A Brief Story Behind URI Confessions.
Sometime in late 2012 I heard of a Facebook Page named Brown Confessions (later renamed Brown University Confessions) where followers of the page would submit their confessions through a third party tool like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, the admin would then later retrieve these confessions and post them on Facebook for people to read. In the page’s about section it stated that the idea actually came from another university in Canada that supposedly started the trend. The idea spread like wildfire and every university I knew of had created their own version of it, and this is when I stumbled upon URI Confessions. URI Confessions retained the same idea and method of usage, though it was intended for the students of the University of Rhode Island where I happen to be a computer science undergraduate.
I quickly found out that many of my friends and my friends’ friends were on the URI Confessions Facebook Page, so I decided to take a look and see what the hype was all about. I start reading and enjoying the crazy and funny anecdotes written by people who lived couple dorms down from me. It wasn’t long until I started to analyze the concept and the platform this was running on. Not surprisingly I told myself that this was not a bad concept but a faulty one and I could definetely improve on it, or at least make a better platform of it. The flaws were clear and palpable:
- First of, the user experience wasn’t the “best” starting with the fact that it ran either on Facebook or Twitter. Platforms that weren’t designed with anonymity in mind.
- There was an immense delay in the submission and delivery of the confession, since the users had to go to a link that would redirect them to a Survey Monkey form where they would write their confessions. This confession would then later be retrieved by another person, the admin, at an arbitrary time. The problem here lies in the “arbitrary time”. For people who have already been heavily accustomed to instantaneous feedback this was just very strange.
- The author had no way of knowing when the confession would be posted, forcing him/her to check multiple times hoping the confession would be there soon. Inherently, the author could neither know who interacted with his/her confession once it was posted nor could the author be notified of it.
- The confessions were subject to possible unfounded admin curation, and they certainly were.
- There was no way to validate the inputted content, mainly because it was just an open Facebook Page available to anyone. It was intended for URI students but it was impossible to make it exclusive for them. In the end the attractiveness of the idea relied on being able to consume legitimate content from people that shared similar experiences within a similar environment (in this case the school we all go to).
- The list is long but I’m sure you already get the idea.
So I made the URI Confessions iOS App. A new social networking platform dedicated exclusively to the students of the University of Rhode Island. It was my best response to the previously flawed method of sharing anonymous content. Not only did the new app implement everything the half-assed pages lacked but it also incorporated new ideas crowdsourced by its users (URI students).
I first launched it in August of 2013 and it was received fairly well. Until this date, almost a year later, the app is up and running. Unlike other social networks looking to monetize, I did sacrifice any chance of profitability to bring a product that met 3 very important criteria:
- The app must be non-intrusive (no ads).
- The app must be exclusive to URI students (no organic growth of potential non-URI user-base).
- The app must be free of charge ($0.00).
However, the last criteria was sort of conflicting. For the first 10 months I offered the app for free and took full responsibility for all the finances but to keep up with all the costs (server, licenses, certificates, energy drinks, etc) I needed to start raising some funds while respecting criteria #1, so I priced the app at the “exorbitant” amount of $1.99. However, putting a price on the app similar to that of a pack of gum will not bring profitability, but it will at least lessen the costs of keeping URI Confessions up and running, everyday, forever; or until I find a different monetization model for it. Unfortunately, putting a price on the app has resulted in many broken hearts but remember “It’s not you, it’s me </3”. In the end we are getting drilled with $25,000/year for a wobbly college education so $0.99 can’t be that bad. (UPDATE: It’s now free, forever.)
P.S. I could’ve made a website but rather I took the mobile-first route because at the time it interested me to develop software for mobile and because of the obvious social phenomena (attributed to mobile addiction) my generation is currently going through, which by the way makes it pretty easy to distribute and get people to download the app. There isn’t an Android version yet, but depending on how my discretionary time looks in the next few month there might be surprising news, though you shouldn’t bet on it.