Before Foursquare, there was Dodgeball. Launched by Dennis Crowley in 2004, the app allowed users with cell phones to share their locations with friends via text message. Google bought the social app in 2005, but killed it after it failed to attract a following. Crowley went on to fine-tune the product, adapting its technology to eventually create the immensely popular Foursquare.
Lesson: Don’t give up. Figure out what isn’t working and create something better.
In a marketing attempt gone wrong, Pepsi launched its AMP Up Before You Score app to promote its AMP energy drink. The iPhone app offered guys pickup lines to help them "score" with 24 types of women—and then boast about it via "brag lists." After a week, the company shut down the app and issued a Twitter apology after receiving an onslaught of criticism from angry consumers.
Lesson: Apps have a wide reach. Make sure they are sending the right message.
Digg founder Kevin Rose was just one of the masterminds behind the 2007 launch of Pownce, a micro-blogging site that had a mobile app companion. It allowed users to send messages, create events, and share photos with friends. But star power wasn’t enough to save the app (or the site), which was shut down a year later after failing to draw in new users in the shadow of other sites like Twitter.
Lesson: Be innovative. It takes more than an all-star team to make an app shine.
In an "app experiment," developer Jonathan Stark recently put a $300 Starbucks gift card on his website as a downloadable bar code for smartphones. Users could either buy a coffee on Stark or add money to give a coffee to someone else. The good news was the app became an instant hit, but the bad news was most users thought it was a viral marketing ploy from Starbucks. Even after a Starbucks spokesperson said the company had no knowledge of the app experiment, Stark still had a hard time convincing users otherwise.
Lesson: Going big can backfire. Make sure your message is clear.
Perhaps one of the biggest failures in app history, the Baby Shaker app featured a picture of a baby that made crying sounds. To make it stop, users had to shake their iPhones until red X's appeared over the baby's eyes. The app was pulled immediately, but not before creators Sikolosoft and Apple received a wave of backlash.
Lesson: Use good judgment. Just because an app is approved doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. —Kathryn Kattalia