Circus Ponies closes shop, gives its customers the finger

[see update at the end]

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Notebook by Circus Ponies was one of the applications, along with Scrivener, that lured me back to the Mac platform after 15 years. Its outline-centric approach and notebook metaphor appealed to me, but once I began using it, I found it a bit too restrictive. While I updated to each new version, paying the upgrade fee a couple of times, I really never relied upon the app. I might have more if the iPad version worked well-enough. But it didn’t and the long-promised upgrade never appeared.

Now word comes (via outlinersoftware.com) that Circus Ponies has, without warning, shut its doors, leaving its users in the lurch, with no support but this vague statement:

If you need a copy of NoteBook 4.0 (3.x and earlier don’t run on OS X El Capitan) or need technical support, you can try sending an e-mail to support@circusponies.com. There’s a chance someone will respond but no guarantees.

I know that software companies can’t be expected to stay in business if they’re not profitable. But when they decide they are going to shut down they owe it to the people who’ve purchased their product to exit a lot more gracefully than this. There should be some warning. An e-mail sent, well in advance of the day to their customers. If they are an information warehouse, like Notebook, a FAQ on the best ways to port information to other apps should be posted. A sincere thank you would be nice too.

Instead of any of that, Circus Ponies chose to make this their final remark to their long-standing customers:

Best of luck with all the turd note-taking apps that are left.

I say, if you’d spent more time making a better product, you might have stayed in business. Good riddance to you and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on they way out.

January 6, 2015 Update: I checked the Circus Ponies site this afternoon and found that they had removed the reference to “turd note-taking apps.” It just says “Best of luck” now. I’m glad they re-thought that send off.

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13 comments

  1. Thanks for posting. A few months ago, I corresponded with a member of the Circus Ponies support staff about the lack accessibility to their forum. They assured me that they working on it, but it never came back online. Then I noticed that the app had been pulled from the App store sometime in November. All this led me to believe that something was up.

  2. I was sorry to see it go. It was a great tool for my legal work. I’m looking at NoteTaker now but now sure it’s going to serve as well. Also the export-import process is going to be tedious.

    Lesson from this is to make sure that if you are going to put your data into an app with proprietary format, you must store a backup of the data in a format that’s going to last like .txt or maybe PDF. Then you use the app just to display or manipulate it.

    I agree that this was not an ideally smooth exit but, in fairness, making $ in software is really hard for the little guys. Most people buy an app and expect it to last forever, bleat piteously when upgrades are not constant and (heaven forbid) cost money. They also expect instant and deeply informed technical support. And are outraged if the app costs more than a couple of dollars.

    The small shops that stay in business have customers who value their products (Tinderbox, Curio, Nisus, a few others) that value their products enough to pay reasonable prices for them and buy upgrades.

    I’ve been using software long enough to remember when great (but now-extinct) products like the GrandView outliner, Agenda, and WordPerfect for DOS cost hundreds of dollars and were rightly considered worth it for what they let you do.

    Software-as-a-commodity has given us a wide variety of products, but a lot of them are of dubious quality.

    If Circus Ponies had been more like, say, OmniGroup it might still be with us. But that’s only a guess. NoteBook was a mature product, beloved of lawyers and others, but I think its most recent evolution had just been to keep up with Apple’s OS changes. The iPad version never really got off the ground. I bought it to support them in the hope that they’d keep developing it until it got good, but cross-platform isn’t so easy.

    I also wonder if they saw this coming. If they did, they should have beefed up the export options, but that would have required work from people who would have expected to be paid and where would the money have come from?

    My takeaway is that Jayson and his people gave me a really nice product, a kind of outline of outlines, that made my life easier and more productive for over ten years and I’m grateful for that and don’t begrudge them a single fish.

    Stephen

    1. The site keeps having subtle changes. The graphic on the home page is different from the one that was there when I first wrote this article. They’ve changed the text on that page at least twice. However, I suspect that the “we’ll be right back” page is the default page that was set to appear if the originating link was broken. I don’t think it is a promise that they’re planning to rise from the ashes. Like you, I hope otherwise.

    1. At least it still works fine. Does create a question: How long do you trust your work to an app that will no longer be developed or updated? I still use Bento, though that was abandoned three years ago. Good luck with working through that, and thank you for reading my blog.

  3. Sorta OT, but I circled back to see what was new and I love the new look of your website. I’m looking at it on an iPhone and no runaway wood paneling to make the text unreadable. Nice font. Lovely photo, though I miss the lake.
    To go back to topic for a moment, I would be surprised to see CircusPonies revive. Had that been the plan, the windup now would have been different. My guess is that the company wasn’t making enough money, nobody was offering enough $ to buy it and keep it going, and that Jayson found a spot elsewhere where he could make money and keep creating.
    So I’m still using the app, but backing up so I don’t have to count on its survival. Never had a chance to test NoteTaker in depth. Too much else going on. But seems like a step into an earlier stage of the same problem. So using Tinderbox and The Brain for thinking and Notenook for display for now.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback about the site. Anyone who has checked in over the past couple of weeks would have noticed that I’ve switched things up a few times trying to find a theme that I like and worked for the content.

      I agree, it is unlikely that Notebook gets resurrected. It will be interesting to see if the developers of NoteTaker see this as an opportunity to rev up development.

  4. I tried NoteBook when I switched from Windows and Microsoft Office. The nice thing about OneNote was that it was a free-from note-taking application where as NoteBook always forced you to make you notes in an outline. Back in the paper-age, this is how I took notes and I was looking for a note-taking application that would allow me to take notes the same way. From the times the I contacted them on the forum, they where very missive of my desire to take notes in something other than an outline. They also were unwilling to work to enable how I wanted to have my notes synchronized between my iPad & iMac. Over the last couple of years, I have noticed no progress with the application and was hoping that they would have made any updates to the software. I saw this day coming back then as it looked as through they had already stopped developing the software.

    1. I have long felt that the best option for people looking for a OneNote alternative on Mac is Curio — more so than CP Notebook — for the reasons you mention. Of course, now OneNote is available for Mac, so that may not be the case any more.

      But I got the same vibes from Circus Ponies you did — essentially contemptuous of their own customers opinions. It isn’t any wonder that the company failed in the end.

      Thank you for reading my blog and for commenting.

  5. Outline.ws is picking up the pieces by offering an import tool from CP Notebook into their excelllent Outline (iPad and Mac incl. sync) — I am using Outline since early 2015 and am really happy with it — left CP Notebook when version 4 came out with almost no changes and b cause the iPad app and sync were so terribly unstisfying.

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