In the past, I’ve talked about some of the nuances in creating a location-based mobile app. Now I’d like to share some techniques for how we decided what to include in version 1 of the CityCircles mobile app, and how we accomplished what we did, to help you narrow your focus for any future apps you may be thinking about launching.

We had one year to complete the project under the Knight Foundation’s guidelines. We spent the majority of that deploying and testing, deploying and testing, adjusting, then deploying again to see how the audience responded. We did this on a web-based version of our platform, which is a content-management system for hyperlocal communities to organize information around interest points and then geocode it. Our first implementation was for the burgeoning light-rail transit community in Phoenix.

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During that time, we found that our users really responded to events near the train. Like other publications in the market, we had a hard time gaining traction from commuters using the rail, but we were more successful with college students and suburbanites using the train to seek entertainment in an urban environment (downtown Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz.).

From this, we organized “crawls” along our route with itineraries and exclusive promotions at participating bars, restaurants and retail stores near the train. This helped us improve our visibility with both of our user bases: light rail passengers and small businesses around the stations.

Interestingly, few users actually found value in the other types of content on the site. This included micro-level classifieds (sort of a Craigslist for the neighborhood around each station); networking (a resume-posting tool for each station to help passengers network with other riders they may see on the train every day); and fix-it projects (posts where people could garner support for neighborhood-improvement projects around each station). News posts had some traction, but the events were by far the most popular form of content.

Find out what’s popular

So that’s lesson one: Take the most popular part of your product or content and make it the “big carrot” in a mobile app.

We noodled this idea around and came up with a pretty solid version 1. First, we cajoled the local transit authority into giving us the complete schedule for train arrival times and departures, making us even more accurate and effective than the agency’s own website. We posted these in the app so that they are searchable by station and day of the week. Second, we plugged in events, and then ran with a few ideas that will carry us into version two (and probably beyond).

Adding Features and functions

Which brings us to lesson two: See how far you can take the content from lesson one before you add new features/functions to the app.

Since several of the businesses near the train are involved in our events, we added a searchable business directory. Many of the events are also tied to public places (i.e., parks, libraries, common areas), so we included itineraries for each station that described these places, their location, and their significance to the community. Finally, users of the app can mark “favorite” places, businesses or events for future reference. Our next implementation will include a bridge that allows users to save events on their digital calendars (i.e., iCal, Google Calendar, etc.). See how far we took our events feature? You can do the same thing.

Which brings us to our final lesson: Don’t try to be everything to every user in version one of your mobile app. Let the popular features/functions/content make the decisions for you. The audience is giving you the answer, so run with that to get something out the door.