Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Most posts on this blog discuss the future and how you should be ready to meet it. However, we only get there by managing today’s applications.

So, let’s step back for a moment and talk about the now – how we are maintaining and improving our existing apps so we can get to that much-cooler-than-now horizon in the first place.

It’s about the grunt work.

Most of us launch an app with hypotheses about what content and features our readers want. We build based on the print archetype and organisation, and we test new features.

How are your hypotheses playing out? What are your metrics telling you about:

  • What readers are reading, how much of it, and for how long?

  • What readers are not reading?

  • Readers’ use patterns?

  • What features readers are using or ignoring?

Outside of metrics, regularly reviewing other applications should uncover gaps in your features and functionality.

How are you reacting to that information? Are you:

  • Focusing the content to better play to what consumers are actually reading (if your application doesn’t already provide automated customisation)?

  • Depreciating or removing topics that aren’t being read — even if it’s staff-produced content?

  • Jettisoning unused features/functions?

  • Identifying features to be added or improved?

Actively responding to the information metrics provide will help you better focus the application to how the readers actually use it. It will further differentiate the app’s purpose and inform your content strategy. And it will help you define how all your apps play within your ecosystem.

Further, if you can make changes without requiring new builds, you’ll speed up the feedback loop for both you and the consumer.

At Cox Media Group, we launched a smartphone app last year. A few months after the initial launch, we saw a gradual drop in page views and page views per visit. We looked at our metrics on what was being read and used … or not.

For example, our navigation sidebar was rarely touched, nor was the reader-submitted photo tool. Acting on that information, we jettisoned the user-generated content (UGC) tool and spent a few iterations refining our feeds – increasing story quantity, refocusing topics, etc. – watched the response (over a month or two so we could see a trend), and repeated the process.

As a result we saw a rebound in page views, page views per visit, and time per visit.

Also, as the content topics became better focused, the readers began using the navigation sidebar, indicating there was a desire for more content. And we’ve not heard a peep about the removed feature.

For changes that require new development and builds – and thus a much slower feedback loop – we focus more on the experiential factors such as design, personalisation, messaging, etc., that tie into further improving and reinforcing readers’ use patterns.

I’ve outlined a process most of you are already following, so why discuss it? As I said, grunt stuff.

As exciting as future tech is, how well we navigate it will be determined by how well we continue to practice the basics. Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

It’s vital, unglamorous grunt work often lost in releasing an app and then looking past it to the next thing.

Every application should be “in progress” right up to the point you replace it.