Why a LockerPulse App?

On Monday we released a fantasy football Android app for LockerPulse. Here’s a bit of the backstory.

LockerPulse as a Business

LockerPulse has sort of been stuck in the same place the past few years. It has a small, active, hard core user base. It’s growing, but slowly. It makes a little money on ads, but it costs more to run. Server expenses are high when you’re indexing 4,500+ sites for news every 15 minutes. We’ve built some seriously cool technology. There are plenty of opportunities to turn it into a business. When viewed in a vacuum you’d think we’re crazy for not pursuing some of them. When you look at our entire company though, there are much better opportunities with DI. Opportunities almost guaranteed to make more money for less risk. The more DI grows, the bigger impact we can have and the more attractive options to scale it are. To some degree we’re a “victim” of our own success. So, for the most part LP just sits there and every few months we think “we need to do something with it”.

Options?

At some point you have to shit or get off the pot. We’ve had LP for 4+ years. The obvious thought is to sell it, and we may still pursue this at some point. The downside is the amount of time and effort involved in a transition for a relatively small payoff. When you take all of those hours and instead put that time into a DI project you’re almost always going to get a better ROI on your time working on DI. It’s also worth noting that it’s unlikely there’s some buyer out there waiting to offer us some unexpectedly high amount for it. A surprising number of big players in the sports news business are aware of LP for one reason or another, and have been for several years, and I’ve never once seen any interest from any of them to buy it. So it’s likely that any buyer would be a small company who sees in it what we see, and is willing to run it at a loss for a while until it can gain traction. That, or a similar company who just wants the user base. Either way you’re not making much for your effort. Shutting it down and transitioning users to another service is also a decent amount of work. Which is why we’ve been stalling. We all love it as users ourselves. That makes getting rid of it a tougher call.

Why an App?

Given this, why would we build an app? The answer really is just that I thought it would be a cool experiment! A few months ago I got to thinking: what would LP look like if you started from scratch in 2014 instead of 2010? It most certainly would be a mobile app. It would probably be way simpler. The most unique aspect is the fantasy player tracking, so maybe you’d focus on that first in a small stand alone app. Then I asked myself the question: with the power of mobile phones, could you do all of the RSS processing on the phone instead of on server, saving that huge expense? It’s a lot of work to aggregate the news for the entire sports world, but it’s not so much work for my phone to aggregate all of the news for my sports world. I became obsessed with finding out the answer to that question, and so I set out to see if it was possible.

Building It

I didn’t have time to delve deep into Java or Swift/Objective-C, so I decided to look at the options for building apps in a webview, which would allow me to write in the languages I’m familiar with: html, javascript, css. I finally decided on the following set up for the app: jQuery Mobile for the framework, PhoneGap to wrap it into an app, and PhoneGap Build to compile on the web. After a weekend of playing around, I had a proof of concept: you could in fact do all of the heavy lifting on the phone, completely eliminating the need for the server! I presented this to my partners and we agreed it was worth a shot to see what the world would think of it. It would also let us dabble in the previously unknown world of apps. Maybe it will take off and we’ll make a more robust version. Maybe it won’t and it will be the final nail in LP’s coffin. Maybe something in between. We’ll see. At least we’re trying something. Plus, you know, I had to scratch my own itch and see if it was possible. The app we released doesn’t ping the LockerPulse server at all for anything, every bit of it is processed and stored locally on the phone. That’s pretty cool…right?

Building “Real” Apps

Would I use the jQuery Mobile + PhoneGap combo again? For an app like this, yes. It’s so damn quick that it’s worth some of the tradeoffs in speed and customizability. Sometimes just getting something out the door fast is important, as was the case for us. Football season is starting and I only devoted a small number of hours to this project. However, if I was to build something “real”, something as a pillar of my business, I would likely go native. You’re putting yourself at a disadvantage in a highly competitive industry if you only rely on what jQuery Moible and PhoneGap can do. If I didn’t have time to learn (I certainly don’t know), I’d hire someone.

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