TechCrunch Disrupt Finalist Hmmm Switches Gears: Now Building Hubbl, A “Gamified” App Discovery Platform

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The makers of Hmmm, the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC 2012 finalist which had a different take on social networking, is taking their company in a new direction. I guess you could even call it a pivot, but as usual, “pivot” is too vague a term here. Hmmm is not being shut down, it’s just not getting the team’s development attention while they focus on their new thing. Or rather, it’s not really a “new” thing – they’re just returning to work on what they had been building before Hmmm: an app discovery service called Hubbl, named after the famous telescope.

According to founders Archana Patchirajan and Kusha Choksi, launching at Disrupt did a lot to raise their profile and help them make connections with the tech community and investors, and it even prompted 10,000 downloads of Hmmm in the first week following the event. But the problem was that they couldn’t scale Hmmm up to the next level.

“We were struggling to find ways to market our app and make it compete with a thousand other apps out there, and the competition was growing,” explains Patchirajan. And acquisition costs for new users had grown to around $5 per user for Hmmm, adds Choksi. “We didn’t have that kind of budget,” he says. The founders had been bootstrapping with their own savings, and have around $150,000 in seed funding from friends and family – not enough to keep Hmmm growing. “The concept of Hmmm is a little bit ahead of its time,” Patchirajan admits. “The minute Facebook tries to monetize their mobile platform – that’s when people will slowly start coming out of Facebook and will look for a new network with the kind of privacy tools we built inside of Hmmm.”

So the team returned to the concept they had been working on prior to Hmmm: Hubbl, an app discovery platform which they had originally thought could serve as a marketing vehicle for Hmmm after it launched. Yes, I realize there are A LOT of these app discovery platforms out there. To name a few: AppFlow, Kinetik, Crosswalk, Discovr Apps, AppsFireXyologic, and even Apple-acquired Chomp. But Hubbl is at least approaching with a slightly different concept. It’s not just a recommendation service or search engine, it’s a game too.

Here’s how it works. Hubbl captures the opinions about an app from around the web by aggregating content from mainstream media articles, blogs and app enthusiasts. It combines these opinions with those from your friends on Facebook (if you sign up with Facebook), your friends on Hubbl and the Hubbl community at large in order to organize the apps into smart collections. These collections aren’t just general categories like “games” or “social,” but can be narrowly focused on one particular app feature, too. For example, Evernote is a Productivity and Note-taking tool, but you can tag it “LifeLogging” if that’s what you use it for.

These categories work like Twitter hashtags in the app. If you tap on “LifeLogging” in the above example, you would come across a list of apps that also fit that genre. And then you may end up tapping on one of those apps’ other hashtags to follow drill down into a different feature set, too. There’s a feeling of serendipitous, zigzagging discovery here.

In Hubbl, you can explore apps by popular tags, you can view those trending in the news, or you can view the stream of the apps your friends recommend within different sections of the platform (“Explore,” “Buzz,” “Stream”). However, the game element comes into play under “Contests.” Every day, Hubbl will have a contest where users submit or vote on the most appropriate tag for a given app. The first person to submit the winning tag gets a $15 iTunes Gift Card. The idea here is to create an incentive to classify the newly added apps – not the Evernotes and Instagrams, necessarily, but those that aren’t yet tagged.

Choksi says that the contests are needed because people get tired of curation after some point, and it’s difficult to maintain a network around app organization and friends’ recommendations when people stop participating. With contests, users are encouraged to return the app and to help Hubbl continue to classify the new additions.  The contests would also be open to sponsorship, too, allowing app publishers to take over the contest for the day and offer their own award for help in picking out the best tags for their app, as well.

It’s an interesting concept to use a gamification element to encourage repeat visits to an app discovery platform, and people certainly like to win stuff, so it could catch on. However, Hubbl isn’t quite ready yet for its big debut – that’s still a few weeks out  - so it’ s hard to review the experience based on what we can test right now. Final judgement is on hold.

For now, you can sign up here to be notified when Hubbl goes live. Stay tuned.