Building A Timely, Event-Focused Mobile App

November 8, 2010

5:31 pm

Last month, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced the Restore Sanity rally in Washington, DC. According to CBS News, an estimated 215,000 people attended the rally organized by the Comedy Central talk show hosts. But between the time of the announcement and the day of the rally, DC-area Chris Lawson, founder of new media strategy company Big Mess Media partnered with Paul Murphy of 3ADVANCE and decided to quickly build out and an iPhone app called Stewart v Colbert: Vote Fear or Sanity. The app received hundreds of downloads per day and was characterized by Lawson as “…an homage to the viral power of entertainment and a clever way to reach out and expand audiences”. We were fascinated by this project, the team’s motivation and the learnings they gathered along the way. Big Mess Media founder Chris Lawson took some time out to chat with us about the project.

Tech Cocktail (TC): Chris – this was a fascinating project, but clearly a high-profile event and big undertaking. What made you take it on?

Chris Lawson (CL): Paul from 3ADVANCE.COM and I have been talking about the importance of timeliness in digital products for some time. He was already developing an application with similar features, and we saw a fit to adapt it to the Stewart/Colbert format – since we live in DC and love the comedians. Frankly, we were chatting over a beer and said “You know what would be cool?”. After we decided to launch the iPhone app, we started following the online groundswell about the rallies in an effort to get the word out about this fun (if not flippant) app. That’s when we saw a serious need for people to communicate about, and plan their own, ‘virtual’ or ‘satellite’ rallies. The site gave us a way to fill a need and reach the audience we were looking for. After both started taking off, Paul put the finishing touches on the second iPhone app – You’re Up! at the Rally. This app let people all around the world check-in with a real time photo of their involvement on rally day.

TC:  How did it go? My understanding is that there were some big lessons learned. Can you share them with us?

CL: It went great. We had over 60 rallies listed on from all over the world. People are still using the site to post their thoughts. The apps have both been downloaded a ton, with 20,000 votes (BTW- Sanity won in a landslide over Fear), and hundreds of rally day pictures submitted. We did learn two important things:

  1. Apple is still the boss – so pushing apps up in a timely fashion can be difficult.
  2. Large events (like a rally) mean a lot of people with mobile phones. A lot of phones mean bogged cell service. The two apps performance suffered right along with the ability to send a text or make a call on rally day in DC. For big events, the sponsors will need to work with us to set up hotspots specific to photo uploading and voting.

TC:  So you’ve done all this work now, but the event is over. Have you figured out a way to leverage what you’ve already built?

CL: We think the site will continue to be a community for like minded people to chat and connect for a while, but it will not last forever. The two apps have a long future. You’re Up! will be used at upcoming events, rallies, concerts, festivals, etc., by businesses looking to have their patrons photo-network (see Ben’s Chili Bowl), as well as by individuals looking to share their location specific photos (I’m at the mall!). The Stewart v Colbert/ Sanity v Fear app will continue to be fun, and will be adapted in the coming days to Stewart v Colbert: President 2014. We know neither will really run for president, but we think a lot of people would like to satirically vote for them instead of what the real world has to offer.

TC:  Any other tips for people who are thinking about creating apps?

CL: Do it, or hire us to do it for you. Mobile apps are a big time player, and are not a fad. There are more and more useful apps everyday, and businesses can not afford to let someone else fill the void and take market share. Plus, planning them during happy hour is fun.

Thanks, Chris!

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Jen Consalvo is the Cofounder and COO of Tech.Co. She previously worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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