Articles and Blog Posts by Appsterdam and friends
“Hey, let’s start a band!”
“Cool, what instruments do you play?”
“I don’t play any instruments.”
“Oh, so you’re a singer?”
“No, I can’t sing.”
“Do you write songs?”
“What records have you produced?”
“Can you book us gigs?”
“No. I’m not a sound engineer, A&R person, tour operator, venue owner, merch supplier or roadie either… but I’ve got a really good idea for a band name!”
Every app developer has had the above conversation with an enthusiastic but overly optimistic (and possibly misguided) person who’s got a “great app idea and they just need a dev to implement it”. It’s come up a few times at Meeten and Drinken and my preferred strategy is, as gently as possible, to disabuse our hopeful friend of the notion that it’s as easy, fast and cheap (!) as they think it is.
“What’s the best way to get my app built?”
“Offer a developer €150/hour to build it.”
“Oh, ah, well, what’s the second best way?”
This is the twelfth in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I participated with Bike Like a Local. The program has ended, but development continues.
When I spoke to the department of infrastructure, traffic and transportation, they explained that improperly parked tourist bikes, which are then removed by the city, are one of the most common problems. To learn how this would work out for a tourist, I contacted a number of bike rental companies.
I contacted roughly a dozen rental companies, and asked them:
- What happens when your rental bikes are removed by the city? The tourist will probably assume it was stolen.
- Does the city notify you when they have removed one of your bikes?
- Do you charge the client for you having to pick up the bike?
- How does this work when the client chose the optional theft insurance?
I told them I was doing research into the use of bikes by tourists in Amsterdam. For brevity, I did not go into detail about Bike Like a Local - although maybe I should have on second thought.
I received a handful of responses, which seems like a normal response rate. Noteworthy was that some of the companies would only talk to me after getting a detailed explanation of the purpose of these questions and how I would use the answers, or only under condition of anonymity.
Informing the tourist
Most rental companies specifically inform their clients about the parking policy in Amsterdam. The signs placed by the city are all in Dutch (and in my own opinion, not always well placed), and therefore not very helpful.
When a client reports the loss of a bike, most of the rental companies guess whether it might have been removed by the city, depending on where it was parked. If there is a chance that it was removed by the city, they try to call the bike depot to see whether it is there. This isn’t really sufficient, because the opening hours of the bike depot are limited, and there is some processing delay. If the bike is confirmed to be at the depot, the client is typically charged € 20-25 plus the costs of any damage to the bike and lock. However, there are not always able to recover all the costs from the client.
If it is uncertain whether or not the bike was removed by the city and the client needs to leave, the rental companies follow their standard procedures for bike theft. Roughly, this means the client pays the insurance deductible if the bike was insured, and pays the full cost if it was not. Should the bike later turn up at the bike depot, any excess payment is returned.
One of the rental companies also gave some feedback on my plans for Bike Like a Local. They didn’t like the idea for my ad-hoc audio tours, fearing that it might distract tourists and make their biking more dangerous. In the meantime, I looked into that in more detail. They also explained that they do inform tourists about all the dangers, but that they don’t always pay much attention.
This is the eleventh in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I participated with Bike Like a Local. The program has ended, but development continues.
On May 1st, I went on a bike ride through Amsterdam with Alkisti and Olga. Alkisti runs Appsterdam Greece and is in Amsterdam for two weeks. At the Design/UX/UI workshop it was suggested for me to actually ride a bike through Amsterdam with a tourist, and Alkisti immediately offered to do this together.
Freeways and tunnels
An issue that had never occurred to me before, is that Dutch people typically say you can bike anywhere in Amsterdam. However, this isn’t true. Although almost all streets in Amsterdam are available for bikes, notable exceptions are some of the tunnels, like the IJ-tunnel, and the freeways, as my guides experienced.
I had somehow assumed tourists would already know where to go in the center, but Alkisti could not find her way from the lunchtime lecture, at Weteringcircuit, to the entrance of the Vondelpark - and she’s already been here for two weeks. Perhaps it’s worth looking into offline voice-based turn-by-turn bike navigation. Currently, when Alkisti plans a route, she makes screenshots of Google maps, as she doesn’t have roaming.
