Training Young People to Design, Market Apps

Young people propose, design and market smartphone apps that serve community needs.


"It's basically creating something through trial and error—you try something, and if it doesn't work, you fix it until it does work," explained De Rubira, an intern at Mobile Action Lab. "That was a really hands-on definition of the iterative development process. It definitely clicked in my mind and it really made a lot of sense to me. Iterative development is a very effective way to work on apps, and that's how I've been thinking about our entire process with the Mobile Action Lab."

Once the coding process is complete, the apps are tested to make sure they function as designed and the final product is user-friendly. Young people research potential distribution partners and co-create promotion plans to market their product.

De Rubira described the tediousness and attention to detail required of this process. "I've learned that an app, if any part of it isn't good, it's not going to be a good app. If it doesn't have good graphics, you won't be interested," said De Rubira. "If it's a bad concept, obviously that won't work. The interface is really important too. If it's not intuitive to work with, the functionality has to be such that--in addition to being fun to play with, it has to do something that'll make you interested in making you come back."

App projects

For each of these app projects, Mobile Action Lab will work with students to track statistics relating to the apps usage, such as numbers of installs, new and returning visitors, page views and the duration of time spent using the app. Additional app development is underway, including an app that strives to increase communication and understanding between youth and the police, and educate youth about their rights and responsibilities as they relate to the legal system.

Forage City: The goal of Forage City is to create an app that mediates the process of gathering and redistributing excess food from backyard trees to people in need. This way, food that would otherwise rot and go to waste, can be fed to the needy. The app uses crowdsourcing, which enables the public to collectively complete specific tasks that traditionally may have been performed by specific employers or contractors. Users include residents and non-profit organizations, such as homeless shelters, foodbanks, youth organizations and afterschool programs across the United States.

"The goal is to improve food equity by enabling users to have access to fresh produce that is lacking in poor communities," explained Soep.

The Forage City app is being developed in collaboration with Forage Oakland's Asiya Wadud and designers from UC Berkeley's Information School. This app will be accessed through the Web and smart phones and the Beta is anticipated for June 2011.

VoxPop: Soep explained that the goal of VoxPop is to provide mobile and interactive radio that is "glocal" (global and local). It enables "users to share stories and report news from around the world, including 'hot spots,' such as Japan and Egypt, and regions that often get partial and/or distorted treatment in mainstream media," said Soep. VoxPop is being developed in collaboration with Youth Speaks, the nation's leading producer and presenter of youth spoken word, and developers from Stanford University. This app will be accessed through the iTunes store. The Beta is anticipated for July 2011.

All Day Play: All Day Play is Youth Radio's online radio station and music site that streams hip-hop/eclectic music, including music chosen by some of the area's hottest DJs, new and established artists and Youth Radio interns and graduates who are pursuing music careers. The initial Beta version of the app was created at one of Mobile Action Lab's "App Inventor" workshops and is anticipated to be released in May 2011. It will be accessible through the Android marketplace.

STEM careers and developing career-focused skills

Another one of the goals of Mobile Action Lab is to show young people that STEM subjects can be fun to study and can lead to career paths that are exciting and fulfilling, as well as practical.