How do we intent to tackle this bottom-up approach of making a community based platform that simplifies the lives of all users?
We dubbed a user “Al-e users are “Al-es”. With this we imply a reference to the platform name and our logo, featuring the two common first letters of both the words in the platform name. Also we see the community as an alliance to tackle the task of making every Al-e’s live easier every day. Being an Al-e means being part of a community that makes a difference. The more Al-es there are the bigger the difference will be, in quantity and quality. So spread the word, it helps the new Al-e, it helps the platform and it helps you, the “old” Al-e.
There are a few challenges and solutions we found:
First there is the technical back-end that supports this platform:
We started off by pitching in the web-service and hosting. We choose a hoster that allows us flexibility to go on more powerful servers very easily with minimal impact. The active server back-end and databases we will deploy for the beginning in a cloud service. Once this endeavor takes on more serious proportions, I do not expect being able to maintain and develop it on my own. At this point we will need to hire and re-evaluate the operating platform that we choose for now. A very rough estimate puts the number of users required to cause serious technical difficulties with the current hosting at far greater than 10M. Once we have gathered up this big of a community, we expect to have the support and finances to choose a different platform and do so in a well laid out and planned way. The choices we did are sufficient to support this platform far into a steep start.
Then there is the financing of this endeavor:
I have a day job to support our lives. We are not dependent on any income out of this endeavor. This also means that this endeavor will not be put at risk because it does not generate enough revenue fast enough. The requirements of the development of the platform will determine what the income will be used for. The first priority is the platform. Only after this is the priority to give up my day job.
Our approach is that this platform shall be free for everybody. The application is free. Using the service is free.
Wait a second. Generating revenue by not charging anything for everything? Yep. We will be posting advertisements on our webpages (excluding the main homepage) and in our app. We see this as an annoyance, but a necessity. Operating this platform will not be free. What we will do, thought is to keep a balance. We will be limiting the advertisements to as many as necessary to support the platform.
The second source of income is donations out of the community. We think that we offer a significant value for each individual member of the community. Each individual member in turn has the opportunity to support this value for others by donating. Donations are not expected. And we are not pushing for them. We are not going to make you feel bad about not donating. Everybody will be grateful if you do donate, so we are making it easy.
The third (prospected) source of income is opting out of the advertisements by paying a small contribution to this platform. This will not be implemented in the immediate future out of a few reasons:
- We need to have the platform operable, so we will limit the perks implemented and concentrate on the core.
- We have no idea how much to ask for. This will need to be assessed once we have some historic operational costs and an overview on our incomes out of advertisements and donations. The opting out branch will need to compensate for the losses of the missing advertisements.
The donation income and the opting out of the advertisements income are two separate items out of the following consideration: Donations are a contribution of an individual for the benefit of the community. Opting out of advertisements is a choice an individual takes for their own convenience.
This means that each Al-e has to contribute by either accepting advertisements or a fee for the convenience of being advertisement free. These two contributions will be equal. It also means that each Al-e has the choice to contribute additional-e via donations.
Would we accept investors? It all depends. Interested Investors should contact us, and we can talk. No promises, no commitments, no dependencies, lots of possibilities.
How will the platform handle the community supporting the community?
This is not the place or time to disclose technical details.
This is the place to explain how it will work for Al-es:
Every Al-e needs an account:
Every new Al-e generates an account in which, besides basic personal information an allergen profile will be filled out. This determines the alarming behavior of the application. If an Al-e is responsible for other Al-es (e.g. your minor children), a care Al-e account will be created. This care Al-e account can be converted into a full Al-e account at any time. You can link Al-e accounts to each other. The linked Al-e will need to agree to the link.
Here’s a practical example: There are Joe and Jane, a couple. They have two children: Sal-e and Sam. Joe will make his full Al-e account. Jane will make her full Al-e account. Joe links with Jane’s Al-e account. Jane accepts or denies Joe’s request. (Jane will only see Joe’s screen name, not any personal information). Jane makes a care Al-e account for Sal-e and another one for Sam. Joe now links to Sam’s and Sal-e’s account. Jane accepts or denies. Now let’s say Sam gets old enough, and is allowed his own digital life. Jane can convert Sam’s care Al-e account into a full Al-e account. Now Sam decides.
