Last week I sponsored Connected to announce Blink 2.0. During the sponsor read, Stephen Hackett remarked "I can't believe this thing has only been out since March." Me either. It's been a wild six months.
First of all, thank you to everyone who has rated Blink, written about it, tweeted about it and otherwise spread the word. I cannot express strongly enough how important that sort of word of mouth is for a niche indie app like Blink. It's easy to complain and leave negative reviews, which makes the ones where someone goes out of their way to say something nice that much better.
Six months has gone by fast, but that's just been the tip of the iceberg, at least for me. True, the rest of the world has only had Blink since March, but for me, there were nine months of largely solitary work that preceded Blink's launch. I mention this only because I am sometimes asked what it was like to make Blink and it's even easy for me to forget that it existed before it existed.
That first pre-launch stage was a grind spent trying to figure out whether my idea could be turned into a viable app. Not necessarily a viable product, but just something that sort of worked. This part is hard, living-in-your-head stuff that can end in an endless loop of scab-picking self-doubt that many ideas don't survive.
If your app breaks out of that loop, you're in for something far more terrifying but also critical -- putting your unfinished, broken app in front of people whose opinion you respect. I am lucky enough to know a bunch of people who truly care about app quality and have great taste. This is a great asset, but also a difficult point where you will inevitably need to decide which criticisms and feature requests you are going to listen to and when to just go with your gut. That may all be a little dramatic, and everyone's experience is a little different, but my point is that getting to a launch of anything new is hard; rewarding, but hard.
The third phase -- post-launch -- is where Blink is now. This is the public phase -- the since March bit -- and it has been a blast. Hearing from customers who use Blink, getting their feedback, plotting the direction of Blink and updating it has been exhausting at times, but it's always been satisfying. Knowing that Blink is now part of someone's life and something upon which they rely to get their work done, is really cool.
Which is the long way of getting around to Blink 2.0. It includes things I've been wanting to do from day one and suggestions from my testers that would not exist but for their input. A great example is multiple affiliate token support, which is a suggestion I got before version 1.0 even shipped and that I knew I would do at some point, but put off to get version 1.0 out the door. This may seem like the niche-iest of niche features, but if you are juggling two or more affiliate codes, having a way to save them in Blink and nickname them makes using them much easier.
Another great suggestion I got fairly late in the development of version 2.0 was to include price data. Once you buy or download iTunes media, the price information in the App and iTunes Store apps is replaced by a download or play button. That makes sense for Apple's stores, but it adds a frustrating extra step if you are linking to the media and want to confirm the price. Neither of these features would be in Blink 2.0 without my testers and it's this sort of collaboration and positive feedback loop between users and developers that makes apps better.
Blink 2.0 has a bunch of other cool features too, including side-by-side multitasking. I'm really excited about this one. Just as Blink 1.0's action extension was its secret weapon letting users generate affiliate links from within Apple's stores and third party apps, I think multitasking on the iPad is going to be big for Blink 2.0. No one likes to switch back and forth between apps and now, whether you are looking up media in Blink or via its extension from another app, having it next to your text editor makes it immediately more useful. Keyboard shortcuts will also make searching for media easier for iPad users who use an external keyboard and the ability to edit links in Blink's extension enhances Markdown links because who hasn't run into a title that is a little too long, especially App-Store-Optimized app titles like FancyKey for iOS 8 - Personalize your keyboard with cool Fonts, colorful Themes and beautiful Emoji Art?
So what's next for Blink? Blink, which was conceived as a tool for bloggers to generate affiliate links (Blogger + Link == Blink), has started to become something more. The Apple Music and Apple Podcast App support are just the start. In a world where web advertising is in decline and being actively blocked as user-hostile, it has never been harder for creators to earn a living. Affiliate linking, by its very nature is not in your face and the barrier to entry is nonexistent -- signing up takes all of five minutes, it's free and it scales. Whether you share links with a handful of friends or run a web site with millions of page views an month, the iTunes Affiliate Program is an easy way to add a revenue stream that supports your blog, podcast, book club, or whatever. The point is that it's not just for big web sites or developers, affiliate linking is for anyone who has ever recommended a good book or shared a movie, podcast, or cool new game they discovered and can be part of any business model that includes linking to iTunes media.
We are at a unique moment in time where affiliate linking has the opportunity to take off as a respectful alternative to the gross, in-your-face mess that much of web advertising has become. But to take off, affiliate linking is going to require education and better tools on every platform. That is where Blink is heading.