in apps, Libraries/Info Sci, Mobile, Ramblings, Tech

Why I’m not sold on Bloapp

Sometimes I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

There’s been a lot of excitement on librarian blogs and twitter accounts today about Bloapp. The service converts your blog into an app… sort of. Now excuse me while I put on my cranky old man hat:

I understand that apps are cool, and mobile websites don’t grab the public eye as much. But there’s one question I always try to ask myself when looking at a new technology service or product: What purpose does it serve? In the case of Bloapp, I’m not sure there’s a payoff beyond getting to say “I have an app!”. And even that statement turns out to be not entirely true.

What does a blog as app accomplish that a blog as mobile-formatted website doesn’t? Apps only make sense when they provide something above and beyond what a webapp can do. Do you need to use a device’s camera or accelerometer? Do you need offline access? Then an app is your thing. A blog doesn’t benefit from any of those doodads.

If Bloapp gave you an actual installable app distributed via Apple’s app store, that real estate grab alone might be worthwhile. But it doesn’t. Instead, users must first install the Bloapp app. They then scan your blog’s QR barcode, which adds your blog to their list of blogs that they follow inside the Bloapp app. That sounds an awful lot like the process of subscribing to a blog in an RSS reader to me, or even just saving a bookmark to an app.

I’m all for playing with new products and services to see what works. I just don’t think Bloapp is one that makes sense. Apps are shiny! But libraries shouldn’t jump into them without a real use case in mind. We don’t want to turn our users off of the concept too early.

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  1. Nice writeup. A library would be much better served by having a blog on a platform that can easily display the content in a mobile-friendly way. If Bloapp really takes off, I can see us wanting to be there though.

  2. I echo your concerns to some extent, and it is by no means perfect. However I’m very aware that many users are totally unfamiliar with RSS and maybe Bloapp (or apps like it) are one way people will want to subscribe to the library’s blog. I’m willing to accept that this may not take off, but for only 30 minutes tinkering I reckon it’s worth a shot personally.

  3. Hey Chad, I can understand your skepticism, and I completely agree that pushing things too early can put patrons off. It distresses me when the tail wags the dog and libraries plunge into a new technology without having a good use for it.

    For me, the point of doing this is that it chimes with the way I read on my phone. How often do you type a URL into your phone? I basically never do – I’ll follow links from twitter or I’ll read on apps. I have never visited the Guardian’s website (although it is mobile enabled) because the app is easier, more convenient, quicker and better. Same with the BBC. Same with the New York Rangers and Liverpool FC blogs I have the apps for. I agree that the process of subscribing via QR code isn’t any quicker than subscribing via RSS on a PC, but thereafter it’s a lot quicker to get to the blogs.

    I subscribe to this (your) blog, as it happens, via Google Reader. If I’m waiting at a station for a train, I’ll often get my phone out and go through Reader, catching up. It’s not that nice to use, and embedded content often doesn’t get through to Google Reader. So if your blog was available as an App via Bloapp, I’d genuinely prefer reading it that way. I could, as you say, save it to my iPhone’s homepage anyway – but I subscribe to over 100 library blogs, I can’t clutter up my iphone with individual apps for all of them. Next time I’m at a station, I’ll be loading up the Bloapp app and browsing my subscriptions that way first (for all those blogs who adopt this) – it’s more usable.

    All that said, this certainly shouldn’t be a replacement for decent mobile-enabled sites, by any means.

  4. Jo, True! For 30 minutes tinkering it can’t hurt. Just as long as another 30 minutes goes toward setting up a mobile web wordpress plugin for the blog too 🙂

  5. Ned you make some good points about ease of use, and I agree that anything that lowers the barrier to entry is a move in the right direction. I suppose I’m one of the weird ones who keeps a pretty extensive list of website bookmarks on my phone though 🙂 Google Reader is definitely still my primary way of keeping up with blogs and such too, but I admit sometimes a well-constructed mobile website or app can be a superior reading experience. I actually use the mobile website of Reader too, instead of it’s app, so I think I really am weird…

    Does Bloapp support marking things as read to keep track of what you’ve seen and what you haven’t? Does it alert you when there’s new posts to read? I can’t actually test it myself, since my phone is of the Android persuasion.

    I’ve got nothing against using Bloapp, but want to make sure that nobody thinks of it as a one-stop complete mobile strategy. I’d hate to see a library promoting it as “install our app!” instead of something that sets more realistic expectations like “read our blog on bloapp!”

  6. Fellow ‘doodad-er’ (!). I’m not overwhelmingly convinced myself at the moment (as I indicated on my blog). I kinda see Ned’s point about the way he uses apps and this makes things more convenient (although I find the BBC app and the basic Guardian app pretty average overall – the BBC one especially is ok for browsing the main stories but not good enough for a serious news junkie!). Certainly there appears to be some limited advantages but not enough to convince me that I would go with it. That said, I am all for experimentation so I’ll be keeping an eye on how it develops. These things need to be tried out!

  7. Ha, I just use the mobile version of Reader too!

    No Bloapp doesn’t do any of that stuff – it doesn’t try to replicate the functionality of an RSS feed-reader at all, really. You just open the app and see if there are new posts to be read.

    Even though there’s a huge move towards mobile consumption of online stuff, I still keep up with blogs primarily by sitting in front of my PC. I see this app as a bonus thing, a convenient thing for when I’m on the move – rather than any kind of replacement for Google Reader.

    And I agree completely that this should not lead to blogs being marketed as ‘library apps!’ – it’s important to deliver the correct message, that this is just another way for iPhone users to digest library blog content. I like Jo’s point about people not understanding or having heard of RSS though; I forget about that…

  8. Hi guys,

    Chad, thanks for the coverage of Bloapp! Others, thanks for your valuable feedback. We are still in beta and improving the service tremendously as we move along. We are expecting to launch Android version of Bloapp soon in few weeks time. Everything will stay the same, at the end of the process you will have two apps; iPhone and Android.

    As for having your own app, we might consider moving into that direction in the future. Currently we are trying to complete all the basic features of the blog (pull comments, support, detect new posts etc).

    If you have time, please feel free to take our short survey It would help us a lot in improving the service further.

    Regards, Ades


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