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The Spectrum Project Final Update – From 0 to Queery

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 | Posted by alex.wykoff


As my partner, Chelsea Hostetter, and I have reached the end of quarter 3, it is time to summarize what this time has meant for us and where we will be heading as we step into our final quarter at AC4D.

However, before we dive into that, some thanks and recognition is in order.


Firstly, to our participants, including the Transgender Education Network of Texas, the Central Texas Transgender Society, and PFLAG . You have been incredibly generous with your time and personal stories both triumphant and painful. Thank You.

To our classmates, who have provided both support and challenge via their critique. You’ve helped us to create a better design. Thank You.

To the professors of quarter 3, Matt Franks, Kijana Knight, and Jon Kolko. You have all been instrumental in helping us to make sense of the data and continuously refine our ideas into something greater than it was before. Thank You.

Finally, to our friends, family, and loved ones. You have been our design guinea pigs and our most ardent supporters. Thank You.

Previous posts

For handy reference, here is the history of our posts in chronological order:
Spectrum Project – First post
Spectrum Project – Update 2
Spectrum Project – Update 3
Spectrum Project – Update 4
Spectrum Project – Update 5
Spectrum Project – Update 6
Spectrum Project – Update 7

At the beginning of this quarter, we had 300 design ideas.

Although we had picked 3 to present for our final, our hearts were not set on any particular idea. Initially, we were leaning much more in the direction of either a comic book or a videogame as we are both quite interested in such things.  However, we carefully reevaluated our design ideas and tried to strike a balance between presumed impact, our passion for a particular idea, and feasibility given our skill sets.

Our first concept : A Birchbox for the trans* community

We ended up with our first idea, which was Clique. A Birchbox for the trans* and gender variant community. The was a high level concept which strived to create a space to grow mentors who would curate boxes of things they wish they would have had during the earlier stages of their transition.

We brought this idea to the class for critique.

We carefully wrote down what each of our classmates and Jon had to say and systematically walked through each of the points to see what we wished to address.

We reexamined why we wanted a box and what this all really meant for our community. Our next iteration on this concept was to ditch the box but carry forward two concepts, mentorship and curation.

We asked the community what they wanted to learn about and what they were willing to teach.

Our second concept : Mutual mentorship

What resulted was a concept called Three4Three. We democratized the mentorship concept so that everyone is a mentor. By sharing their strengths, each member could gain confidence while making new connections.

Speaking of connections, this is where our curation concept was carried forward. Instead of curating a box, we thought to curate the community instead. Most websites are open and free. They want to have as many users as possible to that they can receive more advertisement revenue. As such, they do not work particularly hard on removing negative users as that would cut into the bottom line.
Out of concern for our community, we intend the opposite. With particularly strict controls on who can enter, we create a safe, trans* positive environment.

We then brought this idea to our classmates.

Again we were brought some incredible challenges from our peers. We thought carefully about why we felt mentorship was so valuable. After some consideration, we landed on the concept that companionship was the most valuable aspect of the interaction. So we then decided to carry forward 2 concepts: a curated community and companionship.

Our third concept : Friendship and networking over coffee and a game

Coffeeroulette was our next concept. It simplified the meeting of two individuals so that instead of a teaching session, they would meet over coffee and a game.

It was also around this time that we started thinking that this would be a mobile application.

We printed out a series of scenarios with common user tasks and had members of the community try to imagine themselves in those scenarios.

What we learned was that overall, the concept was solid, but there are foundational trust issues which needed to be addressed. We refined our idea once more, and tried to reduce the concept to its most distilled form.

A fundamental question : Can we bring two random people together?

We had a fundamental question which needed to be answered: Can we bring two random people together for coffee?

The answer is yes, however there are some caveats. Fortune smiled upon us as our random pair happened to both be enthusiastic programmers. Most importantly though, was that they both had a friend in common. This mutual connection was the linchpin to the establishment of their fundamental trust.

It was after this test where the mechanics of our community growth were established.

A network of friends

For this concept to work, we needed to create a network of friends. So we decided that instead of allowing for a free-for-all registration system, we would be invite-only.  In particular, we recalled the invite-only, early beta trials of other social networks and realized that after a certain point, a few things happen:

1. The invites become commoditized.
2. Someone is a little careless with their invites and negativity increases.
3. At a certain size, the community is subjected to Eternal September.

We needed to control two critical issues; the flow rate of invites and the quality of who is invited. From this, our ratings system was born.

We recognize that invites are a form of social currency and that there will be pressure to give an invite to acquaintances. In these scenarios, people who are not particularly trans* friendly would normally gain access to our network and wreak havoc if left unchecked.

We ask our users to rate one another and the location where they met after every meeting. With enough negative ratings, not only is a user ejected from the system, but the person who invited them has their rating lowered as well. This, along with a per user invite cap, provides backpressure so that they think very carefully before handing out access.

Between our scenario and live tests, we proved that while a game wasn’t necessary, having a common subject does help start the conversation.

Our final concept

From this, Queery was born.

We then brought this concept back to our users via usability testing. The response was great and we rapidly refined our interface. With some fantastic help from Matt Franks, we ended up with a smooth application which allows users to schedule a meeting around their selected topic, find each other with a discreet signal, and rate the interaction.

On Saturday, Chelsea presented our refined concept to a crowd of designers, entrepreneurs, and AC4D professors. The presentation is available here. We received some wonderful compliments and some sage advice on where to go next regarding business models and technical strategy.

So what’s next?

Over the next quarter, Chelsea and I will be building this concept into a live demonstration application and we need your help!

We’re are looking for mentors in entrepreneurship as neither of us have a sturdy background in finance, marketing, or sales. On the technical front, we are currently leaning toward an HTML5 responsive mobile webapp. If you can find the time to impart some of your wisdom, perhaps over lunch or coffee, we’d love to hear from you!

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