another email client quite like Mailbox. And I don’t know if I ever will. It was so clean and refreshing. It made Inbox Zero a lifestyle. There are a few apps that have tried to reintroduce some of its features, but I haven’t really liked any of them the way I loved Mailbox.

Turntable.fm

Of all the apps on this list, Turntable.fm is the one I miss the most. It had a certain cultural appeal. The social listening/DJing app was a special creation. It was a music oriented chat room, portrayed by an animated concert hall. You had an avatar and joined a chat room room you wanted and listen to music selected by other users or volunteer to DJ.

Five DJs picked songs to play in the room and Turntable cycled through the DJs, playing one song from each. It created a community feel that was very special at the time. Turntable felt like a digital music festival, a comparison made all the more relevant when it went out of business.

Conclusion

There are more apps I could write about. Rdio comes to mind as a streaming service with some pretty great ideas. I think it’s helpful to look back at these apps and remember what they offered.

These apps were special. Even though their influence is still felt in the other products, I miss their unique experiences and contributions.


  1. This is my opinion. I don’t know if this is why Mailbox was sunsetted. But, it seems likely.