Apps don’t have to be for everyone. Development tools, reduced costs, and the trend of nailing a single use case are spawning a generation of homespun applications. The latest is Dolo. Useful for finding friends in San Francisco’s crowded Dolores Park, useless for everyone else. Bespoke apps designed exclusively for little groups of friends, neighborhoods or inside jokes could be the next big thing.
Dolo was stitched together by former Facebook (stickers) designer Sophie Xie, Facebook mobile engineer Jason Prado, and Foursquare engineer Ryan Williams in their spare time. They found it annoying trying to locate friends in the hipster haven of Dolores Park.
Often referred to as the funemployment capital of the world, the sunny park fills to the brim on weekends. Cell reception can be shoddy, and people are terrible at explaining their location. “I’m, like, equal to the bathrooms, on the left,” or “Dude, I’m right near the sidewalk.” And sometimes you’d be just down the street and not know your friends are all enjoying a beer in the grass.
For the privileged techsters like me who are ruining San Francisco, this is actually a problem. Sure you could try to take a screenshot of your GPS dot, or check-in to the official mini “neighborhoods” of Dolores on Foursquare, but the park deserved something that captured its unique character.
So Xie, Prado, and Williams built Dolo, a free iOS app. It offers an adorable, animated cartoon map of the park where you can drop a location pin with your face on it. You log in with Facebook account and can see where you friends are in the park. You can also set it to send you push notifications when friends are there so you don’t miss the party. The map is even responsive to the time of day so you can watch the sun set. Hopefully future updates will bring the ability to syndicate checkins to Facebook and Twitter.
You can call it silly, a sign of a bubble, or the downfall of SF. Maybe it’s all of those, but it’s also cute, simple, and gets the job done for the tiny fraction of the world who might want it.
Xie tells me “We made the app mostly to encourage our own friends to meet up and make the most of the beautiful summer coming up in San Francisco. Dolores Park has spawned lots of amazing memories for the three of us, and Dolo.app is sort of an expression of our love. We thought writing an app is as good a love letter as anything else, regardless of the size of its intended audience. DIY apps can let us extend our interpersonal worlds, change the ways we behave in our free time, and let us have connections to our peers that were previously impossible.”
There’s An App For That, And That Only
Some cringe at the word “bespoke,” especially after Path founder Dave Morin used it to describe the special Operator app he had built to help him and his assistant communicate. But it’s an apt app adjective for custom-tailored mobile experiences — ones not made to scale to the entire world, but instead delight a defined audience.
Xie agrees that bespoke apps like Dolo will proliferate, telling me “I think lowered software barriers mean more opportunities for people to build software that answers to their specialized needs. Apps give us new ways of interacting and increasingly people will want to shape technology to fit the new ways they want to connect.”
Another example is Intros.io. Baldwin Cunningham, CEO of Y Combinator startup Partnered, found he was constantly being asked to make introductions between friends, colleagues, and the brands his startup works with. So he had Partnered’s developer Addison Hardy build him a bespoke app to streamline the introduction process. Cunningham says he uses it every day, and enough friends wanted it that they put Intros.io in the app store.
Nowadays you don’t need to work at a big company, hire premier tech talent, or even know how to code to make your own app. Startups like Propeller, Appery, and Conduit are all building front-end app-building tools, some that let you drag-and-drop in entire mechanics like photo filtering. Meanwhile, backend-as-a-service providers like Facebook’s new acquisition Parse will handle all your hosting and data storage.
All you need is the idea. Make an app for mom and dad to keep track of you instead of sending them a birthday card. Make one for your kids that accompanies that treehouse you built them. Or make one just for yourself. What matters is that you’re making. It’s an art many thought lost to the age of ones and zeros. For a while, many of us didn’t have a way to get our hands dirty in the digital world. But the era of bespoke apps is here. Now you can build something more interesting than a spice rack.
The Dolo team (from left): Sophie Xie, Jason Prado, Ryan Williams. Disclosure: I’ve hung out with them in Dolores Park.