A few years ago we released our first commercial product, SmartMouth, which automatically syncs mouth shapes to audio in Flash Professional. Shortly after releasing SmartMouth, we began working on SmartMouthRT a real-time lipsyncing library for ActionScript developers. While we were working on SmartMouthRT, Steve Jobs’ infamous open letter about Flash surfaced. At first, the letter was pure hype. Flash was a vital platform with an arguably bright future. But many people and companies panicked, and Adobe missed a few opportunities to resuscitate Flash’s public image, and Flash begin a steady decline in both mental and actual market share.
In the middle all of this, we had SmartMouthRT very near to release. Amidst the unwinding of the Flash empire and the growing popularity of tablets and smartphones, an opportunity presented itself to us. We found that many skilled designers were unable to distribute their content to multiple screens in a straight-forward and/or affordable fashion. If circumstances had been different, Flash (or a tool built with Flash) may have been the solution to this distribution gap. It took us several months before we realized just how important this gap was and that no one so far was stepping in to fill it. Thus, we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to test our hypothesis that designers would be interested converting their Adobe InDesign layouts to HTML5, a format that could be viewed on any device. My initial (and very naive) expectation was that the Kickstarter campaign, once launched, could run more or less in the background for 30 days while I prepared SmartMouthRT for release. Those 30 days proved to be some of the busiest in my career until that point, and most of my energy went into the Kickstarter campaign. Thanks to the help of Keith Gilbert, Mike Rankin, John Nack, and many others in spreading the word, and all of the backers who supported the project, our Kickstarter campaign was a success. The next several months were focused on creating the product described in our campaign, which came to be known as in5 (short for InDesign to HTML5).
We released in5 publicly in late 2012 (just over a year ago). This product idea initially began as a diversion, but it’s popularity has merited our constant attention ever since its release. We’ve been fielding daily customer inquiries, fixing bugs, and adding new features. When possible, I would sneak in some time to make progress with SmartMouthRT, which was all-but-released, but I kept running into logistical issues regarding licensing, support, and pricing. I didn’t want to release RT until I felt that we’d worked through these issues. I made contact with several people who had expressed interest in RT, only to find that many of them were hoping to use it with education products and thus the cost of licensing it would be beyond their budget. Additionally, issues with how different versions of Flash Player 11 handled the audio processing within our code started to surface. These are issues that we could no doubt work around, but at what cost to our time, and at what cost to our thousands of existing customers who still require support (and would like to see updates) from us?
Time is the most valuable resource of any business, but it is most acutely felt, and mostly easily managed in a small company such as ours. Knowing when to say “no” is an important skill that can be difficult to execute. In the end, even though many hours and a few thousand dollars in legal fees had already gone into SmartMouthRT, it was finally clear that releasing it, while profitable for us in the short term, would reduce our ability to provide quality support to all of our customers in the long term. And that decision is a no-brainer for us. Despite how cool we still think the idea of real-time lipsyncing is, it is no longer the right time for this ActionScript-based product. Perhaps that will change down the road, or perhaps at some distant point in the future it will make sense to open source RT, but for now, it’s staying on the shelf so that we can continue to support our fantastic customers.