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Experts Debate ‘Building the Next Big App’ [Part 1]

How are developers building the next big app? What’s this next big app look like? What are the factors that will transform Big Data-infused apps into game-changers?

These are important questions to answer in a time when the lines are blurring between consumer and enterprise applications; business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications; and open-source and freemium and commercial software.

Actuate recently invited four industry experts to discuss the future of creating the next generation of data-driven applications and how they are influenced by open source and freemium software.

And more importantly, we asked them to look into the future a little bit in terms of what these apps are going to look like, where we’re going to get them and who will build them.  Are we all builders? Are we all makers now in this new world?


Allen Bonde (@abonde), VP Product Marketing & Innovation at Actuate, moderated the panel which included:


  • Esteban Kolsky (@ekolsky), the principal and founder of thinkJar, which is one of the leading think tanks studying customer engagement and consumer applications. Kolsky is a former Gartner analyst and research director.
  • Loie Maxwell (@loiemaxwell), Chief Marketing Officer at Social Imprints, a custom branding company. She was most recently VP of creative at Starbucks. She’s been advisor to a number of leading consumer brands. She brings perspectives on the customers and the experience.  She’s thought a lot about the world of design.
  • Stephen O’Grady (@sogrady), principal and cofounder of RedMonk, a very influential advisory firm that helps companies understand and help developers.
  • Mike Milinkovich (@mmilinkov), the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, a tremendous thought leader and influencer in terms of open source.

Here is Part 1 of the conversation:

Bonde:    So the theme of this conversation is accelerating the development of data-driven apps, leveraging the potential of freemium and open-source and some of the awesome tools, the visual tools that you’ve seen today.  And the inspiration really is that we’re going to create apps that you’ve never seen before.  And the title of the panel was “Building the Next Big App.”  And so the opening question that I’ll ask the panelists is: What does this look like?  What does it mean?  What makes a great app?

Have you seen it?  Does it exist now?  What do you think?  I’m actually going to start with you, Loie, because Loie, you look at this from a creative perspective, from an end consumer perspective.  What makes a great app?

Maxwell:    Well, the first thing is that a great app has to be something that you can absolutely not live without.  And when you find that, it enhances your life so greatly that you just can’t abandon it and that you have to stick with it, and that you utilize it almost every day.  I think that’s one of the things that makes a great app.

Bonde:    Cool, can’t live without it.

Kolsky:    There’s more to it than that.  There’s not probably the next big app, but there’s probably the next small app.  The next big app is something like what Starbucks has done.  Anybody here have the Starbucks app?  The Starbucks app is basically a very small app.  It does only three things — it finds the nearest Starbucks, it lets you charge it, and it lets you see what your rewards are.  That’s it.  It’s a small app, it’s not a big app, but actually the smaller the app is, the more it can function in big apps, and that’s the part that becomes really interesting going forward.

Because of flat technologies and because all these wonderful things, this data processing, we can get very small apps that we can benefit from, whereas before it would’ve been a humongous app that requires a desktop to run.  Now you can find it on your phone and it does exactly what it needs to do.

Bonde:    What do you think, guys?  Is this the era of the special purpose?  If I put words in Esteban’s mouth, this is the small special purpose app?

O’Grady:    I would say about the special purpose aspect to me, one of the biggest drivers for applications moving forward is going to be data.  So in other words, how many in the audience have used Über?  Anybody?  All right, so we’ve got a bunch of hands.

So the thing with Über, you know, everybody knows you get cars, it basically routes and dispatches very efficiently.  But the interesting part of Über to me is what it can tell us collectively about each other.  And I don’t know if they still do this, but one of the ways Über essentially picks which cities they go to next is that they simply look at the data generated by the users.

So in other words, they look at it and say, “Hey, in Chicago we’re having X number of people opening the app and looking for a car today, therefore we’re going to start up there.”  So what format it takes moving forward I think is open to debate, but for me it’s going to be data-driven

Bonde:    So that sounds like a pretty good setup for the notion — they looked at the data, and they see something attached to that value. They looked at the data, they created something that sort of fit that data.  Presumably they’re watching the data, right?  From their markets, they’re adjusting where they’re putting cars, where they’re recruiting drivers, what the competition’s doing.  Is Lyft getting into their markets?  All about the data.

Mike, is this essential for this new app, is it’s got to be data-driven, so to speak?

Milinkovich:    I don’t know if they have to be data-driven, but I think an app, even the most simple apps that generates data for whoever the sponsor of that app is, that they can then utilize, monetize, or analyze, and allows them to create new and interesting business models, is definitely the way it’s going to go.  The app itself can be very simple, very narrowly focused, but if the data that’s generated is being generated by the app out to whoever is sponsoring that app, is allowing them to analyze it in ways that is creating new business opportunities, or even new social opportunities, then yeah, absolutely, that’s the way things are going to go.

Bonde:     What do you think, Esteban?  You’re getting that look.

Kolsky:     The thing to recognize with all these apps, the only purpose of the app is to capture the data.  The data already exists.  You don’t create data by running Über.  You already know the people who need Über or the places you need to open up shop. It’s there.  All you’re doing is actually creating these apps, to channel the collection of data, put it in the right format you can use, and then smart people will analyze that.

Milinkovich:     The app is a proxy to get the data back.  Without the app, they can’t collect the data to analyze it and do something with it.

Maxwell:     And I think what that ultimately does, it creates continuous improvement for the end user and the consumer, and that data just doesn’t sit somewhere.  It actually can inform better user experiences and better services, and maybe, to your point about spinning off new business ideas, new opportunities, I think that’s what the benefit is.

Milinkovich:     And the thing that’s nice about that is that it used to be new product ideas were basically based on conjecture.  You’re guessing that this might be an opportunity.  Now there’s a lot more hard data that you can base that guess on.  So it’s much more data-driven innovation as opposed to inspiration-driven innovation.

Kolsky:     But then would that be considered conjecture?  Do companies that release apps consider the adoption for this app and what it’s doing for organizations?  If you have a company and you have a product and you want to know what your users are thinking or what they’re doing, this collects data and drives your decisions.  The tools that we saw today here makes it so simple to go and look at what the data says and make a decision based on that, and then change it, change it again, and change it again as many times as you want.

And that’s the critical aspect.  The data existed forever in the network, but with the Internet of Things today, we called it Internet four years ago, everything is connected.  Everything’s been connected for like 150 years.  Now all we have to do is collect that and do something with that.  That’s the revolution.

This debate continues in Part 2 and Part 3

For more insight, here is a separate conversation between Bonde and Kolsky.

- See more at:

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