We’re proud to present the first in a series of Q&A’s with clients, partners and friends of Plank.

In 2011/2012 Plank worked with Echoer and their lead designer Varda Halaby-Senerman to develop a polished icon aspects of their UI for their iPhone application, in addition to coding up echoer.com in support the app launch.

The iPhone application went live in Canada in late winter, and just recently passed it’s huge second milestone, a worldwide release. Reception has been stellar so far — especially in the US and the Middle East. They’ve been racking up accolades and reviews left, right and centre.

Daniel Cowen, Co-Founder & CEO of Echoer, shared some of his insights on the launch, the app’s unique lexicon and visual language, as well as the mobile space and the future of the product.

Plank: What is Echoer?

Daniel: Echoer is a groundbreaking app that makes it easy to see what other people are thinking and experiencing in the places around you. It solves the problem of working out which thoughts are worth hearing; elevating the most recent and popular content above the noise. And it’s been designed to allow you to easily make an impact, either by adding your own voice or amplifying others.


Plank: What inspired the unique interface of the app?

Daniel: In part our own experiences as technology users/lovers. There have been a lot of apps circling this space, trying to marry location, relevance and realtime, but nobody has quite tackled it head on. Our entire design team, which was led by Varda Halaby-Senerman, knew that if we were to succeed then the interface had to be as playful, intuitive and engaging as possible. We also see echoes as living, breathing things, and wanted to convey that in the look and fee of the app.

I hope we’ve achieved all that, and early feedback seems to indicate we are on the right track. The main reason why Echoer is going to change the way we share the information around us is because we’re trying to make it as easy as possible to do so. Compare this to a review site, where you will normally sit down, after the event, and write a long piece about the good and the bad of a venue. Echoer, because of its UI makes it easy and fun to do it there and then, and for other people to engage with your ideas immediately.

Plank: Your app lexicon is great: ‘thought bubbles, echoing a thought, amping up thoughts, echo spaces’. Where did this all come from?

Daniel: Davin, my co-founder originally came up with the name Echo. He wanted the app to be a place where you echo the thoughts and ideas you have in the real world. And just like a real echo, they should be put out there and given the chance to grow and get louder.

The rest really flowed from that notion of sound and resonance. “Amp” is a word particularly close to my heart as it 100% symbolizes what we are doing when we crowd source relevance – a quick action that raises the volume!

Echo Spaces was a little trickier and we actually got stuck on a whole host of terms before we hit that. None fit that well and others have double-meanings that jarred with our message (i.e. “echo chamber” and the fear of arduous repetition seen on other platforms). We sat down and looked at the language we had used to describe the places on the map, and it turned out the word spaces was the one we kept using, without even knowing it. And it works, because these are living, breathing spaces where users can engage with each other, or with the venue, or with the ideas flowing in there.

Plank: How are people using it so far? In expected or unexpected ways?

: It’s a little too soon to pinpoint how the app will be used by most people; but we certainly expect a lot of creativity to arise. The beta test in Montreal highlighted some of the more interesting uses, such as students creating location based debates or forums to discuss things in. And we do have certain expectations for the app, built around events (particularly multi-venue events) and we see a huge play in the review/content space, with Echoer being a more up to date and relevant place to get the information you need.

The review space is excessively static, repetitive, and out-of-date; and there really is no excuse for the lack of relevance, content, interactivity, or easy to use navigation that are achingly missing there.

Finally, venues and public services have also shown interest in using Echoer to take their brand and reputation management hyper-local, something we are very excited about. Needless to say we are going to be building partnerships to take all of this forward.

Plank: There’s been a lot of rapid change in the social location based space recently. Your thoughts?

: There’s been a huge amount of change, and location remains the holy grail/hot topic. My view is that it is still wide open. There is a lot of interesting stuff happening, but the key thing to realize is that with these phenomenal devices we have in our pockets now, location is not the important part. What’s important is what people build on top of that and how they make it relevant to users.

Our understanding of this is changing every day, and soon people will stop talking about this broad bucket of “location” services (because it is just too broad). Instead they will be talking about the particular vertical that these products are building on top of location and how we now make all that data and interaction more engaging.

Take Highlight, breakout location app of SXSW, it’s really about connecting people, and they have to figure out how to do that in a meaningful way. Take SongKick (my favorite app, whose API we use), it’s about connecting you to music and eventually music lovers, but location is one of the gears they crank to do that. And Echoer is about connecting you to relevant content and an understanding of what matters most in a given place or area at a given point in time – it’s really less about your location than it is about your thoughts and the thoughts of others. Location is just the structure it’s intuitively built on, and our way of building in physical relevance.

Plank: What’s the next big step for Echoer?

Daniel: We are going to spend the next few months focussing on user, content and partnership generation. We’ll also be announcing an Android release in the summer, which we are very excited about. And at the
same time we’ll be listening carefully to our users to see how they are using Echoer and ensuring that future versions build in the functionality that they need most.

Every time we open Echoer up to more users it helps us shape our development priorities. Some of the additional features we have on the roadmap are very exciting, as are some of the partnership and events announcements we hope to make in the coming

The App if free and available worldwide. Take a look for yourself by downloading using the link below.

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