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Take a walk through the mobile app graveyard and gaze upon the ghosts of apps long deceased
Halloween is upon us, so it's time to take a bone-chilling tour through the spookiest venue we can imagine: the graveyard of mobile apps.
Feel your spine tingle as you gaze upon the specters of social media apps that died too soon! Sense your blood curdle as you hear the disembodied moans of developers who misjudged their market! Prepare for your hair to stand on end as you realize that the calls are coming from INSIDE THE NOW DEFUNCT MESSAGING APP!
Do you have the courage to enter our ghostly app store? Can your sanity withstand the sight of so many apps cut down before their prime? Come with us, if you dare, on our tour of the MOBILE APP GRAVEYARD. MUAHAHAHAHAHA!
Topping our list is Yik Yak a texting app that allowed users to anonymously converse with any other user within a 5 mile radius.
Founders Tyller Droll, Brooks Buffington and Will Jamieson created the app in 2013 to help users expand their social circles and perhaps also help shy community members finally take the first step to speaking with their crush.
The app was particularly popular amongst teenagers and young adults. Across schools and campuses users were sending each other "Yaks" to discuss the latest boy band releases, little red wagon prices or whatever other mindless drivel entertains teenagers these days.
Certain Yak posts could also be viewed by multiple community members who could like the post and add to its "Yakarama" score. Posts with a high "Yakarama" score were more visible to community members.
But it might surprise you to know that not all teenagers play nice, and as a result the veil of anonymity was greatly abused and leveraged to accommodate for some very sinister activities.
Why Yik Yak died an untimely death
Cyberbullies flocked to the app. They abused users and even threatened schools with bombings. This led to many activists demanding that the app be immediately shut down.
The founders attempted to mitigate this issue by downgrading the level of anonymity of its users. With a new app update users were encouraged to identify themselves via their profiles.
This solution wasn't successful because it was only an optional feature, which was expected really. If it was mandatory, it would be contradictory the brand's core identity: an anonymous messaging app.
Researchers also discovered that bullies could potentially identify their victims if they shared the same WiFi network.
All of this, coupled with relentless bad press, led to the inevitable demise of Yik Yak. R.I.P.
What we can learn from Yik Yak's failure
There are several important lessons we can learn from grisly death of Yik Yak.
Soberly consider your brand identity
First of all, if you're going to associate your brand with any particular animal, don't set yourself up for failure by choosing one that constantly smells of urine.
Know your audience
With proper market research the Yik Yak developers would have understood their audience and expected high likleyhood of sweaty teenegars resorting to such childish behavior.
With this intelligence, the app could have been developed with a different branding leverage other than anonymity.
If something can go wrong it will go wrong
Following on from the above point, you should always expect your users to abuse any loophole your mobile app might present. By implementing a lean development methodology you can quickly identify such loopholes and pivot your development efforts accordingly.
There are a lot of potential risks that could be identified with this venture by simply reading about it. If the founders appealed to multiple third party opinions (from adults preferably) perhaps their resulting low "Yakarama" score would have prevented them from even launching the app.
Vine was a video platform specialising in short loopable videos. The app drew the attention of social media giant Twitter, who identified the platform as a video alternative to its short form text platform.
While this is a success story for its original developers, the app itself did not last.
But what went wrong?
Why the Vine app met its demise
Vine failed to measure up to its competitors. Their app store rank dropped considerably after the acquisition, and when Instagram was launched a year later in 2013, users were abandoning the platform faster than a balloon in a needle festival. This led to app homicide, committed by Twitter itself.
But the app had incredible potential, they were one of the first viral video creation platforms and Twitter could have successfully integrated this video feature into their Tweets which may have prevented their current abysmal user retention rate.
What we can learn from Vine's foul murder
Invest in research and development
The problem with an app transitioning from a small startup to a large organization is that it often creates a chasm between the users and decision makers.
Twitter did not further develop the vine app to accommodate the evolving needs of its users. After the acquisition, the majority of Vine content was centred around hip hop music and culture.
Failure to support the requirements of this user base resulted in them abandoning the platform.
You'll never know what users want better than they do, so invest in research to learn about how your app can be further developed to cater to their needs.
One of the obvious methods of monetization is advertising, but Twitter never developed a means to do this at scale. Vine's back-end analytics dashboard for advertisers was also incredibly abysmal. Advertisers preferred the more sophisticated dashboards that Facebook and YouTube offered.
