My hobby project Tact, and how you can come along to the journey

February 04, 2021

Dear Internet,

I would like to introduce you to a hobby project that me and Priidu Zilmer have been working on for a while, and I invite you along to the journey.

Tact is a simple chat app for families, friends and small circles, designed for Apple platforms.

tl;dr: I’m looking for these kinds of people:

Apple platform engineers. Come help me build. Details in this post.

Private beta testers. If you’re not afraid of unfinished software, consider joining the test.

Investors, advisors, and hustlers. Tact doesn’t yet have external funding. I’m working on Tact because I believe it can be a sound and sustainable business. I haven’t plotted the exact path to get there. I’m interested in your views.

I’d be happy to have a call with anybody about these areas. Contact me to set one up.

You’ll find a lot of info about Tact on our placeholder site, and I encourage you to go through that. Here are some more personal bits and pieces.

Backstory

For the longest time, Priidu, myself and some other friends have kept in touch since the good old Skype times. We previously used Wire because that’s what we built, but more recently Wire has shifted its focus away from consumers and towards business. Nothing wrong with that. It means, though, that there’s less of a focus on our kind of consumer scenario that I’m interested in.

So for quite a while, we had this joke, “we should make our own chat app”. Of course. That’s all it was, just a joke. But the thought kept nagging me until I did a thought experiment. “What if… it was not a joke?” What would it take? Knowing that I had no time and no money to put into it, what kind of chat app would and could I make? The thought experiment very quickly led me to iCloud that provides two vital services–users and backend.

For past many months, we’ve had a functional technical experiment of Tact trying to answer the question, is it possible to build Tact on iCloud like this? To date, I haven’t seen any evidence that it wouldn’t be possible. Seems to be fine. There is lots of work remaining to do, but I haven’t seen any fundamental reason why it wouldn’t work.

Tact is informed by developments in the external environment. In the Apple world, SwiftUI was released, letting me build efficiently for two platforms together. (I started out with separate AppKit and UIKit apps already before SwiftUI, but that was no fun.) On the privacy and economics side, we continue to see the struggles of ad-funded platforms. All these signals are feeding into how I think about Tact.

Future

In 2021, our goal is to build a functional basic enjoyable chat app and make sure it is a solid experience to private beta participants. We’ll then make it available in paid form to validate our hypothesis that there are enough people out there who share our principles and are willing to pay for something like Tact.

Beyond that, Tact could go in many directions. This is just a rough outline of ideas that we’ve been kicking around. We may end up building all, some, or none of these, and this list will evolve over time.

Realtime features (calling, screen sharing). This fits well into the Tact vision, but is more expensive to build and maintain than we can afford in our current hobby mode. We postponed this whole area until we have a more solid business case.

Chat and content experience. What is basic chatting like? Does it always need to have bubbles? (There are no bubbles in Tact.) How do files, photos, links, other media work? Should recent and older content behave differently? We believe the whole messaging field is still nascent and ripe for innovation. We haven’t yet executed many ideas here, and Tact today does not yet break much new ground. We would like to play with these directions.

On-device integrations. Apple devices are incredibly powerful machines, loaded with hardware sensors and other apps. How might we involve content flowing freely to and from hardware and other apps? Can on-device integrations act as bots and provide useful services for both personal and business uses?

Social group dynamics. What should group dynamics look like in 2021? What are the potential risks of harm and abuse? How can we build the Tact software and network in a way that promotes kind and discourages harmful behavior?

Publishing. Tact starts out with closed groups, but doesn’t always need to remain like that. Beyond strictly closed groups, should Tact have some publicly visible outlet, more publicly accessible groups?

More client platforms. Tact is currently on iOS and macOS. It’s technically possible to build a web experience for Tact. Would it make sense? What other platforms could Tact live on? What would Tact be on watchOS or tvOS?

The path for 2021

Priidu and myself will continue to build Tact in hobby mode and do three things through the year: work on the product, engage with our beta community, and continue consulting with potential investors and advisers. We will not do the latter actively and won’t explicitly look for funding, but will definitely talk with interested people.

Through all these actions, I expect to reach one of these outcomes for Tact in 2021.

There is no point. We fail to generate sufficient community interest and private beta tester engagement. We have fundamentally got our vision wrong, our product design is poor and unusable, or our build quality is too low. The world just does not have a place for Tact. In this case, we may still continue to operate Tact indefinitely on life support since the ongoing operating expense is low, but there is no business here. It is not the end of the world. I just need to do something else with my life, and Tact won’t be the main thing that I work on.

A viable small business. Apple announced their Small Business Program in 2020 and revealed that a “vast majority” of app developers are in “under 1M of revenue” category. Tact would be just fine in this category. Arriving at a sustainable business model to support ongoing operating costs and a few people’s work seems like a completely reasonable and achievable goal, and is the one I am working towards.

Something big. We work on Tact because we believe that our principles and vision have potential to be way bigger than the current feature set. This requires a lot more - of people, investment, and other resources. We are not actively working towards this goal, but it may turn out to be the future anyway, whether in 2021 or a later time.