We discussed many smaller issues as well:
- There are two common types of brakes on bikes: handbrakes and back pedal brakes. Alkisti is used to handbrakes, but the bike she borrowed had a back pedal brake. This can be dangerous when you need to brake in an emergency.
- Alkisti knew how to use hand signals when turning, by copying it from Olga.
- The combination of bike and pedestrian traffic lights can be confusing, especially when one is green and the other is red.
- I noticed that when the three of us were cycling together, Olga had to look behind her regularly to see whether we were still with her. That could be quite dangerous too.
- Tourists from the south of Europe might have Android phones a lot more than iPhones - but I develop for iPhone only.
- Olga always teaches people: watch out for the tram tracks, hold on to the handlebars when it’s windy, and watch out for people opening doors of parked cars to get out.
- One of them also had gotten a bag stuck in their front wheel before, which is a risk that may not be obvious to novice cyclists.
- Although one should usually cycle on the bike path on the right of the road, some bike paths are bi-directional.
- Scooters passing in the bike lane seem rather dangerous.
- For marketing, I could also look at student information for exchange students, and travel guides.
Overall, it was a fun and useful trip. I’ll have to see how to prioritise all the input, and what I can do with it in Bike Like a Local. Olga and Alkisti also thought it might be good if I do this again with a tourist that’s not from Southern Europe.
Photo by Peter Visser
This is the tenth in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I’m participating with Bike Like a Local.
On April 27, we had a very productive session on design, UX and UI, with input from experts Joris Hofstede and Li Chiao. This was the last formal session of the Open for Business program.
Initially, I let both experts play with the current version of Bike Like a Local without explaining them much about what I’m aiming to do. I recommend to always use testers this way: never guide them through the app, at least not initially, because an ordinary user won’t have you there as a guide either. If you’re with them as a guide, it’s easier for a tester not overlook confusing or unexpected things in your app.
Both Li and Joris found the opening screen (which is for finding your bike) a little confusing. It just doesn’t make sense if you haven’t cycled yet and open the app. Perhaps a welcome screen would be useful here, but definitely not a tutorial. The text is currently also in the past tense.
Li suggested gathering crowdsourced data for the stadsdelen who are unable to provide me with bike parking data.
Joris thought the artwork for the tips could really use some work. Li suggested to make them a bit less formal overall, referring me to the excellent Dumb Ways to Die video which teaches people to be careful around trains.
The navigation of tips also needs an update. I noticed Li trying to swipe between the tips initially, and only then finding the next/previous buttons. Joris didn’t like the inconsistency in my buttons.
In general, we concluded might be nice to have some kind of reward for discovering things in the tour, or saving where you parked your bike (i.e. checking in). Unfortunately, I can’t integrate Game Center, because Apple does not allow its use for anything but real games.
I told Li and Joris about my plan to have audio tours to explore the city, only after they had a chance to look at the initial app. I wanted to test first whether they also came to the conclusion that the app needs something more interactive, like my audio tours.
Once a tourist parks their bike, it could be nice to offer them tourist information. Particularly about other places nearby, within cycling distance, that they might otherwise not have known about. Perhaps current events too, but this requires connectivity.
We also discussed some ideas for groups meeting up through the app. When a cycling group agrees to meet up in a particular location, it might be nice if there is sufficient bike parking nearby. Otherwise, people might scatter off to find a place to leave their bike, and make it harder to find each other. But this requires some effort to make it work smoothly, and to figure out whether there’s a real problem to solve here.
Amsterdam Like a Local
I also discussed Amsterdam Like a Local with Li. First of all, the button to add new recordings is actually way to small: it needs to become a lot more prominent.
Listening to one of the existing recordings, a new idea we got is to allow people to keep their recordings private as well, and use it as a sort of GPS voice diary. Being able to make a recording public at a later time might lower the boundary of entry. Another interesting feature would be to allow others to make comments on a recording, by making a recording of their own. Asking questions, by using voice, can also be used to trigger more involvement.
