Building an app in 30 hours
In this post Steve, a developer, talks about how he and a team at FutureLearn built a new app for the company using spare time they found across a few months.
Watercooler, a new app we’ve built for FutureLearn staff, began life as ‘SkillShare’ – an idea we came up with at the FutureLearn Hackday back in June. We wanted to build an internal app where people could post a list of skills they have and skills they would like to learn, and the app would match people who can learn from each other.
Turning conversations into something useful
We found lots of great conversations were starting before we’d even begun building Watercooler. As we asked people about skills, we discovered shared interests – everything from sewing, to basket-weaving to fish farming!
A small group of new starters, including myself, took on the project after the Hackday and began a user research experiment to find out what people really want from the app. We interviewed 12 co-workers and discovered most of them actually just wanted to get to know the people we work with better, and were reluctant about committing to any form of regular, structured skill sharing. We took it on board – we didn’t want Watercooler to be just another neglected app.
So we began to plan something that would, more simply, offer a virtual space for us to share exactly what we wanted with our colleagues.
Shipping a minimum viable product (MVP)
We shipped a basic product made with Ruby on Rails for people to start using, which let us join with our company Google account, rejecting sign-ups from emails that aren’t @futurelearn.com. It takes our name and profile image and puts them on our new profile with a default bio we can edit. We had some really creative bios as people made the most of their single avenue of expression on our minimal viable Watercooler – a great sign!
Users are displayed on the home page in a list only visible to people signed-in. Currently this is just a list of names with our image, job title and team, but later we plan to add filters so you can show people from a particular team or discipline, and other things you may want to search for. We imagine this to be a grid or web (basically anything more interesting than a list!) but we’re sharing early so people can use it while we work on the design and so we can learn as we go.
Making ‘add as friend’ less awkward
We’ve all experienced that awkward moment where we add a co-worker on Facebook and the request is blanked, or they accept – but you wonder if it was reluctant. So we don’t add people just in case and a barrier is formed. We decided to try and help this awkwardness by adding social links to Watercooler – allowing us to not only share our social media profiles, but also say “Hey, I’m happy for you to connect with me here”.
Next on Watercooler: skills and Interests
Now we’re planning on adding skills and interests sections on Watercooler profiles, like social links, these sections will be optional and give people the space to express what they’re good at and what they’re interested in. Our product designer Sandra designed the Watercooler logo and it captures the skills and interests relationship beautifully. The pink drop represents an interest, and it’s linked to a larger yellow drop that represents skill. Our interests gradually grow into skills over time as we connect with people and practice them.
We want to store all these skills and interests in a database and make them links, so if a person is interested in poker and you see that on a profile, you can click on poker and get a list of all FutureLearners interested in poker. Wouldn’t that make poker night planning a breeze? We’re hoping this could inspire all sorts of new social events at FutureLearn. Or at least it might just give people better icebreakers Watercooler takes you from “Hi, how are you?” to “Hey, I saw on Watercooler you’re into rock climbing! That’s so cool. I climbed Mount Everest once ?? ”. With new skills and interests come new friends. Or outlandish bragging, the choice is yours.
We’re also hoping it’ll help turn interests into skills. For instance I could express an interest in stencils, and a designer might notice there’s actually a group of FutureLearners who want to become the next Banksy, and run a learning hour on becoming Banksy. That’s the dream!
Watercooler has been/is an exciting project to be part of. The best part so far is proving that good things come from just doing things, from releasing products early and starting conversations – even if you don’t know where those things, products and conversations will lead.
Want to know more about life at FutureLearn? Check out Making FutureLearn.