The Australian Union App – A Fail in IT

A FaceBook friend shared an interest in building a mobile phone application to consolidate event information from a range of FaceBook ‘pages’ and ‘groups’ in to a single location so the information can be broadcast to the collection of interested parties.  They expressed frustration about how FaceBook has limits which hinder mass communication with your interest group without paying FaceBook large sums of money.

This isn’t a new problem at all.  Recently I was following another FaceBook group, who have 45,000 ‘users’ (and I use that term very loosely) who wanted to reach out to their group for support on an issue important to them.  They didn’t manage a fraction of the ‘reach’ as their ‘user count’ suggests they should have.

I want to talk about this problem on two levels, IT – the technical issues as they relate to application use, and the power implications that people in IT actually think about, which FaceBook has clearly thought about.

It’s a Fail for The Australian Union Movement

In my view, the idea of a mobile app is a fail for this requirement.  It’s a fail for a number of reasons.

Phones Are Small

Applications aren’t small in most cases, and mobile phones only have so much capacity in them.  While your application might only have a few ‘basic functions’ it might use up a lot of ‘system resources’ just to deliver those few functions.

I own a Samsung Note5, it was a $1200 dollar phone with a lot of capacity, yet I’m still swapping apps out all the time because between family photos and other things that I consider really important to my day to day life, my device only has so much space, so unless I’m really passionate about your cause then your app is likely history before you even send me my first notification.

Poor Peoples Phones Are Even Smaller

My local primary school just started using an application called FlexiBuzz (http://www.flexibuzz.com.au/) this year, which actually does most of what my friend would love to have, but many of our parents just don’t own phones with enough capacity to run the application while also keeping FaceBook and their others ‘must have apps’ on it at the same time.

My phone has a 64bit, 8 core, 1500mhz processor in it, and I’m finding it slow.  Imaging what a $150 phone is like.

Just to Much Noise

I’ve been playing with more and more of these apps lately and I’m just starting to drown in noise.  My phone just never stops going bing bong!

I have the “Stuff” news application on my phone, and it just never shuts up.  I also have FaceBook notifications, text messaging, Telegram. Gmail and Skype.  …oh and Linked In, and Pintrest, and you get the idea.

No Twitter

I don’t have Twitter.  That one got the cut, it just makes to much noise to get anything done at all.  How long would it be before my friends UnionEnhancingApp1.0 just vanishes in to the collection of noisy apps that I ignore and then off my phone altogether as I prune so I can run the next software update that, at the time of writing, I actually have to do and requires me to have 1.2Gb of free space on my device?

But What Do You Have?

I get my friends plight.  You’ve just read my list of ‘must have apps’ and considered what you’ve got on your phone.  I’ll beat that your list is very different to mine, but just as extensive.

OPPS!!! BROKE MY PHONE – WAAAA WAAA…

…and that was the day that your app just got the cut because “I didn’t reinstall it on my new phone”.

Social Responsibility – We Just Don’t Want Don Writing to Everyone At Once – IT

FaceBook isn’t just an evil capitalist money draining engine designed to make you poor, it actually has a social conscious too, at least it does in my view.

If my message to you is really important, on FaceBook, then I’ll pay to get it to you.  The more important it is the more I’ll pay.  Chances are that if it’s important to you then you’ll end up causing me to pay FaceBook more for your eyeballs.

This is a good thing.  Everyone only has so much in their war chest for grabbing attention, your attention.  So it’s a built in system to make sure everyone gets a chance at being in front of your eye balls.

In IT we think lots and lots about ethics.  This doesn’t mean we’re really very good at it… hell, we all know your average geek is likely on the autistic spectrum and has a degree of social dysfunction.

Facebook has become the ‘New Media’.  New paper editors and owners used have all the power.  They don’t any more.  I suggest to you that the geeks who built FaceBook know this and they take their ethical responsibility quite seriously and have attempted to build systems into their platform to protect it, as much as the users, from the power that the platform extends.

So What’s The Answer?

You do need ‘an application’, just not a ‘device application’.  You need a server based, unified communications platform, not unlike FlexiBuzz, that will reach out over all the messaging platforms and gives users choice about how they get your message.

The platform needs to ‘unifi’ communications.  It needs to give users the ability to share your message as they see fit.  Some will want to print your ‘event notice’ on a bit of paper.  Some will want to share it back onto FaceBook, others will want to “phone a friend”.

Most platforms have an API which give your application the ability to talk to them.  In this case, my friend needs an application that can broadcast their event messages to the interest group via all the communication platforms that I choose to hear their message on in a way that I can then share back into my networks for discussion.

People First – The Role of the Social Media Manager

Such an application also has to consider the role of an ‘editor’ and ‘sub-editor’ to make sure that the messages are good for the interest community or the application will very quickly become ignored or worse, attacked.

At this point, I start to wonder if a new application is really needed at all, or funding for a team of skilled social media managers to co-ordinate quality information sharing across the platform of existing networks with existing tools.

For example, in the case of FaceBook, does there need to be a collection ‘page admins’ connected via Skype or Telegram, who will push out messages quickly into their own page groups?  Yes, a server application (with appropriate permissions) could do this automatically, but is this wise?

http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2017/05/winston-peters-makes-hilarious-twitter-faux-pas.html – You only need do this once before you start loosing users and attention.  All the media wanted to talk about was Mr Peters “twitter faux” and his message about his event was lost.

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2017/01/28/centrelinks-debt-recovery-disaster/14855220004164 – Centralized, completely ‘automated’ systems can be very bad, just ask the Australia social welfare agency who sent out thousands of letters, in error, based on very unclean database data.

TL;DR

A phone app is a dumb idea for this requirement for a bunch of reasons, social and technical.  Build a server based solution that is unified and encompasses people to manage it.