Appswell Tests the Crowdsourcing Model for iPhone Apps

Last time I checked, there were 85,000 iPhone applications in Apple’s iTunes App Store, a number that seems to grow by thousands every week. But most of those apps were dreamed up by developers, not by average users. Now there’s a way for anyone with a bright idea for an iPhone app to submit it—and, if other people like the idea enough, to see it get made.

It’s called Appswell, and it launched yesterday. The idea behind the Cambridge, MA-based startup, the brainchild of a young serial Web entrepreneur named Dan Sullivan, is to take advantage of the collective creativity of iPhone users to come up with the next great money-making app, and give everyone a chance to share in the proceeds.

Anyone with an iPhone can submit an idea to Appswell or vote on other users’ ideas. Each month, the company will turn the most popular idea into an app, and reward the creator with a $1,000 cash prize and a stake in future sales.

“Rather than a bunch of developers putting 20 things on a whiteboard, we think we have a method of engaging thousands of people,” says Sullivan. “For the consumer who has a great idea in his head but isn’t a developer and will never build it, we are narrowing the gap for getting that idea tested and vetted and turning it into reality.”

Appropriately, there’s just one way to submit an idea for an app: through Appswell’s own free iPhone app. (The app, and the company itself, were ready to launch back in mid-September, when I first met Sullivan. But like so many other companies, Appswell had to wait for weeks while the still-mysterious iTunes App Store approval process inched forward. Sullivan finally got the okay last night.)

Appswel ScreenshotThe app itself couldn’t be simpler. To submit an idea, users simply create an account, click “Add your idea,” and enter a name, a category, and a short text description. Users can also browse ideas submitted by others by category, popularity, or recentness. If you see an app idea you like, you can vote for it, comment on it, or share it via e-mail or Twitter.

At the end of each month, Sullivan says, the company will hold a week-long, American Idol-style showdown between the five most popular app ideas. The winning idea will be turned into an actual app by Appswell’s developers—assuming that it’s pitched at general consumers, can be sold for $1 to $2, and meets Apple’s standards. The winner gets the cash prize plus 10 percent of future proceeds from the app.

The Appswell app is so new that users have submitted only a couple dozen ideas so far, some of which were seeded by beta testers, according to Sullivan. The most popular idea, as of this morning, was for a “sound board maker” that would let users make short sound recordings and edit them into comical audio clips.

Sullivan says he believes Appswell is the first company to try the crowdsourcing model in the iPhone app arena. But he thinks the experiences of companies in other markets—he points to Threadless‘s T-shirts and Local Motors‘ car design competitions—bode well for his startup. The beauty of Appswell’s model, he says, is that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “Appswell Tests the Crowdsourcing Model for iPhone Apps”

  1. Kenhappen says:

    I am looking for an iPhone app developer – NYC based would be 1st choice, but I do luv Boston.