I first heard about EARL back in April of 2013 via Mobileread.com, for those who aren't familiar with it, it's the premier site for all things eReading. The discussion centered around the (then) specs of the EARL tablet, as it was initially touted, with 6" eInk flexible screen, Android 4.0 system with GPS and shortwave radio. I couldn't jump on the crowdfunding fast enough. The funding level was something like 38% when I put in my order, and within a week and a half, 100% of the goal had been reached. I thought to myself "this thing is going to happen! I can't wait".
I'd come back to the site constantly, looking for updates, reading the ticker tape style questions and comments in that little box on the main page before the forum was operational. Any new information, from what types of connection cables would be used, to the eInk refresh rate, I'd pass on to the folks at Mobileread, several of whom had placed orders for EARL. I remember thinking that the initial supply date of Christmas-ish 2013 was a pipe dream. Nobody really believed that it would be likely, but we all followed EARL's progress.
Then the forum opened up. Every day, there were dozens of new threads being opened, threads made by the paragliding community, excited for what they believed was a perfect onboard computer, threads from eReaders, wanting to replace their Kindles and Sonys with EARL, threads from HAM junkies, who thought that this would be a fun piece of tech.
And the updates stopped.
The communication wilted.
The team moved from India to China.
The forum broke.
An interim forum sprung up, managed by backers.
Whispers and shouts of "scam" started appearing.
Promises to be more communicative, and hiring of PR personell, and showing of prototypes were made.
March of 2014 showed us a huge update. Specs revamped, prototypes shown, designs, colours, promises, excitement.
Then nothing, except a trip to Kilimanjaro, for which more support was asked.
2014 came and went. New deadlines, new promises, new charts and graphs and pretty pictures were shown, but ultimately, they meant nothing.
The refunds started. And continued. And multiplied.
Several hundred thousand dollars of investment dollars vanished, was refunded and was invested.
And still, many, many of us hung on. We wanted to believe in Jon, and the team, wanted to believe that the product that we backed (NOT purchased yet, backed) would still become a reality. We didn't, and don't believe it's a scam at all. Many of us had contacted Jon with offers of professional help, from technical writing, to graphic design, to software and hardware development, all of us wanting to try to contribute, wanting to shout down the naysayers on the newly opened forum who constantly whined about promises and communication and deadlines missed. But we started to grow silent. Even vocal proponents all along just began to stop. You'd expect to see an update every four or five months with a new "I'm sorry, we dropped the ball, we'll do better message" from Jon. Every now and again, we'd see a picture of EARL, whether as concept or prototype, and start getting excited again.We'd get updates now and then about what original specs were being changed or pulled outright. Now and then, a description of what China was like.
Then Todd's video hit, and we were all thrilled again. Holy Crap, a WORKING prototype. Look at this thing. It looks great! And updated Android too. Okay great. Let's get this done. Awesome.
Still though, every day, more and more requests for refunds filled the forum, and Todd stepped up and took over that.
Jon, if EARL is ever realized, and Squigle Inc. becomes a thriving business, I hope that you realize how much that ToddCady has done for you. From managing the refund coordination, to providing updates when you wouldn't, to being a presence on the forum when it died, you had better understand that many, many people haven't put in for a refund, not out of confidence in you, but in Todd. And he's not even an employee. You had best think on that.
The next disappointment was the update that stated that everything in China had been a waste of time and that you were allying with Netronix in Taiwan. That was distressing the say the least; a full product reinvention basically from the ground up. I personally, was actually happy, knowing the reputation that Netronix has in eReading is quite positive, and thinking that well, at least there's movement here. At least there's progress.
Then the real bomb hit. The next update stated that you were going from a 6" design to a 4" design. Unilaterally. With zero warning. A dramatic fundamental design change with zero input from your bankrollers, most of whom saw the 6" screen as being non negotiable. The statement "we must go head to head with devices available now" made us double take. What? No. We want EARL. We already all own devices now. If I wanted to use my cell phone in EARL's place, I already have a bigger screen. The outcry on the forum was immediate, loud and long. The number of posts in the Refund Requested thread started looking like a stock ticker tape. Believe me, we weren't happy before, but after that little stunt, people were pulling backing in droves. But wait, there's more! A throwaway line about needing more funding really, REALLY rankled people. And then the standard "two months between updates is unacceptable, won't happen again" and more radio silence. People were talking about the massive design change. People were abandoning the project in droves. There was nothing communicated, no updates, no forum interaction, nothing. Polls on the forum showed an overwhelming amount of disgust with both the design changes, and the manner in which we were notified of them.
Many of us now stopped checking the forum. Stopped checking the updates. Stopped caring. Oh look, July 2015. New update. Severe backpedalling on the design change. Too little too late for many. More pictures. Are they real or Photoshopped? Who cares. You talk about the project as if it's Groundhog Day. Yeah, I get that. I've seen it all before.
Once again, the update closes off with a "we're reluctant to update backers..." You don't say.
That's three months ago. No more communication? Well, that's the norm. Forum updates are essentially only "Ping when you check for updates, and refund requested". EARL has become a bit of a joke now.
I can't speak for everyone still left, but I considered my own money gone the second I backed. It's a gamble. It's crowdfunding. I still have hopes for EARL, and hope that you succeed, Jon. I hope that Squigle becomes huge. I want to recieve my 30% discount in perpetuity bonus for being an original backer. I want to tell all my friends about EARL again. I want to believe in the project again. I'm not withdrawing my support, nor will I. It's been a bit of an adventure, the ups and downs, disappointment and elation, denying the "I told you so-ers" but privately starting to wonder.
Should EARL come to pass, I would love to read a real properly written book about the progress from concept to reality. There are many, many lessons here for people, lessons earned through disappointment and miscues.
Hopefully, lessons that may be starting to come to fruition. I wish you luck, Jon, I was, am and will remain a backer. My passion for following EARL has dimmed, but could reignite very, very easily.
Until the next update, I guess I'll just skim through the "Refund Requested" thread, tip my hat to the efforts of Todd, and continue to wonder what will happen next.