Actual developer James Long has announced his Actual personal finance app will be going open-source, citing the difficulties in making a success of a being an independent developer.
Actual is a unique finance app, one that focuses on privacy and giving users control over their own data. The app is available for Linux, macOS, Windows, iOS, Android, and the web.
Actual is a super fast privacy-focused app for managing your finances. You own your data, and we will sync it across all devices with optional end-to-end encryption.
Unfortunately, despite positive reviews and significant paid subscriptions, Long says the challenges involved have made it nearly impossible to continue developing the project alone.
Building products is hard, building a business is even harder. I told myself that I was going to push through and make it happen no matter what. Even if it took years, I would slowly build my vision. When I stopped working full-time on Actual and started working at Stripe, I told everyone it wasn’t going anywhere. And I meant it.
But the fact is this project is way bigger than me. I have to come to accept that. Even I were completely full-time, I need to hire at least 2 other people to properly sustain it. It’s time to call it for what it is and open it up as a community project.
Long’s challenges were exacerbated by his focus on making Actual privacy-respecting, instead of going the cloud-first route that so many other apps and services choose.
Actual is a very different product. It’s not a normal SaaS app. It’s a local-first app using a fancy technology called CRDTs that syncs changes across devices.
This has a lot of benefits, but one drawback is I can’t use off-the-shelf solutions anymore. Hiring and getting help is harder. I’m super proud of being so ambitious, but ultimately doing something so different made it hard to iterate quickly. I can’t simply make a quick database schema change. Every feature needs to be rolled out very thoughfully and maintain backwards compatibility.
I’m hopeful that open-source will make this easier; with lots of people involved it offsets the difficulty added. And I’m hopeful there will a lot of people involved because I get asked if I’m going to open-source at least once a month.
Long’s challenges are a sad commentary on the state of the current tech and software industry, where innovative products struggle to gain traction because the rest of the industry is geared toward a cloud-first approach where users give up control over their data.
Hopefully, Actual will receive the backing it needs from the open-source community to continue evolving.