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My Workflow vs. LayerVault

Last November I started using a service called LayerVault. LayerVault's pretty cool. Basically, you install a little app on your Mac and it monitors a folder. In that folder you save the design files you're working on. That could be Photoshop, Illustrator, PDFs, and just about anything. The app syncs that folder up to your LayerVault account and keeps an eye on each revision you create. As soon as you save your PSD, a revision shows up on LayerVault's site with a full preview image and everything.

I loved it at first. I was able to share Signposts (their semiotic device for a milestone) with my clients, and they could comment and request changes. I was happy to pay $20 a month for the service because it covered everything I could want and even managed to create a solution to a problem I didn't know I had. 

But in February the folks at LayerVault changed their pricing model, simplifying it down to one account type at one single price on a per-seat basis. Along with that they removed the ability for me to share my revisions with anyone. Instead, users were given 2 free "observers" but were required to pay for another seat, even if that seat would store absolutely nothing on their servers.

Unfortunately for me, I became reliant on a system that eventually discarded my needs in favour of a new direction.

The problem with the startup landscape today is that for those of us who tend to be early adopters, we have very few alternatives to the systems we buy into. Today I found Pixelapse, a similar service to LayerVault that is $5 cheaper a month, but limits my private project uploads to 20 GB and allows 3 people to "collaborate" on a project. And that's about it. Those two services.

And that's where the cost/value ratio breaks down for me. See, with both of these, if I had a team of designers that I held accounts for, this would be different. They could each have their own 2 free observers/3 reviewers and it would make sense. They may only work with a couple of people at a time on a single project. For me, that's not how my workflow goes. As a contract designer, I cannot justify paying another $25/mo for someone who is taking up virtually zero resources. My clients will literally login once or twice a week, leave a comment, and then forget the site exists.

However, my main issue isn't with how it works now. No, the main warning, and one that I will take with me as I build new products, is that you can't include something at signup and then take it away and expect people to stay happy.

The biggest difference between LayerVault and Pixelapse is that Pixelapse hasn't taken something away from me.

So now, the lack of choice in this arena is what is so frustrating for someone in my position. I feel bait-and-switched by LayerVault because I bought in early, paid money, contributed suggestions and bug reports, endorsed them to my friends, talked about them all the time... In return I was given fewer features for more money and all unexpectedly. And there is no other viable recourse – for me, Pixelapse surely isn't the solution. I might as well go back to the old email + screenshot method of commenting alongside Dropbox sync.

If the products in my head ever get made, I don't want to do that to my users. Because I want them to remain excited and happy about my product.

That dissonance is what is interesting. On one side I am still frustrated and have had my workflow suffer for a few months, and on the other, I didn't even know this sort of thing existed before November. Six months in, I'm not sure it would be that hard to go back to what I was doing. Last year I wrote about how you should never trust a commercial platform... I think I fell into the trap of trusting LayerVault to maintain the experience I was having at the beginning (if I had known about Pixelapse, I'm not sure I would've gone with their service in the first place). However, when I pay for something, it seems sensical to exhibit a little bit of trust.

Will I keep using LayerVault? I'm not sure. I'm certainly conflicted. On their part, back in February they offered to give me some free observers because I brought up my disappointment pretty early. But that never happened and I was stuck with 1 person being able to comment. Today, two months later, they were able to bump me to their "new" account type and give me two observers and offered me a free month. And now I'm weighing if it's too little too late, and if I can find an approach that will work for me. I'm still paying $5 more a month for a worse experience than I had when I signed up. It seems crazy to stick with it.

Anyone else have another approach or service they recommend? Or any thoughts on what I should do?