You may recall that earlier in the year we told you about the Race for Apps, a competition to crowdsource mobile apps from the digital community – apps which will help the thousands of people coming to London in 2012 get the most out of the city as a whole, and Hackney in particular. The competition was an immense success – below is this week’s guest blog from Duncan Ray, Shoreditch Town Centre Manager for the London Borough of Hackney, who shares the thoughts of Nik Roope of Poke London on some of the winning apps and app design/development in general…
ROAD TESTING RACE FOR APPS MEDALLISTSWITH NIK ROOPE, POKE LONDON
This was the plan – get a lively, creative mind to try out some of the Race for Apps medallists, see what happens.
And it’s best to leave plans as fuzzy as that when you’re talking about Nik Roope, Founder and Executive Creative Director of Poke London and part of the influential 90s digital pioneer collective Antirom.
Best to leave it fuzzy also on the UK’s first ‘proper’ summer’s day, with searing 30 degree temperatures, sitting overlooking London Fields.
Race for Apps is a competition run by Hackney Council, in partnership with Digital Shoreditch, IC tomorrow and uTest. The competition crowdsourced apps from Shoreditch and beyond for visitors to the Olympics, to help them find their way around Hackney and the surrounding areas. Five apps were picked randomly from the medallists list to test with Nik – you can view all the medallists at raceforapps.com.
We started with “Instapp”, bronze medal in the Making Connections category, an app that allows people to post up images, sounds, videos and attach them to locations. Nik’s initial response was to put on an Irish accent and leave an audio message in the middle of London Fields.
Which brought us straight away something of a core point – “the app has a polished mechanic, it clearly allows you to do something, but it’s so early it hasn’t developed a culture. It’s just an open app which could be taken in lots of directions. It could be fun for that first phase of growth, but how does that settle, how do you make sure its the right culture that emerges, how are you open to spotting and supporting the culture that you set it up for – or are you happy for the culture to determine itself.”
It was a theme that emerged throughout our chat together, that ‘the mechanic’ + ‘the culture’ = ‘the app experience’.
“When you have a culture, you have a whole set of clear boundaries and permissions that enable the user to comfortably sit back and trust in the community you part of.”
“At the extremes of the possible cultures you have the wild west; total openness where anyone can post anything, basically ‘CB radio’ all over again, or active steering along a cultural trajectory, or managed dissipation into niches.”
Nik zoomed out to view media being tagged around the world – there was the letter ‘F’ placed in Ghana, “F for effort?”. Could some random emerging content in unexpected parts of the world turn this into an interesting app, I posed? “Possibly, but it’s no guarantee of long term traction – it needs to work out where it goes from ‘open’ – is it going to dial up a certain cultural positioning?”
We’d spent half an hour on the first app, and it dawned on me these apps are in the early stage of their cultural life.
Nik explained that Poke London advise clients to hold back some of the budget for this cultural trajectory work – at that key pivot stage, when you need your superusers, your impassioned believers in the platform.
Next up was “Foodsplore”, the Gold Medal winner in the Wildcard Category, helping people see reviews for restaurants in their vicinity – especially good for athletes and journalists who want to discover that nice local place – and we were straight into why people share, a core human behaviour.
“We share because there is an in-built status in recommendation, and good systems reward the recommender.”
Nik’s ‘recommendation questions’ followed – how do you deal with good/bad recommendations? How do you ego-stroke, otherwise known as promoting your better quality reviewers or tastemakers?
“If all of this is left flat, it just puts too much noise in the system. How can you generate loyalty – crucially, how can you kick off a culture that looks after itself.”
And we were back to the ‘c’ word, culture; just like Instapp, Foodsplore has to get past that initial cultural pivot – how does this happen? “Dedicated training, sharing, advocacy starts with a solid investment in developing an ‘app culture’. Find the natural distributors of the style. Your impassioned superusers establish the patterns of use and culture – this builds momentum, patterns of use are established. You demonstrate your interests, you express yourself, you have understandable values and permissions are a key part of a framework that makes you feel confident. With clear status affirmation.”
“And when app behaviour is so entrenched, when you come to do that thing that you do – you straight away click into that pattern of behaviour.”
And onto “Loyakk”, Gold Medal winner in Making Connections, an app that enables you to become part of conversations going on nearby.
Nik talked about the area of London he lives in and how he likes to monitor what happens there, in an ambient, ‘sift through the noise and see what he can find’, sort of way. Poke’s redevelopment of the Lonely Planet’s web site, came to mind and how he had considered at three things about people looking at location/chat apps.
- People who want to go somewhere (dream state)
- People who are planning to go somewhere (practical state)
- Being there (being with fellow travellers – socially common ground)
Loyakk came out as a good example of part three – its an app for when you are on the ground, and Nik predicted it could become a ‘Gumtree of communication’. But with critical mass comes something a defining choice about the app’s core purpose – “you have to ask yourself the question: is it a problem if it is taken on by someone else and distorted from what you want it to be?”
Next up was “Slick Flick”, Gold Medal Winner in the Citizen Journalism category, which allows users to scan their iPhone photo library for images, put them together with text into a sequence and then publish the resulting output to the web.
Again, Nik was impressed.
“Great initial user experience and then you get the log in presented to you, once you’ve invested something in it. The moment you are doing something of value is the moment you sign in – which is fine, unless it flakes out on you.” It doesn’t.
Nik started talking about how the device and feel of creating content on an app influences the final product itself. “The culture by which something is produced is part of the ethos of it – the mobile phone is a personal device, it has personal items. When it’s a smooth process you don’t have to deal with certain admin factors, and the product you finally make reflects this.”
Good news for Slick Flick – Nik sees a progression; “What happens next in the Instagram paradigm? Slideshow is a natural development.”
Nik’s final slideshow is a lovely montage of light bulbs he’s been designing as part of a side business. His eyes light up.
All this app demoing got Nik talking about apps and different types of users – there are two clear types when it comes to approaching apps at first, and never the twain shall meet. In summary, the two types are:
- ’Instructions first > then play’ people.
- ’Play first > then instructions when you can’t play’ people.
And another piece of wisdom about being honest from the outset, “when there’s a massive ‘why’ hanging over something, acknowledge that there’s an orientation job to be done”.
Then onto “Hackney Hear”, Gold Medal winner in the Finding Your Way category, a location based historical, musical audio journey to guide users around London Fields and Broadway Market.
“Beautifully crafted audio” was his first thought, swiftly followed by “but there are tensions…”
“How do you make the significance of these stories and events meaningful to the person walking around? How do you acknowledge my small movements around, that I’ve made a different with my granular movements, what each actually means?”
And then I was left in a philosophical haze on a hot evening in London Fields as Nik sped off home on his bike…
Meaning in technology, the culture forming out of the mechanic, the ghost in the machine…
It was time for a lie down.
Nik Roope is Founder/Executive Creative Director of Poke London. Duncan Ray is the Shoreditch Town Centre Manager for the London Borough of Hackney. To meet the medallists and find out more about their apps, head to Creative Day at Hackney House next Wednesday 8th August.