Building: My Social Accountability App

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

In Jan 2020, I embarked on a journey to solve problems that I was facing. Though short-lived as a result of the pandemic, I attempted solving these problems by building solutions (as well as working on a number of other things / up-skilling).

Problem — Procrastination:

One of the problems I wanted to solve was that of unnecessary, excess procrastination. I get frustrated at myself for procrastinating (watching tv series, movies, scrolling on social media, etc.) more than I should. Though I believe that fundamentally procrastinating isn’t an issue as procrastination can often be a form of rest and can also be a gateway to inspiration, excess procrastination is. Still, it’s difficult to stop ourselves from procrastinating. We may not realise we’re procrastinating or some of us may be experiencing mild depression which then means we spend a lot of time not doing what we truly want to do (at no fault of our own).

The reason I see excess procrastination as a problem is partly because a lot of us have dreams and desires that are often not met. The potential we can all reach is left unseen partly as a result of our own inability to act. To do.

Initially I wanted to tackle this problem from a mental health angle as it’s what i’m most passionate about. Those with mild-to-severe depression are sometimes unable to achieve their full potential due to how debilitating depression can be. However, while severe depression cannot be tackled simply (whether through the creation of a basic app or a service), the effects of mild depression — in the context of procrastination — can be managed in a number of ways.

While working on this and conducting research I realised that solving the problem of procrastination for those with mild depression would, for the most part, also solve the problem of procrastination for those who are not battling a mental illness.

Solution:

When brainstorming a number of ideas, using my personal experience as a point of reference, I concluded that any solution needed an element of social accountability. By social accountability I mean having someone else, whether a family member or a friend or a stranger, to hold you accountable as opposed to you trying to hold yourself accountable.

The reason I settled on this was because I noticed that I found it easier to complete tasks when I had others who were either reliant on me to complete it or who were aware of it and knew the deadline so they would check in. Social accountability, for the most part, was more effective than holding myself accountable. When attempting to hold myself accountable, it was easy for me to make excuses to myself, to push deadlines I had set, and to drop projects because no one else had a vested interest in them.

An element of social accountability, whether at a large scale with strangers encouraging you, or at a more intimate level with only your family or friends supporting you, goes a long way.

I was leaning towards the idea of building this as a social app where the user can write out all their goals, objectives and tasks, and be held accountable by other users who they invite into their accountability circle. Users would also have the space to discuss with others what they’re working on as well as connect on projects and build genuine, supportive, friendships. The hope was that this would help reduce the excess procrastination since each user would be accountable to their social circle (or the wider set of users if they chose to keep their profile open), thus making them work towards meeting their potential incrementally.

Approach:

My lack of coding skills meant that I could not build what exactly I had in mind in the space of time I had inadvertently set myself. So I opted to use the no-code tool glide.app to build a prototype of what it could look like (see here). I learnt how to use glide.app and put together a ‘quick’ prototype.

Unfortunately, and ironically, because of the limitations of glide.app, the social element of the app (which was part of the foundations of the app) was missing. So the prototype built was a simple platform where the user could input their details, their goals and objectives and what they’re working on daily without having someone communicate with them directly in-app.

It was possible to give people access to your version of the app with your goals; however, you would have to discuss the user’s progress on another platform such as WhatsApp or Twitter as the glide.app did not have that functionality.

Results

More than 60 people downloaded the ‘app’ on the first day off the back of my initial tweet (see here). I received qualitative feedback from ~14 people which helped me iterate further and/or brainstorm other ways to improve it once in a position to build a full-fledge app.

Learnings

My approach was not that of an exemplar product manager. I did not speak to enough people to validate my idea and size the market and I jumped into developing a solution too quickly. Though I began building this for myself, it’s worthwhile speaking to a number of people to understand exactly what needs to be built.

Furthermore, I did not do enough thorough market research which meant that I did not notice that there were apps such as Habit Share, myRule, SticKK, and WithPeers that exist and are very similar to what I tried building. If I had been thorough, I would have been able to learn from them.

In addition to that, initially I focused too much on building a digital solution (an app) as opposed to finding another way to solve the problem without tech. When I eventually did start thinking about less tech-based solutions (which is different to tech-enabled solutions), I had lost interest in solving this problem…partly due to the pandemic, and partly due to laziness and procrastination.

Conclusion:

I plan to work on more things this year and discuss the journey on public forums (or at least more so than last year). If you are interested in my Jan 2020 thread on this social accountability app, see here.

If you are interested in another project I was working on with a friend of mine, see here. TL;DR: it’s a music project aimed at helping artists and record labels understand what listeners think. He wrote an article off the back of that on how natural language processing can tell us about what 6ix9ine’s listeners think about his music before his court case and after his court case.

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I write about the personal. I write about the mental (health). I write.

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Rodney

Rodney

I write about the personal. I write about the mental (health). I write.

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