Thursday, November 4, 2010

To App or Not to App

A few weeks ago, I posted the following to Uncharted’s blog:
From what I hear, smartphones are all the rage. They’re the latest thing. They’re – I think the word is – keen.

I’ll tie an onion to my belt and take your word for it. And John Milligan’s. He successfully used his Android smartphone to take a photo and upload it to his personal profile at

Big deal, you say. Folks have been doing similar things since the time we called nickels bees and could say nonsensical things like “Gimme five bees for a quarter.”

But this is significant.

We want our Explorers to use our website through a mobile world. Why be tethered to a desk to make an update to your profile, upload a photo, or even a story, if you’re good at touchscreen or itty-bitty keyboard typing? We expect our Explorers are mobile now, and will only get more mobile as the future unfolds.

John’s shown us it can be done. Huzzah for him, I say. He makes me want to replace our circa 2001 T-Mobile cameraless cell phone with that nifty little bowling game on it for something newer. Tell me, do they make a smartphone with dials now? I like to make sparks when I place a call . . .
Maybe that last sentiment is more true than I thought.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (and I’m really beginning to enjoy Pew’s I&ALP for the treasure-trove of information that it is) revealed today that even though social media sites like Foursquare are all the rage among the brainy types, nobody’s really checking in through social media mobile apps.

I have to wonder about that. I check in using Facebook, Twitter, and Good Reads apps, but then again, maybe I am one of the mediocre 4 percent of adults age 30 to 49 who do so.

And it’s not exactly a game for the young, either, for only 8 percent of those ages 18-38 – Uncharted’s principal audience – checks in using apps.

Here’s what the study says:
In its first report on the use of “geosocial” or location-based services, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project finds that 4% of online adults use a service such as Foursquare or Gowalla that allows them to share their location with friends and to find others who are nearby. On any given day, 1% of internet users are using these services.

This is the second survey of the Pew Internet Project to ask about such “geosocial” or location-based services. The current number shows little change from the first time this question was asked, in a May 2010 survey, when 5% of adult internet users said they had used such a site.
Uncharted isn't exactly location-based, but we do use the buzzword "geosocial" in our talk, so it's probably wise to heed the results of the study, or at least take them into consideration as we figure out what to do as we allocate our scarce resources.

Does this mean outfits like Uncharted shouldn’t make smartphone apps? No. But it does mean that as we want to build audiences, we need to look at our users’ behavior and find out if they’re among the few who are eager to use location-based apps, or if they’re content to access our site via other means. If they’re app-hungry, then we direct our resources in that direction. If not, then we take a step back from app-land to see instead what we can do to make our website more user-friendly.

This is especially pertinent for us as even though we do have a programmer on board now, we do not have an app developer. We’d either have to find someone willing to build an app for us for free, or pay for the privilege. As it is now, we may be better served by having our in-house programmer work on making the website better.

So once again we need to go to our users to find out what they’d like before we decide what they’d like before asking them.

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