October 11, 2014

Dumb Apps

A few days ago, Ethan blew up on the internet. Ethan is both a person and an app. Its creator, Ethan, first introduced his app on Product Hunt:

Hi I am Ethan, who made Ethan, a messaging app for messaging Ethan. Ask me anything I’m here. To chat privately, find me on Ethan.

I read his description and smiled. Within a few hours it broke 100 upvotes and Business Insider’s Steven Tweedie, wrote a piece:

This morning, I emailed Ethan and asked how many people were messaging him. Thumb-strained Ethan replied with:

I’m literally trying to respond to as many people as possible (I want to learn the pattern and also don’t miss out on any potentially interesting type of questions)[…] I get a lot of messages like “You probably won’t answer me because there’s so many people messaging you”.

[I]’ve been basically texting non-stop for the last 48 hours with 3 hours sleep each day, and each message takes around a second to 10 to respond, so I guess we can calculate based on that.

Initially I was using the app to respond to people but at some point I had to turn it off and set up a ghetto webpage to handle responses because my thumb typing wasn’t fast enough.

Dumb Apps

As expected, Ethan has its haters.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but it irks me when people put others down for exploring new ideas.

“Dumb Apps” Are a Good Thing

Shortly after Tweedie’s coverage of Ethan, Alyson from BI kicked off a discussion on Twitter:

Why is there a trend of people creating the dumbest apps they can think of, and others loving it?

— Alyson Shontell (@ajs)

As Tyler pointed out, “toys” have always existed and thankfully technology has empowered more people to translate their ideas into living prototypes more easily than before. Most won’t change the world but sometimes early prototypes turn into something much bigger.

“Why do I need to know what my friends are eating for breakfast?” (read: Twitter)

“What’s the point of ephemeral photos?” (read: Snapchat)

“Who in their right mind would let strangers sleep in their home?” (read: Airbnb)

The Butterfly Effect of Experimentation

Not every app idea should be pursued or turned into a company (here are a few questions to ask yourself, first) but we should encourage “dumb” ideas and experimentation, if nothing else but to inspire new ideas. Hunter Walk best describes this in his defense of the much-criticized Yo:

Once basic technology challenges are commoditized, it frees creative people up to more quickly explore human behaviors and reactions. Again, I believe this is a Good Thing. More experimentation, even those which are fads or failures, help spur ideas in other teams. Maybe there’s a piece of Yo which catalyzes a feature in the next version of WhatsApp or Yammer?

So, rock on Ethan. I look forward to seeing what happens and take care of your thumbs. :)

P.S. Steven Sinofsky on “silly ideas”

P.P.S. Which successful apps can you think of that were once described as dumb? Share in the comments or drop me a note on Twitter (@rrhoover).

P.P.P.S. This.

More Writing by Ryan