White label app development

Someone sent me a link to the Royal Opera House’s app the other day (http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/royal-opera-house/id449056230?mt=8), interesting – does all the things an app should do i.e. presents content, listings, allows you to buy tickets (to a degree).

I then did a bit of research into the app developer, CloudTix, it would seem they have developed very similar (the same) app for a number of arts organisations. Further research confirmed my hunch that this is a white-label product, specifically for organisations using the Tessitura ticketing system – details here http://cloudtix.com/.

This chimed with a thought I had the other day (quite possibly whilst at the AMA Conference). Why can’t this approach by picked up more widely? Ultimately the requirements for many arts organisations are, when it comes to an app, whilst not identical, very similar in function at least e.g. sell a ticket, display event listings, deliver content, allow user to share/engage. When it comes to the slightly more complex issue of selling a ticket there are only a certain number of ticketing systems that are widely used – develop something that does the basics well, can connect with the ‘main’ ticketing systems and is developed for platforms other than just bloody Apple devices (Android’s market share is almost 39% at the last check compared to 18% for the iPhone).

Surely a project like this, funded by the Arts Council, would remove a lot of the fear-factor for arts organisations when it comes to developments such as this. Apps are expensive, they are easy to get wrong and to do them properly you need to develop for multiple platforms (i would say at least Android and iOS). A properly, carefully developed white-label solution could be relatively easily rolled out throughout the sector and allow organisations to properly consider, or at least start to consider, the explosion in the mobile web. Even better – make it a true open source project, properly engage with the digital community and get something that starts by doing the basics well and gets better and better without turning into a black hole for funding.

I still don’t believe that apps are the be all and end all, it’s just as (probably more) important to consider how your digital offering (i.e. website) is delivered to mobile devices. There needs to be a recognition that you cannot just deliver the same site to a desktop size screen as you do to a smartphone, the same content – sure – but not the same design and probably not with the same information hierarchy. My preferred route is carefully considered responsive design.

Thoughts, as ever, welcomed.

11 Comments

  1. Well said ! Totally common sense approach to sharing basic resources would be a huge benefit to many organisations if not the sector as a whole. I know of at least 3 app projects that have been given separate funding as I write.

    My opinion is that while a spend on a dedicated mobile web site may be useful if the funds are there, an app that can be built upon and expanded means that once in the customers pocket (or device) it can be a tool that potentially also generates further engagement as well as delivering bottom line results.

    The challenge of getting your app on peoples devices is similar to getting them to visit your web site (ok, maybe slightly harder) but it can also be targeted at an audience who are not currently attending live culture events by showing them video or whatever creative content one can imagine and afford to produce.

    The two lines framing this now seem to be the social and the technical. I think one of the reasons that every major social network or online service has an app is that users are becoming lazy to type in that irksome URL (why so many people just use Google even if they know the URL) and indeed why should they when most apps give you fresh content every time they launch. No one needs to remember an address or navigate through unwanted information, it’s super-specific. I don’t have any data on it, but I suspect apps are stickier than www too.

    Technically, we’re obviously in a time of very rapid evolution of mobile devices and a field of three platforms (If we’re generous toward Blackberry – I wouldnt write them off just yet) But this is expensive for everyone and confusing for customers. Cross platform authoring tools are beginning to emerge and I think they will develop into good-enough solutions. Bit of a tangent, but look at the Unity game engine – the authoring tool outputs to iOS, Android, Win or Mac Desktop AND an embeddable web player.

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  2. The CloudTix app was actually developed by Pop, a US software agency, who bought in a co-op of 10 launch partners to co-fund the development of the first version. So it’s not exactly white label in the purest sense of the word, but I suppose it’s close. In a way, all the founding partners helped seed fund the development of the app, which I believe is now being sold on to other people who want to take it.