We found a few smaller issues as well. Overall, it was definitely a useful final formal session of Open for Business, leaving me with enough to continue working on.
This is the ninth in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I’m participating with Bike Like a Local.
One of the bike rental companies I approached said they didn’t like Bike Like a Local at all, because it can distract tourists and actually make biking less safe for them. Based on a list of research the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment provided me with, I looked at possible risks and mitigations in this area.
Distraction risks for cyclists
There are five potential distraction risks involved in using mobile devices in traffic:
- physical/motoric distraction caused by operating the device;
- visual distraction when looking at the device instead of traffic;
- cognitive distraction when the device distracts the user from traffic;
- auditive distraction when the device makes sound, and sounds from traffic could be dampened;
- effects on moods caused by music or conversation.
The most significant effects are, unsurprisingly, seen in making calls of mobile phones. This is mostly due to the cognitive distraction they case. However, the danger is smaller for cyclists than motorists, because cyclists have more time to evaluate their surroundings. The auditive impact typically plays a larger role with cyclists, because they depend more on audio than motorists. Particularly strong danger is, unsurprisingly, involved in visual distraction, like sending an SMS or reading Facebook.
In around 4% of accidents involving bikes, the cyclist was using a mobile device in some way just before the accident. That could be listening to music, a phone call, typing an SMS, etc. This means 96% of accidents could definitely not have been caused by using a mobile device. Numbers are about the same for listening to music as for being in a phone call, although listening to music is much more common. This suggests the risk of listening to music is much smaller than with phone calls. There also appears to be a discrepancy between perception of risk and actual risk, with the former being significantly higher.
In the debate on whether or not to forbid (handsfree) mobile phone use for motorists, a common argument is that motorists are also allowed to talk to passengers. However, a significant difference is that the passenger is able to adapt to the situation, and change the tempo or complexity. They notice when the driver is busy, or the situation is unclear, and stop talking for a while. With a phone call, the other party does not have such information. This adaption significantly reduces the risk. In addition, low audio quality results in a higher cognitive load. And the passenger can also help reduce the workload of the motorist, by keeping track of road signs, for example.
Regarding music, the type and volume is very significant. For cyclists, the main risk is in reduced auditive attention. High tempo and volume are major factors here. The consensus of all research is that there is the use of mobile devices increase risk a bit, but that there is definitely insufficient basis to forbid their use.
Risks for Bike Like a Local
For Bike Like a Local, the risks are in the cognitive and auditive distractions. There is no interface to interact with, making physical and visual distraction insignificant. And, exploring the city with Bike Like a Local is even less involved than listening to music. Like music, and unlike phone calls, it does not involve the user replying or making decisions, but it’s also not as continuous as music, and will not have a high tempo.
Regarding cognitive distraction, I’m aiming for Bike Like a Local to behave like a car passenger. I want to integrate data about black spots (the most dangerous places in Amsterdam) so that I can warn the user, and make sure the app stays quiet otherwise. This might actually raise their attention level when crossing through a black spot. I’m also researching whether I could reduce the frequency of messages as the noise level increases - possibly indicating busier traffic.
To reduce auditive distraction, I specifically tell users not to use in-ear or closed headphones, and to make sure they can still hear other traffic. If needed, I recommend they only wear one earbud. I’m considering to even force all audio playback to one side only, to enforce the user to only wear one bud. I also want to look at throttling the maximum volume.
In other words, although an app like this can distract the user, research in this field suggests that my features will minimise any distraction. And combined with all the features that improve safety, I’m confident the user will end up saver than without.
This is the eighth in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I’m participating with Bike Like a Local.
Today I released Amsterdam Like a Local. It’s a free download, available for iPhone and iPad.
Amsterdam Like a Local lets anyone talk for 30 seconds about something they
know about Amsterdam, and tag the recording with a location. They can talk about
a special story they know, or anything else they feel is worth sharing.
