We’ve just launched a prototype version of our first own-brand mobile app.
We didn’t create it because SXSW was coming up and we wanted something to show. Nor because building an app is a good bit of PR for a digitally-minded ad agency. Nope. We built an app because we were trying to get something done, but there didn’t seem to be ‘an app for that’.
It’s @samwander here, and this is the story of the need I spotted and how, with the help of some friends at Albion, we’re making it.
Countless times someone would tell me about a book I just had to read, or a film that I’d just love. But by the time I was next searching Amazon or Netflix, my mind would go blank. So I did the obvious modern thing: used digital storage to prop up my lack of mental storage. I got into the habit of saving simple text notes on my iPhone. Solved. Except I’d be looking for the note about the documentary on fast food that was supposed to be mind-blowing, but instead find a recipe for a smash burger I’d clipped off the interwebs.
What I needed was somewhere just for these kind of recommendations. An app that, like many of my favourites (e.g. Instapaper, Simplenote, Instagram, Clear), was really good at doing just one thing (see: Unix Philosophy).
I asked around and two things became apparent – firstly that there wasn’t an existing decent app that would do this across movies, books and music (which is what I cared about). Secondly, that almost everybody seemed to already have their own ‘workaround’ for saving recommendations – from saving them in to-do apps, to emailing titles to themselves. This behaviour was commonplace.
As I thought more about it, I realised there was something beyond the simple utility I required – I wanted to see my friends’ lists. I trusted their taste, and they (sometimes) trusted mine. Give this thing a social element and it would become really interesting. But – crucially – it didn’t need this component to be useful, and therefore sidestepped the ‘network effect’ where network value is required to augment inherent value (i.e that social app you don’t use because it’s nothing but tumbleweeds).
So we had a premise: solve the simple problem of keeping recommendations in one logical place. We had something of a hook: make the lists social. We had a working title: Queues (as in a playlist queue, not waiting at the bank).
Excitable brainstorming ensued, thanks to the awesome Trello service. Suddenly we had more features than we needed, monetisation ideas, technologies to investigate. We stripped it back to minimum viable product – the least number of features we felt we needed to validate the idea in practice.
We also made two key decisions very early on. First, we would design for mobile first as this better suited the context of use we’d identified (conversations over lunch, in the pub etc). Second, as much as we wanted a proper native app for our iPhones, the minimum version could simply be a mobile-optimised website – a web app. This would be quicker and cheaper to build, available more broadly (beyond the iOS platform), and wouldn’t depend on Apple’s approval process.
Andy Beaumont started knocking together a prototype with the jQuery mobile framework. In next to no time we had something we could fiddle with on our phones. We started using it. Instantly we came across situations where it was useful. “I’ll stick that in my queue” became common parlance.
With the idea validated, we began iterating versions. Instead of planning every little detail upfront, we began introducing basic features and seeing how it felt to use. Only very recently did we begin considering how the thing might look, and how we might brand it. The plan was to share with friends and family and gather feedback over a few weeks, and then use that to steer V1 proper (this might be described as V0.5 – the native app would be the real first version). But with a couple of us attending SXSW, it seemed a good idea to spread it a bit wider than friends and family. We like to share, and in keeping with the minimum viable product philosophy we want to gather feedback from early adopters.
So… if you’d like to help test the prototype Queues app, head over to queuesapp.com (ideally on an iPhone). You’ll need a Twitter account to use this early version, and we suggest you save the app to your home screen a) for a more ‘app-like’ experience and b) so the next time someone tells you about the best book they’ve read in years…. you can easily stick it in your queue.