Are throw-away applications ethical?

Just wanted to jot a few thoughts about this while it's on the mind.

I've worked with clients in the past who are content with a product that is okay, but not fantastic, because a lower cost = lower customer expectations = little or no backlash for bugs. I've tried this myself with designing several throw-away apps in an effort to generate a little buzz. What happened was kind of unexpected. Some people actually used the apps, and some people really liked them.

I realize these folks are transitional. They finally figured out how to articulate the problem of what they need, and are leapfrogging applications until they find one that works for them. As soon as they find one that works, they'll really dial back the effort, but might spend a little time trying to find something better when they experience bugs or garden walls. I followed the same process this morning to find a little countdown timer app. I found something that worked, and now have better things to do for a while before I go trying to find something better.

There's actually a market there. The equation is to spend less time and money on a product, charge less and your users will expect less, and will likely move on to something better eventually without bugging you much in the process.

Is this ethical? You're putting a sub-par product out there knowingly and expect people to use it little if at all. Doesn't this just add noise to the cacophony of options out there for just about anything you want to do? Add to the equation a huge marketing push, and you've got a lame duck you're nearly *pushing* on unsuspecting users. Phrased that way, it seems morally ambiguous at best. And once people have their band-aid, they will be less likely to find the better solution (and pay for it, supporting the producers of a fine product).

But, I can also see an argument from the other side. By providing a solution (any solution) to a problem, you're fulfilling your part of the bargain. It is, after all, a solution. Maybe people only use it in transition, but perhaps it's better to have at least some solution in the interim period. Maybe there's a role there, and an important one.

Jury's out on this one for me. I'd likely favor one of either side in different situations.


I found your article on throw away Graphics products really surprisingly interesting, as well as it being really relevent to my A level graphics exam I'm sitting in the week. Top Stuff!!

Thank you for articulating something which I have noticed is particularly prevalent in the IM world. Poorly coded and dodgy solutions at best a foisted on a market gagging for good products and content.

Many of these products are overpriced and poorly supported leaving the end user feeling a little dirty and a little guilty like they have been doing things that they shouldn't have been and can't quite explain why.

Within 3 to 6 months the products fail to deliver any benefit and yet remain on sale.

However, I agree with you that a partial product is often better than no product and I still use some of the better ones, I do have many of the others though, usually when I am trying to do something quickly for a test of some kind. I have also cobbled up some quick products as a proof of concept which I often give away as a teaser for a better product which is sold.

My overall experience is that 90% of people who buy a product don't actually use it so the quality of the product is irrelevant. You could sell them total junk and just refund those who can't get it to work - ethical? Definitely not but it would work. Would I do this absolutely no way, I have too much pride in my work and I generally write software for me to use so it has to work or I won't even give it away.