Over the past 6 months, Applico has worked with a very special client (name withheld) to build Castr, a social platform that enables its users to broadcast live video streams from their iOS or Android smartphones. It was a fantastic experience for the team to work collaboratively on cutting-edge frameworks that made this platform possible, and we’re very excited to share our experience and learnings with the tech community. This post is the first in a series of blog posts, each of which will deep dive into a specific phase of the product development: from strategy and design through engineering and deployment.
Castr serves as a platform for iOS and Android users to broadcast live video from their smartphones and to discover other users broadcasting from around the world.
Castr offers users a seamless way of quickly broadcasting live high quality video. From anywhere within the apps, a user can be broadcasting in just two taps. Castr is also built to be highly scalable without any human interaction (which we’ll go into more detail in future technical blog posts). But first, lets understand how Castr came to be.
Video is a very powerful medium, and live video even more so. It has many characteristics that make it an ideal form of communication for the modern Internet age. It’s hard to manipulate a real-time video stream to alter the reality being broadcasted, and therefore it’s the most honest medium currently available on the Internet. It’s also the most easily digestible form of communication as well as the easiest to capture. Combine that with the widespread availability of smartphones with fast Internet access (WiFi and mobile data), and you unlock a whole new world of experiences. One in which a broadcaster can make their viewers feel deeply connected with the moment that they’re experiencing themselves, whether its a garage band practice in your neighborhood or protesters in a country halfway around the world.
In late 2014, when our client first came in with this proposal, mobile livestreaming was an interesting but comparatively empty space. There were a few heavyweights, such as LiveStream and Ustream, and a few underdogs such as HangW/ and YouNow. But none had really captured a significant majority of the users and had certainly not even scratched the surface of the potential market (re: everyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection).
In our competitor analysis, we evaluated all the solutions on the market at that time. Top among the product we analyzed were:
From Left to Right: YouNow, Twitch.tv, YouTube, LiveStream, Hang With and Ustream.
With all the solutions that we build at Applico, our highest priorities is to ensure that we can provide value to our users. Value isn’t measured in feature sets but rather by relative worth of the platform, given the associated benefits and costs. By defining the value first, we ensure that the features we build during product engineering are directly beneficial to the overarching purpose of the platform. In Castr, the value for the content producers would be the attention they receive from their viewers. For the viewers, it would be the real-time exclusive content that they get to consume. We also wanted to ensure that the both sets of users (broadcasters and viewers) would enjoy the cross-side network effects, i.e. value delivered to one user group would increase as the other user group grows.
During our competitor analysis, we went through a series of exercises with the client where we mapped the competitors across different dimensions such as privacy levels and video availability. Here’s one such mapping
By plotting these competitors across these dimensions, we were able to identify opportunities for Castr to provide value to users. The next step was to identify the features that would help the platform deliver this value and to figure out which features would form the minimal viable product (MVP). The bulk of the value was delivered by enabling video broadcasting and viewing, so we knew we obviously needed to build that first.
But looking beyond that, we knew we wanted to solve for content discoverability as well. One part of this solution lay in the video-stream categorization. If we allowed users to specify their own #hashtags to categorize the streams, we would’ve ended up with a 100 categories, each with one stream. Likewise, if we had no categorization model, it would’ve been hard for viewers to sift through a 100 casts with no means to mentally sort or filter through them at a glance. The ideal middle ground lay in providing a rigid set of 10-12 categories that the viewer could optionally assign to their cast. These fixed categories also served as a hint to the kind of content that we wanted to encourage on the platform.
With such decisions made during Strategy, it set a solid foundation on top of which the designers, engineers and product managers could flesh out the technical side of the platform.
If you’re interested in reading further about our approach for strategically building successful platforms, head over to our Exchange Driven Design page: /services/exchange-driven-design/
In Part 2, we’ll hear from our design team on how they went about designing version 1 of Castr.
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