Apps to streamline experience and assist attendees have become an expected part of many conferences and other large events, especially in the tech sphere. Although these apps might only be used over a short period, it's critical that they be as well-designed and user-friendly as any other app, particularly when an experienced customer-base is set to be the audience.
SXSW is an exciting, and rapidly growing, conference held each year in Austin, Texas. As technology, and mobile technology in particular, becomes a larger and larger chunk of the conference base, it's no surprise that mobile apps would become one of the tools. We were excited to learn that at SXSW 2013, Parse was used as the backend for the Startup Crawl app, developed by Donoho Design Group, LLC. We discussed the app with Andrew Donoho to learn more about how Parse figured into its development.
Tell us about your company the role you play there.
I am the President of Donoho Design Group, LLC, a family run app publishing and development consulting firm. DDG publishes Retweever®, Startup Crawl, and the award winning Punch It Out™. Our development consulting clients include OtherInbox and Silent Circle.
What can you tell us about your app, Startup Crawl?
Startup Crawl is a company directory app written to support a semi-annual event, the Startup Crawl, in Austin, TX. As you might expect, the Crawl is an open house where startups in Austin welcome the public into their offices to learn about what they do. It is typically attended by investors, developers, marketers and other interested players in the Austin startup scene. The spring crawl is held in conjunction with SXSW.
This spring over 7,000 people attended and over 1,100 downloaded the app. In addition to being a simple company directory, the app displays a map to the Crawl with, new in this edition, live bus tracking. Parse's technology was key to adding live bus tracking to the app.
What inspired your team to create Startup Crawl?
A technology crawl without a mobile directory? Perish the thought. It just took some time and willpower. Developing the initial app was also used as an example in the beginning iPhone programming class I teach at Austin Community College.
As a developer, what do you feel have been the key benefits of using Parse?
The thing about using Parse is that it is straightforward. It is a technology without pretense. This edition of the app used Parse to store directory assets as well as user and bus locations. This allowed the Crawl organizers to add and remove companies to the Crawl as late as two days before the event. The bus positions were used in the app itself and, as a surprise bonus, the user positions were shown in venue maps.
This app suffered some operational challenges that Parse helped us overcome. Initially, we were going to use a commercial asset tracking service to track the buses. To this end, we had developed Cloud Code to read the RSS feed for each bus and stuff the data into the app's database. When the tracking service could not surmount some operational challenges 4 days before the Crawl, we cobbled together bus beacons out of a colleague's test iPhones, my daughter's iPhone and two iPads from the Crawl organizer's children (still wrapped in their rubber Gumby protectors). This required that I create a custom version of the crawl app to act as a bus beacon and duct tape the 6 iPhones/iPads to the buses. Parse made it easy to push a new source for the bus data to the cloud. The app that had wound its way through Apple's approval process did not need any changes. This is a real victory for decent code abstractions and Parse's service.
How many people used the app during the event?
Over 1,100 downloads during the two days of Crawl buzz, March 6th & 7th. The app made over 250K API calls during the event.
After this experience, do you have any other apps in the works that will use Parse?
A client's unannounced app uses Parse. Parse is one of the technologies I am evaluating for my own apps.
Do you feel like Parse decreased your development time, or provided any other benefits in building your app?
How are the Parse products used in Startup Crawl?
Parse was used to store company directory assets, icons and descriptive text. It also stored user positions and their history, likewise for the buses. We didn't use Parse Push in this edition but future editions will probably support geofenced push notifications from arriving buses. We use the automatic anonymous users in Parse Social and this data was used to create venue maps. Lastly, Cloud Code was used to read RSS feeds from a commercial asset tracking service.
What do you like best about Parse?
Parse is a technology without pretense. It gets the job done.
Any last thoughts you'd like to share?
Parse is enabling us to think bigger about this app. The fall Crawl will test out geofences, more extensive venue map support and, perhaps, Android support. We'll be integrating venue photos and other social activities. Parse is making it easy to make this event app even more useful and fun.
Be sure to look for new iterations of Startup Crawl at future SXSW events!