Perhaps if Twitter capitalized on the hip hop trend that was dominating the Vine app they could have successfully monetized the platform via strategic partnerships in the music industry
Have a clear business plan
If the threat of emerging video platforms wasn't enough, Twitter decided to create its own competitor to the Vine platform from within the company by launching its own video service.
This reeks of a company that lacks focus. Why spend $30 million dollars acquiring an app if you're just going to build your own in the end?
By faithfully adhering to your clear business plan you can avoid such embarrassing (and costly) errors. And save your app from the clutches of a murderous giant.
It's one thing for a mobile app to fail due to mismanagement, but it's quite another for it to fail due to an embarrassing identity crisis.
What exactly was Google Plus?
Why Google Plus gave up the ghost
Google didn't really know how to classify the platform. Most users incorrectly identified Google Plus as a social network, but it was in fact developed primarily as an identity service.
Because Google Plus wasn't categorized as a social media network, it didn't operate like one. As a result, users didn't have a very pleasant experience on the platform.
For example, the communication model between users was unidirectional. If you followed someone without them following you back, you would see their posted content but they wouldn't see yours.
This was counterintuitive to Google's vision of further developing this platform into a close knit network between family members and friends.
Another counterintuitive move by Google Plus was its ranking algorithm. Google Plus ranked content based on what it deemed "important" or "interesting," so there was never a guarantee that you would see any of the messages that your close friends of family posted.
What we can learn from the Google Plus failure
Have a clear identity
Have a clearly defined brand identity and develop your app accordingly.
The greatest form of marketing for any app is word of mouth. If your users cannot clearly identity what your app is and what it does, you cannot expect them to share it with others.
Capitalize on User Experience
This is difficult to achieve if you have a weak brand identity. If you have a solid brand identity you can successfully identify your market and develop a mobile application users will actually enjoy (and share with others).
If Google identified Google Plus as a social network, they would have developed the app to accommodate the social networking requirements of its users.
Hailo was a mobile cab hailing app that launched in 2013. Instead of flailing your arms wildly, users could summon yellow taxis in a more dignified manner, straight from the app.
Hailo was predicted to be a success, which led to $100 million in funding.
With so much funding, what could possibly go wrong?
Why the Hailo app crashed and burned
The Hailo app primarily failed due to ineffective market research. The founders incorrectly assumed that the app would seamlessly work in New York City as it did in its original hometown of London. But what they learned (the hard way) was that the streets and the taxi drivers of both cities were completely different.
Taxi drivers in London have much stricter driver requirements. All of their drivers own smartphones and are expected to have a certain level of city knowledge.
NYC taxi drivers were not equipped with the same level of training. In fact, many of them weren't even equipped with smartphones.
Hailo was also crushed under the weight of its competitors. The infamous Uber raised to the taxi ranks and undercut Hailo's pricing when they released their Uber-X option.
Before diving head first into any audacious campaigns, take the time to study your market and be as diverse as possible. Never assume that any one set of research data is directly transferable to another.
Expect competitors and expect them to be huge
Hailo launched with little to no competition, so they weren't operating on the offensive. If your competitor research doesn't reveal any significant threats, it doesn't mean that there aren't any.
Your competitors could be laying dormant, even monitoring your success, and waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
Rdio was the first music streaming app. Launching in 2010, the app featured 5 million songs and allowed users to track the music their friends were listening to.
The app was created by Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom.
Why the Rdio app took a dirt nap
The founders loved the Rdio app to death. Instead of focussing on user acquisition, there was an obsession to develop the perfect music streaming app.
Because marketing was underappreciated, Rdio did not have a dedicated marketing team (or marketing strategy) so they couldn't work towards an expected user base.
For a music streaming app this is a recipe for failure, because a large user base is the key to making a profit beyond the extreme record label charges.
What we can learn from the Rdio app failure
Balance your app development efforts
It's important to find a balance between research and development and scaling. If you focus too much on app development and too little time scaling your user base you'll end up in the same crypt as Rdio.
Alternatively if you scale prematurely you run the risk of burning out and destroying your startup.
Have a solid market plan
It's important for tech startups to understand when and how to expand their operations into other departments that can support their growth.
If Rdio strategically timed the establishment of a marketing team, it could have saved them and resulted in Rdio being the current music streaming app of choice instead of Spotify.
A lot of effort is involved in the creation of a mobile app, and it's unfortunate to hear about some brilliant app ideas being visited by the Grim Reaper due to poor management. Listen to their stories. Heed their ghostly calls. Let their deaths serve as a cautionary tale and perhaps you and your app can whistle past the graveyard.