Monday , July 6 2020

An app can be a home-cooked meal, Hacker News

Have you heard about this new app called BoopSnoop?

It launched in the first week of 2020, and almost immediately , it was downloaded by four people in three different time zones. In the months since, it has remained steady at four daily active users, with zero churn: a resounding success, exceeding every one of its creator’s expectations.

🙂

I made a messaging app for, and with, my family. It is ruthlessly simple; we love it; no one else will ever use it. I wanted to jot down some notes about how and why I made it, both to (a) offer a nudge to anyone else out there considering a similar project and (b) suggest something a little larger about software.

Sifting through the ruins

My story begins with another app, now defunct, called Tapstack.

Its interface couldn’t have been simpler: opening it, you saw a live feed from your phone’s camera. Below, a grid of faces, some of them representing individuals, others representing groups. My grid had four cells: my mom, my dad, my sister, and a group representing all three. Just like Snapchat or Instagram, you tapped to capture a photo, pressed to record a video. As soon as you lifted your finger, your message zipped away, with no editing, no reviewing. A “stack” of messages awaited you in the corner, and, after you reviewed them, they were discarded.

It was all so simple that it was barely there. Tapstack more closely approximated a clear pane of glass than any app I’ve ever used.

For years, Tapstack was the main channel for my family’s communication. The app didn’t lend itself to practical information-sharing or logistical coordination. Its specialty was ambient presence. I met one of Tapstack’s designers once, and they told me it seemed to be most popular with far-flung families: a diaspora app. Because there was no threading and no history, messages there didn’t carry the burden of an expected reply. Really, they were always just a carrier wave for another sentiment, and that sentiment was always the same: I’m thinking of you.

A selfie with coffee, a picture of an ice-covered pond, a video of my nephews being goofballs: I’m thinking of you, I’m thinking of you, I’m thinking of you.

It never seemed to me that Tapstack attracted a huge number of users. I don’t know if the company ever made a cent. There was no advertising in the app, and they never asked their users to pay.

Why didn’t they ask us to pay?

Over the course of 2019, I felt a rising dread as the months ticked by and the app did not receive a single update. (That’s a new st-century feeling.) Sure enough, in the fall, Tapstack announced that it was shutting down. It offered its users a way to export their data. It went gracefully.

It was, I have to say, a really great app.

How to snoop a boop

My family all agreed we were going to need a replacement, and while my first instinct was to set up a group on Instagram or WhatsApp, the prospect of having our warm channel surrounded — encroached upon — by all that other garbage made me feel even sadder than the prospect of losing Tapstack.

So, instead of settling for a corporate messaging app…

I built one just for us.

I’ll show you the screen capture again, but the point is that there’s not much to show. The app is a “magic window” that captures photos and videos and shuttles them around. Messages wait in a queue; once viewed — always full-bleed, edge to edge with no distractions, no prods to comment or share — they disappear. That is literally it. The app has basically no interface. There’s a camera button and a badge in the corner, mild green, that indicates how many messages are waiting.

Here are a few mildly technical observations. Feel free to skip ahead if this part doesn’t interest you:

Really, the main thing to do here is sign up for my email newsletter. I try to make it feel like a note from a friend, and it’s very easy to unsubscribe. Plus, there are sometimes…

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