During the Computer Utopias course at RISD, Zach and I were inspired by open-ended software-building environments like Hypercard and Smalltalk. We wondered how we might reinvent Hypercard for the modern age, in which the most impactful software we use is mobile and social. We narrowed this idea into a simple problem statement:
How can we build software to let people build their own online communities?
Building an app
We eventually settled on a sort of social-network-builder app. Users would create "groups" that would effectively serve as self-contained communities with their own set of constraints – ephemeraity, different media types, etc. Rather than continue to iterate on hypothetical ideas, we chose to actually build a product and see what it felt like to use, and communicate within, the platform.
The final product
We iterated on the interface, functionality and aesthetic of the app for a couple weeks, then released it on the App Store in time for the course's final showing. Zach developed a distinctive brand with bright gradients and a Russian-nesting-doll logo. Reception of the app was positive – despite the novel functionality, users didn't seem overly confused by how to use it. I do think users suffered from a sort of decision paralysis when using the app – in-app communities were "designed" and "templated" up-front at creation time, and couldn't be evolved later – this made it quite difficult to build vibrant communities. Download Stacks for iOS