So there’s this little Facebook game called PackRat. We think it’s a pretty good time. You can get lost in it for hours without getting bored or tearing your hair out because it’s too difficult. It’s got a great interface, it performs extremely well, and the art isn’t half-bad.

It’s put together by eight people.

When you’re a company of eight people, you tend to interact directly with your users. There’s no PR office. It’s just the developers and artists and CEO using Facebook or Twitter or whathaveyou to talk about what’s up.

You might think folks would look at that and say, Hey. These guys have faces. I can follow the Rails guy on Twitter. I can drop the artist a note on Facebook. I can check out the UI designer’s photos on Flickr.

But something about putting that “Inc.” after a company name changes things. Eight people are alright. But Eight People, Inc., are surely out to get you. They change the product to spite users. Their performance improvements are really excuses to reduce communication. They work to bring out the worst in people and ruin everyone’s fun.

Changes in products happen for lots of reasons, and the upside isn’t always immediately apparent. Sometimes a feature is dragging the system down and needs to be pruned a bit to keep everything rolling along. Often a new feature is part of a larger plan which won’t become apparent until later. And a few features look undesirable at first, but turn out to convey some big advantages as time goes by.

It’s funny how tenuous trust is on the internet. Meet one of your users in person and everyone gets along. But drop the curtain of the internet between you, and the suspicion returns. You’re an Inc. again.

I’ve stuck with small companies over the years precisely because I wanted to keep my face. I wanted to be a human working with and for humans. I’ll keep on following that philosophy whether the internet chooses to acknowledge the difference or not.

But right now, I’m tired of being treated like an Inc.

March 27, 2008