On the other side, anyone can
listen to the recording. But, the only information a listener gets are the location
and categories. There are no descriptions or titles. There are no names or
aliases. There is no way to know who made a recording, or whether two
recordings are made by the same person. The only way to learn anything
at all, is to listen, making it a delightful surprise every time.
A big inspiration for this experience is JIRA Mobile Connect, the feedback system I use in all my apps. Among other great features, this allows a user to make a recording and send it to me. It then gets attached to a new JIRA issue. Few people submit recordings, but when they do they usually do not enter a description. So I have absolutely no idea about what they recorded, until I listen. Ever second of audio is a surprise. It’s that same surprise that I aim to bring to other people with Amsterdam Like a Local.
This is the seventh in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I’m participating with Bike Like a Local.
On April 9, all Open for Business teams were invited to Pitch Club. This is an open monthly event where people can practice their 60-second pitch. They then receive feedback from Mike Lee.
I consider myself a decent pitcher, and was one of the winners of the Amsterdam Startup Week / Appsterdam pitch contest, pitching about Openbaar Vervoer. However, there is always room for improvement. And of all my apps, Openbaar Vervoer is probably one of the easiest to pitch, because so many people immediately understand this need.
I was quite happy with my pitch. The challenge Mike gave me was to make it apply more to the audience of the evening, as it was aimed mostly at potential users of Bike Like a Local. This is not simple, but a valid point and definitely achievable. The evening was also a nice opportunity to meet new people.
I did a redesign of much of the user interface of Bike Like a Local, to make it look more polished and professional. I added over 10.000 bike parking spaces provided by Stadsdeel Nieuw-West. I also added a database of contact information and improved some of the tips. I realised I could just release all these updates already, so a new version with these changes is now waiting for Apple review. Release expected about a week from now.
In the meantime:
- Amsterdam Like a Local has been rejected twice by Apple. I’ve made corrections, and the latest update is now in review.
- The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment sent me a large set of reports about the safety of using music and phones while on a bike. I still have to read it all, I plan to use this to make sure I don’t actually make it less safe for tourists.
- I approached many bike rental agencies with some questions about how they handle certain situations, and got a lot of other useful feedback from them as well. Once I have all the replies, I’ll aggregate all their input.
- I sent a WOB-verzoek to Stadsdeel Noord and Stadsdeel Zuid-Oost to provide me with the zones where they do strict parking enforcement for bikes, if any, and their bike parking locations. They have ignored previous requests; a WOB-verzoek means they have to reply or eventually pay a penalty.
- I asked ATCB whether they have any data on internet connectivity for tourists. Do they use roaming? Do they not use internet at all? Do they buy a temporary Dutch SIM?
This survey is conducted in collaboration with Appril, Appsterdam and Enterprise App Store. The goal is to get some first insights and facts about the state of mobile App development and market in Amsterdam and beyond.
The survey focuses on your working experience and conditions, your development choices, your Apps and networking practices. It will run throughout the month of April. At the end of the month, we will award one iPad mini and 5 App store vouchers of an App store of your choice. To win an award it is required that you have answered the survey in full and provide us with your email address. Your email information will only be used for the purpose of this survey, and none of the information will be disclosed to 3d parties. You will also be provided with the conclusions of the survey.Take the survey!
Needs less than 10 minutes to complete it.
If you have any questions you may contact:
Olga Paraskevopoulou - Researcher at Appsterdam
This is the sixth in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I’m participating with Bike Like a Local. As I started this series a bit late, over the next week I’ll be posting about events so far.
On 28 March, we had a marketing workshop with Matteo Manferdini, who I already knew from Appsterdam. Matteo told us about many techniques involved in marketing, tailored to our specific products and small budgets. This was a group session, so all teams could also learn from each other.
There was a lot of great content in the workshop, but this idea is definitely on the top of my list. People are typically reluctant to buy, even if the expensive is minor. It’s much easier if I can first prove to them I can deliver value. This is of course the general idea behind trials, but Matteo had another suggestion which fits my product very well: get a free PDF about top 10 destinations to visit on a bike in Amsterdam, by entering your email address and joining my mailing list.
