Floop for iPhone: Instant, real-time polling with visual feedback

Floop for iPhone: Instant, real-time polling with visual feedback:
Floop, a recently launched iPhone app coming out of stealth mode on Friday, lets you instantly poll the world, people in your immediate area, or just your friends, and track the results through real-time visual feedback. It’s an app with lots of potential and an impressive interface, but it won’t be without challenges in finding an audience.

Initially bootstrapped and then funded by an initial round of $625,000 from investors including Connecticut Innovations, Advantage Capital, Enhanced Capital and one unnamed individual investor, Floop quietly launched on the App Store early in September and has been amassing a steady user base since. There’s already a healthy little community participating in Floop’s social polls. Here’s a look at how those work.

Simple, sticky Q&A

Twitter is a good tool for getting a snap, cursory view of general opinion on a question, provided you: A) have a large enough network; and B) ask the right question at the right time, but it lacks permanence. Once you pose your question, it’s pretty much also assigned a drop-dead date of only a few hours. With Floop, that’s not the case. Questions can be followed by anyone using Floop, and you can always check back to see the current status of responses. Co-founders Richard Schultz and Patrick Shields described Floop as “truly immersive” in this sense. With Twitter, they said, users are just “sending and forgetting.”

Discovery is also much easier on Floop. You don’t have to be following someone to see or follow their poll question; you can search by keyword and see trends and new surveys posted by other users. You can also filter results by geography with a single click, seeing what polls are active within eight miles of your current location. There’s no option to change that radius. The simplicity of a fixed geographical footprint for search works well for keeping the experience easy for end-users, but I can see how it might be an issue for people looking to use the service to find results that go beyond casual interest.

Good for context, and living data

Floop also provides another benefit over other informal polling tools; it allows you to aggregate and centralize contextual discussion with comments attached to each poll created. That allows people to explain their answers, extend the discussion with follow-up questions, or work out an alternate poll idea that may be more accurate or useful. The conversation can also extend to other networks, as Floop provides tools for sharing polls via Twitter, Facebook or email. You can invite other Floop users to a poll and also add images to any question. Schultz and Shields describe this as “joining a shared conversation,” and talk about how this, pared with the data from the answers graph, allows pollsters to see both the “macro and micro together.”

Unfortunately, a major drawback of Floop is its avoidance of hard and fast numbers; you can see results in real-time displayed on a graph and adjust the timeframe for short or long-term snapshots of results, but you can’t see how many people actually voted one way or the other. That’s in part because Floop’s response system is built on a sliding scale, allowing you to express stronger or weaker opinions in the affirmative or negative for any question. You can also change your opinion on a subject, which means Floop will be able to display in real time how sentiment around a topic is evolving. But it limits the usefulness of Floop for hard number crunching purposes. Schultz and Shields argue that the approach is more analytical than informal polls conducted elsewhere; they say “the graph eliminates the ambiguity of data,” since Floop isn’t “processing natural language but rather getting a definitive feedback response from the participants.”

Use cases

For questions that I would normally take to Twitter, Floop looks like a solid alternative. I can track (though not tabulate) results more quickly and more easily than I can with Twitter, and the results are fine for making a general point to support an argument. It’s also apparent from the kinds of polls already on Floop (“Giants or Eagles?”) that the product is meant primarily to appeal to casual users looking to find out things about their friends and neighbors.

Floop does casual well, but the app’s creators are clearly hoping to take it further. Schultz and Shields have already had discussions with people in Hollywood and New York City media about its potential applications for use at in-person, broadcast and virtual events. Businesses might want more access to hard data, but that’s probably something Floop can do for those customers down the road.

The challenge

Floop is a promising app with a great vision behind it, but its biggest challenge is the one that faces all new social tools: building a network. To use Floop, you have to sign up for the service, which is understandable given its use of commenting, response tracking and photo-sharing features. But convincing users they need another social networking service isn’t easy, as apps like Color that struck out alone have discovered. A better strategy, given the nature of the content being shared with Floop, might have been to tie it to something like Facebook’s new Open Graph.

And yet, Floop is growing. According to the company, it attracted 10,000 users in its first month on the App Store, despite little fanfare about its arrival. On average, the app sees about 400 new registered users per day, coming out of around 1,000 downloads. The revenue model for the app, according to Schultz and Shields, will come from “the sale of analytics and reporting on the data collected (in market research fashion),” and “the formation of partnerships to incorporate Floop into specific venues, broadcasts, etc.” That should mean that the community won’t have to bear the financial burden of the app through paid upgrades or intrusive advertising down the road.

If Floop can keep up the pace and prove that it can also work as an engagement tool for businesses, brands and events, I definitely see a bright future for this data-savvy startup.