Silverback, One Month On | August 28, 2008

Silverback launched just over a month ago and what a roller coaster month that was. We launched towards the end of July and within the first couple of days the app had been downloaded 7,000 times. Thirty days on and well over 20,000 people have grabbed themselves a copy. Crikey!

For the first couple of weeks the whole company was hooked on the Twitter feedback. I had a Summize window permanently open and kept refreshing the search every few minutes. Messages were coming thick and fast and I was pretty bowled over by the feedback. The messages were so unbelievably positive I actually started to worry. After all it was just a little usability testing app and wasn’t going to cure hunger and bring about world peace.

Here is just a small selection of the comments we received…

Is so stoked about the utter incredibleness of @silverbackapp he can’t sleep. - @CliffSpence

Holy CRAP! Silverback ( is out and it rocked my world! - @erickaweb

Think @clearleft are on to a sure fire hit. Already my clients are asking about using Silverback, just a day after it’s release! - @paulrobertlloyd

Love silverback. so much love in the details. even the stupid ape is animated when you export a session. thank you so much @clearleft ! - @reimund

Has a major user-testing chubby over Silverback. This is fantastic and just what we needed for our upcoming sessions. - @gb

It’s been longer than I can remember that I found an application to fill such a gaping void in my work. @silverbackapp is oozing promise. - @niccai

Chubbies and gaping voids aside, that’s some pretty sweet praise. As people got over the initial rush of excitement and started playing around with the app, we started to get some more detailed reviews and a stack load of useful feedback.

When designing Silverback our goal was to keep the interface as simple and intuitive as possible. We wanted to include features that the majority of people would use while removing features that were only of interest to a niche crowd. After all we were trying to create a lightweight guerilla usability testing app for the masses rather than a pro solution, so less Photoshop and more iPhoto. We also wanted to democratise usability testing and put it back in the hands of the creators, so price was going to be a key factor. As such we were careful not to include any features that were overly complicated to implement and could push the budget up. This is why playback got cut from the initial release and we didn’t include things like editing.

As this is just the first release, there is is a lot more functionality to come and we’ve already got a bit of a roadmap planned out. For instance we want to improve file management, add the ability to preview your session and export multiple sessions in one go. We also want to do more stuff around notes and chapter markers to name but a few.

However rather than packing the app full of features from the outset, we wanted to get the app out there and see exactly how people were using it. This process has been really insightful and we’ve had some some great ideas so far. In fact it’s really interesting to see how many different testing styles there are and which features benefit each style. If you’ve got a spare 5 minutes I’d love to hear how you run your tests and which features would make your lives easier.

One popular feature request is remote usability testing. As it happens the idea of remote moderated testing came up very early in the development cycle and was something I was keen to explore. However we’d need to build it on the back of protocols like VNC which would have been time consuming and costly. Also, if you’ve ever used VNC you’ll know how much bandwidth this requires. It could potentially work over a local network, but it would be pretty ropey across the web, especially if your test subject didn’t share the same fat pipe as you.

Remote testing is actually an interesting one. If we’re talking about testing over a local network so the moderator and clients can be in another room you’re actually moving away from the idea of guerilla testing and towards something more formal. As such, this really feels like a pro feature to me. If we’re talking about remote testing over the web, I wonder how many people would actually do this? It’s still a fairly niche activity so I’m unsure of the demand. I personally find it awkward having a video chat using Skype or iChat, so wouldn’t get the same sense of empathy as actually being in the same room as the person. That being said we’re definitely open minded about these things and may consider it for a future release, assuming the engineering and budget constraints aren’t too high.

As Silverback was our first desktop app, there were always going to be a few teething problems, and in all honesty I’m surprised there haven’t been more. However we did put a huge amount of effort into the testing phase of the project, which I’m sure helped a lot. There are a couple of intermittent exporting bugs which we hope to have fixed shortly, along with some minor UI issues. We’re also aware that the exporting speed, while similar to other apps in its class, is still a little slower than desired. So we’re currently working on that. If you do come across any issues please don’t be shy, and post them up to our get satisfaction page.

So I guess that’s about it for now. It’s been an absolutely fantastic month for our hairy friend (no I don’t mean Jeremy), and I’m really excited to see what the future holds. We’ve had all kinds of people using it from Apple to NASA and 20,000 downloads can’t be bad. It’s been amazing to hear from designers who have used the app to prove the value of usability to their boss, or universities who have decided to use the app on their interaction courses. But more importantly I’d love to hear you’re thoughts, experiences and suggestions.

Oh, and I believe Steve the Gorilla may be making a surprise appearance at dConstruct next week, so I’m sure he looks forward to seeing you there.

Posted at August 28, 2008 5:13 PM


Zee said on August 29, 2008 12:59 AM

You deserve it to be fair, great job & what a time saver to be able to offer such a critical part of usability testing.

Paul D. Waite said on August 29, 2008 12:49 PM

Congratulations guys, great to hear you’re getting the success you deserve.

And not to be all vulgar, but if you’re in the 20,000 downloads ball park, at $49.95 you must be heading towards the magic revenue milestone of one meeeeeelion dollars!!!

Alex Kearns said on August 29, 2008 12:54 PM

Congrats mate, looks like a v cool app. One question. How do I get the Gorilla to eat the bananas?

Andy Budd said on September 1, 2008 11:34 PM

Thanks Paul, however I’m afraid that’s demo downloads rather than purchases. If it was the latter I’d be a very happy monkey indeed :)

Lara said on September 2, 2008 3:12 PM

Excellent application! the best ideas are always the simple ones, aren’t they?

After the one month trial, people will be purchasing the software! No doubt!

digyourlove said on September 3, 2008 2:42 PM

I have back, really admire your web-design technology.I hope one day I’ll be a new style designer, I’m on my way…

Q5 Webdesign said on September 5, 2008 11:50 AM

I love this application! Great article!

caricature said on September 8, 2008 10:03 AM

Excelente, very very interesting.Thanks for sharing! Nice!