The typical form to use mailing lists is to get everyone to subscribe, and send them some sales talk every once in a while. However, the less common form is that everyone who signs up gets the same content after a certain time, by using an autoresponder. This fits my product really well. Tourists typically prepare their visit 4-6 weeks before coming here, so after they sign up and get the free PDF, I could keep them involved by sending them an email a week for 4-5 weeks. Then they can see I’m already delivering value, for free, and are more inclined to buy my app. Because the bulk of the content will just be reused for every subscriber, the investment is very small.
The content of the mails should actually be useful on its own, and not just a sales pitch for the app. However, I could make sure that they tie in really closely. And having a mailing list with opted in users on hand can always be useful later.
Although I like to think of myself as a fairly decent writer, there’s always room for improvement. For example, Matteo mentioned that organisations often like to talk about themselves, instead of what they offer the user. Also, signing up to the mailing list should not be “sign up to our mailing list”, but something like “receive free cycling tips every week”. And saying things like “well designed” or “clean” rarely mean anything to the reader.
Niches are often defined in simple demographic terms, like “males between 25 and 29 from European and Asian countries”. However, Matteo explained that this is often a very poor way to define a group, as even within such a group, differences are huge.
My niche is something like “foreigners in Amsterdam, that are cycling or want to, with limited cycling skills, that own an iPhone”. It can also be very valuable to find where people of this niche hang out. Is there a “cycling tourists in Amsterdam”-reddit? With half a minute of googling, I did find a somewhat active forum for tourists coming to Amsterdam. There’s probably more of this out there.
When you dive into such a community, don’t be an asshole, and make sure you’re not perceived as one. It’s not a platform for a sales pitch. But at the very least it’s an opportunity to learn more about what drives and frustrates these people.
During the workshop I also discovered two important questions. Most important: why actually do tourists/foreigners cycle in Amsterdam? Is it because we tell them to? Or for other reasons? This is rather fundamental to Bike Like a Local, so I should really dig into this.
The other question is: how many tourists actually have a data connection, either through roaming, or by buying a local SIM card for their phone? I’ve been using the general assumption that very few do, but I haven’t validated that. There must be research on this somewhere.
This is the fifth in a series of posts about Apps for Amsterdam: Open for Business, an initiative by Appsterdam, Amsterdam Economic Board and Waag Society to work with three local start-ups to support them in making successful businesses using open data. I’m participating with Bike Like a Local. As I started this series a bit late, over the next week I’ll be posting about events so far.
On March 27, we had a business model workshop with Floris van Alkemade, partner in venture capital fund Solid Ventures. This was a group session, so all teams could also learn from each other.
Floris explained us all the intricacies of startup investment, like valuation, the business model of the VC funds themselves, the difference between informal investment and VC, the return on investment a startup needs to make and why, and much much more. Although I did hear about these topics before, Floris’ explanation made the picture much clearer.
Bike Like a Local is not really an investible product right now: although it may result in a profitable business, it’s unclear how far it can actually scale; and I don’t have a plan on what I would need the money for. However, it was very nice to be able to discuss the issues with our plans with someone as experienced as Floris. For Bike Like a Local, specific points of attention were that I have to make sure it does not make cycling less safe by being a distraction, it has to work without roaming, and I have to make sure I have all my numbers backed up thoroughly.
In preparation, I updated my business model canvas to reflect everything I learned since I wrote it early this year. One of the most interesting new facts I discovered, is the size of the market. Somehow I never properly added up these numbers before. According to the Amsterdam Visitor Survey 2012, which Jasper from AEB gave me earlier, about 22% of all visitors to Amsterdam will cycle at some point during their visit. With around 12 million visitors yearly, that’s about 2.5 million cycling tourists every year. This means that even if I only sell my app to 1% of that market, I still make € 25.000 a year. Not enough to attract investors, but still very nice.