Do’h. Smart.fm is closing down, and taking your content with it (holy crap, I made a lot for them, including a good amount of semi-pro audio, which I paid someone for). Well, they’re only kinda-sorta closing down. The parent company, Cerego is ending the Smart.fm service and rebranding it as “iKnow” (wait… hasn’t this happened before… like twice?) and slapping a monthly fee on there.
Pardon The Opinion-Piece / Rant
So, I’m going to write a bit of an opinion-ish editorial-ish rant-ish piece here. Not sure how else to do it. I feel sort of… betrayed?
It’s not because Smart.fm shouldn’t be a paid service… it probably should be. They should have done this a long time ago. My feeling of betrayal is a long term thing, that started over a year ago. Here’s my own personal timeline with Smart.fm… or should I say, iKnow? Hmm, iDon’tKnow…
I discovered iKnow.co.jp (Smart.fm was originally known as iKnow, which is what they’re turning back into now). It was awesome. Probably one of the coolest knives in the knife drawer, so to speak. I loved the heck out of them. They were great.
I kept liking them, but then they switched to Smart.fm. They were still good though.
Then, they got a new UI designer (or something, I don’t know what happened), and everything became hard to use. Things started breaking/sucking, and nothing worked as well as it used to. For learners and people creating content, things just weren’t as easy as they used to be. Someone ruined it, and I don’t know the details. I just know Smart.fm slowly got harder and harder to use (actually it got even worse than this, but keep reading).
I met with one of the co-founders in San Francisco, when he was visiting / talking with people (possibly for investments?). I won’t tell you which one, because I like the guy. We talked about all kinds of things, but one thing that sticks out was his promise that Smart.fm would always be free. Ads? Definite probability… White labeling? Perhaps… but never a pay-to-use kind of program. Whoops. I guess that wasn’t actually his decision to make. We even met regarding a deal that would give him a lot of free content. Good thing it fell through, otherwise that particular content would have been their free content they could now charge for.
Things kept getting worse with the UI. It got harder to create content. It used to take almost no time to create cards… now it takes forever. Things not only loaded slow, but they added a ton of unnecessary steps in order for me to get something set up, making it hard to get things done. Other people started noticing this. For some reason, I had faith that it would get better, yet it only kept getting worse.
I start hearing from various (secret… ahem) contacts about problems from within Smart.fm – the engineers don’t respect the management. The management don’t really understand how to work with engineers. The engineers just kind of do what they want, there is no direction, and nothing gets done. In the meantime, however, Smart.fm raises a ton of money (because their executives, while not good at managing engineers, do happen to be good at raising a lot of money). I hear more and more about how working at Smart.fm isn’t all that great… and when your engineers aren’t happy and they don’t respect you, that’s never a good sign…
Then, things started breaking. My content (which was awesome, and now is kind of broken) started getting mixed up weirdly. Audio would shift around seemingly at random, pairing the wrong audio with the wrong word (audio that either I recorded or paid someone to record for me). My example sentences were getting switched out with other, somewhat correct but mostly incorrect, sentences. Basically, some algorithm on the back end was making me look like an idiot. I would try to fix things as fast as possible, but new problems appeared as fast as I could fix the old ones. This really sucked. This is when I realized it was time to come up with an alternative for TextFugu, which used Smart.fm a lot (all lists I created).
Then, bam, this news hit. Smart.fm is closing down and is becoming iKnow (again). I’m not upset about this because they decided to go to a paid model. Sure, I was promised this would never happen, but I definitely saw this happening at some point. I’m irritated because of the slow, painful process that took place to get to this point. The lowering of quality… the breakage… the lack of support for all the breakage… it goes on and on.
Sure, I’ll have to switch all my TextFugu flashcard content over to something else (some of it already is, thankfully), but I’m hoping that will be a blessing in disguise. I’ll have more control over my own flashcard content, and that will be nice. Still, I’ve had faith in Smart.fm for way too long, even when others had long given up on them. This, however, is my breaking point.
So, I guess it’s time to put down the Smart.fm torch (it doesn’t exist anymore, anyways) and pick up something else. Anki’s good, you should try that.
So, what do you think about all this mumbo-jumbo of Smart.fm changing to iKnow (again) and switching to a pay model? For me, I think it’s smart they’re going paid. They should have done that from the start. But… for me, Smart.fm’s quality has just gone down way too far, and I’ve stuck with them for way too long. It’s time for me to let go and turn to something else. What about you?