How the Al-es will be organized:
We introduce circles. The involvement of an Al-e in the community will determine which circle the Al-e is in. Everybody starts as Newbie. A Newbie Al-e earns the Rank 1 by contributing to the community. From Rank 1 to Rank 4, it depends how much an Al-e contributed in the past 12 months. To stay in the same rank, an Al-e needs to contribute constantly on a certain level. The higher the rank, the more activities an Al-e can do. This way, we can ensure a self-regulating constant high quality of activities. Besides these ranks, there will be granted ranks which can be earned by exemplary involvement. This system is required because:
The Platform and Community need data. Lots of data:
For the start we will be concentrating on food items, this can easily be extended in the future to include more products. The only limitation (for now) is that the item needs to have an UPC barcode, so it needs to be packaged. For each item, we need the properties like manufacturer, name and packaging size. Also the ingredient list. Out of this the platform will compute the allergens in the ingredients. Further we need contact allergen information for this product. In gathering all of this information, the community will play a significant part. Depending on the rank, Al-es can submit and enter information, review information and approve information. Also, the platform will be prompting on a random basis to confirm the resident information. This is to keep the saved information up to date and catch recipe “improvements” for products. This way, every Al-e in the community can contribute to the individual comfort level, the personal benefit and the benefit of the community. Higher ranking Al-es with a proven track record confirm the actions of the outer circles. This has two benefits: Only the real contributors earn the entry into the inner circles, the higher ranks. And the data submitted gets verified by multiple Al-es, so eventual mistakes are caught before they are accessible in the application and possibly cause harm to a fellow Al-e.
True, in the beginning there will be many more data sets need to be entered than further on. But further on, the keeping the data up to date will be the more challenging part.
The community is not only about the application and platform:
The mobile app will initially be launched as an Android application. The developmental platform chosen allows us to easily port the application to other platforms, though. This has several reasons: The investment in time and money to have the application available are lowest for Android. Once we start getting momentum and have the first applications out and gather experience, we have the time to go through the hoops involved getting an iOS, Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8 and possibly a BlackBerry 10 application out. We are following Jolla and Google Glass, and will re-evaluate these platforms frequently.
This is actual-e the first article for this Blog. The Blog will contain articles and posts about the platform as well as experiences we gathered building it. I expect this to be a remarkable ride and an endeavour to learn a lot of. And everybody should benefit from what we learn. Additional-e we are working on having guest authors. These are thought leaders, medical authorities (not necessarily limited to food allergies) and personalities that we think have something worthy to say.
We are using Twitter to easily reach out to communicate news. This can be milestones in the development of the community and platform, or an out-of the application alarm, e.g. if an additional allergen was discovered in a product.
At the time of writing this article, the following is planned:
YouTube channel, featuring our own little clips and linking to good videos on YouTube. This channel is planned to be a valuable resource for everybody interested in food allergies and the impact on daily life.
A forum is planned for discussions within the community. This forum will be one of our main feedback resources for the future development of the platform.
A wiki is planned, maintained by the community to have all the information around food allergies in one spot.
These are serious. Because of the limited time available, we are focusing extremely on absolute necessary core topics. We will be postponing everything that is not absolutely essential for having the prototype of the application available. Examples are: The forum and wiki are not integrated (yet). The title text on our website header is aligned at the top of the logo. To name a few examples. This also means we will be iterating the platform and application frequently, at least in the earlier stages. We will be publishing the application and features, develop on something else but collect feedback about the released features. From this we will prioritize and include / exclude future features. The community will have a big say in what to include, what not, in which order and how it works best.
To alleviate these time constraints there are several scenarios, that will be evaluated ongoing: Once the platform generates sufficient revenue, giving portions of the development to freelancers; finding an Al-e that has experience with and wants to get involved; giving up the day job and going “full in”. Nothing is written in stone, it depends how it is going to pan out.
One more point is missing in this article. But I think this point deserves its own post, so I will just mention it for now:
Why? Why are we doing this? What is our motivation, our mission, our drive?
Hint: We do not have food allergies, it has nothing to do with this.