    When I was at the ROH I spent ages trying to push through a white label video player, that I wanted to partner with some other arts organisations to commission and make, but the biggest stumbling block was actually each organisation’s weird specific requirements that meant they weren’t quite ready for sharing. Everyone had some specific and circuitous system for account management or similar that meant that the requirements alone would have costs tens of thousands to develop, when in essence we were after a pretty straightforward out-of-the-box video player. I think things have moved on a bit since then, though, and I think that ACE would probably be much more supportive of a similar sort of move now – might even be worth a submission to the next round of the R&D fund?

    Anyway, yes, failure to do that is exactly what prompted me to do Culture Hack. We now (as Caper) are working on one or two open source cultural projects, where the code will be posted to Git Hub and made available to anyone who wants to use it. Also, I hope that Happenstance http://happenstanceproject.com/) might lead to some small shareable things.

    So yes – onwards!

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  3. it would be so encouraging if ACE gave some demonstrable support to this sort of actually collaborative/long-term/capacity-building thing, but they don’t seem to quite ‘get it’ yet, or maybe that’s just the cynic in me. it still feels all slightly tokenistic and misunderstood at present.

    or maybe we shouldn’t expect them to and should just get on with it ourselves (as you are already doing Rachel!). is just difficult to fit it all in…

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  4. Whilst native apps are super useful (I strongly believe in it for one of my sites, but support it with mobile first web solutions) there are inherent problems in this model as it pertains the situation you mention.

    For me, a mobile first, progressive enhancement (hat tip @lukew) white label approach, perhaps on a SaaS basis, would be better.

    Common use cases could be “widgitized” but allow for custom changes (like payment gateways etc) and all the while, any core changes could be rolled out to all sites, immediately.

    No 30% cut for Apple, either, so the money stays in the organisations who need it most.

    Tim

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  5. I guess this argument can be expanded into the realm of the website too though. Why spend x amount on a new website, built specifically for your needs (whether bespoke or using open source software), when you can go out and ‘lease’ a licensed product for a significantly reduced outlay.

    The problem being, you will then be paying a recurring license fee for a product that is completely out of your hands. Should the worst happen and the product maker fold, or decide to take a “different direction” you are left with a product that at best remains working but stagnent and at worst non-operational. A small issue if you are a large private company, but a very big issue if you are a part public funded organisation / charity with a big investment in the product.

    For me, this comes down to ownership at the end of the day, and if something is branded up, representing my organisation I would want to know I have 100% control over every aspect of the product and it’s future.

    From the other side however, I am surprised that so few companies have implemented a white label app model. Maybe Apple’s restrictions on the app having to provide a product/service that is not already accessible via other means on the device (eg simply webviewing your mobile site), has prevented the large scale role out of the exact same application with differing skins for companies in the same industry.

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  6. I think what I’m imagining doesn’t quite follow the model you describe Luke, I too would feel slightly jittery about licensing a product that I had zero control/input over/into, I suppose I’m thinking of a much expanded version of the ‘sort of seed funded’ version that Rachel has described

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  7. […] Tackling the digital disruption The afternoon touched in different ways on how to tackle the disruption of digital – and be able to turn it into a positive advantage. Part of the answer might be found in Romer’s 5 P’s, part in embedding digital thinking into an organisations plan. But a very strong theme also began to emerge later in the day – one about collaboration. @janefinnis asked why doesn’t one arts organisation feature content from another (and not just links on the links page). It’s a dam good question! She also encouraged people to be brand unobsessed – if there’s distribution partners (like the BBC, the Guardian et al) don’t get het up about labelling the content – get the information out there. It’s impossible to understand everything which is going on out there right now (whose the in house expert on html 5 for example? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML5) so collaborating with others who do makes sense (earlier Romer had talked about how many of the best people work outside organisations – and it’s an organisations role to harness that talent) It’s interesting that that twitter conversation (app v mobile web enabled) I mentioned earlier ended highlighting the potential of collaboration leading to a flurry of comments on this blog […]

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  8. Good to see this roll on a bit since earlier in the week.

