There is something missing on the internet, but I can’t build it myself. Usually I would try to hack something together, but one of my 2018 goals is to not start any new side projects. Instead, I decided to publish my thoughts here, perhaps someone else will like this free product idea and build it!
As a product manager, I often look at screens, user flows and websites with different lenses:
- User experience (this on boarding flow was really frictionless)
- App trends (it looks like adoption of password managers is increasing)
- Design patterns (menu / navigation bars tend to be placed at the bottom more often)
- UX copywriting (lots of improvements in CTA wording and expectation management)
When new patterns have broader adoption or when apps enjoy particular successes because of surprising design/UX decisions, I often try and talk about it with people around me. In a previous job we’d have a recurring product sync on Fridays, which I’d kick off with a round of showing interesting trends we’ve seen. It often was really inspiring to see what people brought into this meeting and how they connected that to bigger product development trends that shape the internet we use.
I believe that one of the core skills of a product manager is to be in touch with the pulse of the industry, be aware of market trends and understand why something works (or why not). That way we can learn from successes and failures we see around us, so we stand on the shoulders of giants and prevent ourselves from reinventing the wheel time and time again.
Something that is also incredibly valuable to watch is the evolution of apps or services (again, both in terms of product and design). We tend to forget that for a product or service to become as successful as they are today, often there have been hundreds or thousands of iterations based on the learnings a team made when working on their product.
I think this space deserves a product to cover something for these needs, so below I’ll try to describe this in more depth and even answer some Lean Canvas questions!
The problem: no tools to keep track of the evolution of apps
I found myself making screenshots of a user flow, or an app I thought was interesting. Instagram or Spotify are examples of apps that looked completely different a couple of years ago, but the main functionality has largely stayed the same. What did the UX center on back then? How did that look? Even using my own screenshots it’s hard to place it in the right context (time, industry trend, market, etc).
So far I haven’t come across a tool or service that would allow me to either track this or give me that context. Sites like uxarchive.com or mobile-patterns.com come very close, but I think with a different approach one could build a much richer experience that delivers value in multiple areas. I am not sure of the market need and I haven’t tested for it, but I see this as a problem space that could be really interesting to explore.
I’ve written a product brief below to try and capture what I think would be a potential approach of this problem, let me know what you think! I do not claim any ownership or rights of this idea, do with it what you want.
Global App Archive – Product description
Collect mobile app screenshots grouped by different dimensions to create an archive of the mobile app industry, to visualize and index technology, UX and design trends. A multi-platform approach should ensure it’s easy for people to contribute to the archive. With support for both animations and still screenshots, both user flows and interface design can be highlighted. When the submitted data is indexed and categorized in multiple ways, it can be presented in different dimensions to provide as much value to the user as possible. Potential dimensions could be:
- time – timeline of design changes per screen
- color – trends in UI colors, interface and/or CTA
- culture – segment design aesthetics based on culture
- industry – different aesthetics or UI patterns per industry
Feature overview per platform
I’ve thought of the minimum features that the applications should support to enable both consumption and contribution as fast as possible:
iOS or Android
1). Upload screenshot to app
- find app
- add view or find existing view
- see available screenshots for this app & upload new ones
2). Browse and explore apps
- See most recent apps
- Search for app
- See app info + activity timeline
3). View screenshot
- See history + activity (have many people contributed?)
- See color palette
- UI patterns?
- UI framework?
1). Browse and explore apps
- see most recent / popular apps
- search for app
- see app info + activity timeline
- related products
- featured in
2). Add + edit apps
- Search for an app
- If not found, add app
- If found app, add / edit info
Below I wrote down a quick Lean Canvas style overview of the idea. This could probably use some more work but it should give you a pretty good idea of the scope and potential:
There is no way to see the evolution of mobile applications. Without making a meticulous effort, you can’t see the different iterations that have been shipped. It is nearly impossible to follow design trends or UX patterns in a standardized way.
A centralized archive allowing you to browse the countless user-contributed screenshots of mobile applications or services. Mobile apps to enable industry enthusiasts to contribute to the archive by uploading screenshots and adding metadata like time, titles, tags and color information.
Several metrics could be used to monitor the adoption and success of the platform:
- # of uploaded screenshots (Month over month)
- # of web app pageviews (Month over month)
- # of Collections created
Unique Value Proposition
- Visualize design trends on mobile apps
- Stand on the shoulders of giants: learn from (UX) design iterations from every app ever built
When a certain critical mass is reached, the archive database will allow for even more interesting and valuable groupings that unlock new verticals. For example users could curate based on culture, dark UX patterns, color usage etc. There is currently no other available dataset that provides this information.
- Generate traffic via established referrals like ProductHunt, HackerNews, PR partnerships.
- With a growing archive reaching critical mass, SEO will become a crucial channel to nurture inbound traffic to the web app. App names together with details of UX flow and other context will provide high performing keyword combinations that will drive traffic.
- Contributors could become evangelists through email digests or transactional notifications based on their contributions.
- Design updates or reviews could link back to previous UX flows on the archive, establishing the platform as a single source of truth for historical product design references.
The platform could serve multiple user groups:
- UX/product designers, product managers
- UX researchers, writers
- Investors / analysts
The costs would categorize between building and operating the platform. I have not added any numbers here to avoid spending too much time on this:
- Development of apps and website
- Research, user testing
- Operational costs like hosting, services used, customer support
While I have no solid ideas about revenue at this time, I could imagine one can explore an ad-funded model. Another option could be to offer added value by sanitizing and decorating the data and creating data sets which can be used in trend reports or UX research.
This is not my idea – it’s also yours now!
By publishing my thoughts around this I practically open sourced this idea. I am curious to hear what you think. Do you think this could work? Did I miss anything crucial? Do you know anyone that would want to work on this?
Big thanks to Jakob Fricke, Rey Farhan and Janey Larcombe for proofreading this!