I will be presenting AppUpdate publically for the first time at tonights MoDevDC Meetup in Tysons Corner, Virginia. I'm working through what I would like to say. I only get 5 minutes and there will be 7 other apps being presented to an audience of 125 people. This will be my first public speaking in more than a decade.
Because of an epic motorcycle ride I took last summer, I've learned that stories can be powerful. Maybe instead of just demoing the app as some technical solution, I should use the app to tell its story ...
Back in September of last year, 2010, my business partner, Anatoly, gave me a call.
"Appupdate.com just auto-renewed.", he said.
Back in the late 90's, we had built an in-software-update feature for our Windows PC stock market product, Personal Stock Monitor. It would notify you when there was a new version available and let you install it. We called the thing AppUpdate, packaged it up and sold a few licenses. Nothing much became of it and we eventually abandoned the project but forgot to cancel the domain name.
"Mobile apps are hot right now.", Anatoly mentioned. "I think we should do something with it. Maybe we could build an app review site where users submit app reviews."
I thought about it for a moment and asked, "Hmm. How would we get users to submit reviews?".
"Well, we would have to write the reviews to start out with and eventually others would contribute", he replied.
"That sounds like work. Work for us and work for people who are posting reviews. Why would they post reviews? What's in it for them? I don't think random reviews are all that compelling.", I said.
"How do you find out about apps you install?", I asked.
"Mostly my friends suggest them and I give them a try.", he responded.
"It's the same for me. I really only install the apps you tell me to. Come to think of it, I see status updates about apps on Facebook from time to time but I have no easy way to find and install them. Wouldn't it be really cool if I could have a way on the phone where I could see status updates about apps that I could click on and install right there?", I asked.
"You need to be able to share apps as well.", Anatoly replied. "If we could make it really easy for users to share apps along with a status updates out to their friends on Facebook we might just be onto something."
"But a simple list of updates and apps posted by my friends isn't enough. The newsfeed at Facebook isn't a good way to organize information. I'm going to want to be able to search. Once we have the feed of updates, I'm going to want to know the answer to an important question.", I said.
"I'm going to want to know 'What are the hottest apps being shared by my friends on Facebook right now?' in order of popularity amongst my friends. Not only that but I'm going to want to be able to tag apps so I can find them more easily later.", I said. "That way I could ask all kinds of interesting questions like 'what's the hottest apps tagged with #game and #stragegy shared by my friends last week?'".
"Now that's interesting.", Anatoly replied.
"You know, what we're talking about here is creating a kind of searchable social index over our friends preferences. If we were to do it this way then comment spam and astroturfing becomes much harder. If some friend spams your feed, you can just block them.", I suggested.
"To make it complete we'll need to have a companion website and also a Facebook app so I can interact with the social app index where ever I happen to be.", I said making much more work for myself.
So it was decided in late September that we would try to build this beast. In February, we started alpha testing. Interestingly, our very first alpha tester, my friend Duncan, in the very first moments using AppUpdate on his Droid browsed the list of apps I had shared and noticed the Marine Weather app I use when boating on the Chesapeake.
"I've been looking for something exactly like that!", he said while installing it on his phone directly from AppUpdate.
At that moment it hit me. While we were trying to build a better way for users to find the apps they'll like, we had unintentionally created a new way to distribute niche apps that allows them to get exposure even if they are not in the top 100 most downloaded.
For developers, AppUpdate represents a new social distribution channel. I know for a fact that AppUpdate has generated some app sales that would not have happened without it.
In the last couple of months we've gotten a number of Alpha testers on board and they have caused us to take in directions we had not originally considered. One common question is, "I have all these apps installed but I don't know what they do". We added the ability to launch apps. I find I use a wider range of apps on my phone as comments about them are posted.
AppUpdate is now in alpha testing. We should be going into beta in a couple of weeks.
If you would like to participate in the Alpha test please contact me and I'll send you instructions.