    If we put selling tickets aside for a moment – in my opinion one of the major challenges for arts orgs is coming to terms with reaching people who don’t yet want to buy a ticket. We have the pleasure of being largely steered by people who have been brought up with the notion of the ‘magic of theatre’, the special seat that you can only sit on for 120 minutes on a particular day of the week, if you pay .

    Put that thinking in a digital context: you can only use Facebook/ Search on Google/Watch MTV/YouTube/Vimeo if you pay per view – It’s not going to fly and I don’t think we should be constrained by a Box Office approach to digitally engaging our audiences with quality art or performance either.

    I’m totally up for suggesting both of my two employers as collaborators in a funding bid for a code level shared app framework. I’ve just had the pleasure of gaining ACE funding for an art-project app, which will produce licensable location-based trail tech (http://www.dancinoxford.co.uk/4step.aspx) so something that can grow from that _and_ be a sales platform is so worthwhile.

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  9. I think that really there are two equally valid viewpoints here, which is more important?

    – to offer a really great mobile UX to ‘existing’ audiences, making it easy for them to do what they want to do – access content/buy tickets/whatever

    – to reach new audiences in imaginative/engaging ways via a format they’re already familiar with (e.g. apps)

    and as much as we would like think that these two things can be smashed together with some sort of really well designed mobile site or app, the reality is that they *probably* require very different approaches.

    some really quick thoughts re the second ‘need’ (i.e. reach new audiences) – I think, as we have already touched on, that you probably need to break out of restrictive/silo-ed ways of looking at things, new audiences might be mildly interested in an artform but if they aren’t attending, and this is intended to try and bridge the gap between them not attending and maybe attending then they almost definitely aren’t going to know/care about things on an individual company basis – sure they may be aware of large ‘brands’ (ROH/The National/etc) – but I’d say it’d be far easier to engage them if, as I’ve already indicated, you try and present great/engaging content on a broader level – this is where collaboration between organisations on a project like this starts to make sense.

    HOWEVER, at Opera North I have been partially involved in the artplayer.tv project coming out of FACT in Liverpool (essentially a multi-authored video-sharing platform for cultural video content – a cultural youtube for want of a better explanation), now whilst I think there is a good idea in there I think there are still a few problems – that I know they are working to address – in terms of reaching anything like new audiences. I do think that the sort of thing that Martin is hinting at, e.g. ‘non-commercial’ (at least in primary focus) solutions that are aimed at new audiences would suffer with much the same problem.

    Here is where I think the problem really lies, it’s a chicken and egg scenario – arts orgs (understandably) don’t quite see the sense in throwing their lot in with a completely new platform that doesn’t have a clear commercial purpose as its primary goal (e.g. to get someone through the door/whatever) and still hasn’t quite figured out how to reach critical mass in terms of bridging into new audiences, therefore it never becomes a priority to think in these sort of terms, therefore they continue to just worry about themselves and continue to work within pre-existing frameworks/channels.

    It needs enough organisations (involving a proper mix of small/medium/large companies – it can’t just be the Tate, the National and the IWM or whatever, it needs to actually reflect the ‘arts ecology’ we hear so much about) to see something like this as a priority, and to work together effectively not only in the development of a fantastic product but with everything else that should follow that around launch, awareness raising, effective marketing etc.

    in relation to the first ‘need’, this is something that I think would make more immediate sense to arts orgs – you are investing in something to address a growing need (huge increase in mobile traffic) that has an obvious commercial purpose (better UX, therefore – in theory – higher conversion % of that traffic), but evidently this isn’t quite as exciting! I’m aware that there is a strong argument for having to grow audiences, engage new people, etc but that is a longer-term strategy, which worryingly people seem to have a harder time buying into in the current funding environment. Please prove me wrong!

    But then all this talk does really fly in the face of my fairly strongly held feelings about the mobile web, I don’t really think that (often) native apps are the best way to go. So maybe I should just shut up.

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