why event apps failLet me tell you a story.

It’s a tragic love story, one of supreme highs and terrifying lows. A tale of of surprise, love, confusion and fear. And while no one dies at the end, it is the story of a million endings and a million new beginnings.

Of course, I’m telling the story of Blackberry/RIM.

And if you think this is as cruel as a “kick me” note pinned to the back of a coma patient, it’s not. It is a story, like all stories, that tells us something deeper about ourselves and how the world works. The story of BlackBerry is about change and engagement. In this case, the story of Blackberry tells us the story as to why your event app implementation succeeded or failed.

Let’s jump back in time, long before the iPhone and the Android were even ideas, to a time when mobile meant bringing a notepad and a pen with you to meetings. The introduction of the BlackBerry by Canadian company RIM (Research In Motion) was a simple idea: get your email sent to you in the same way you get calls on your cell phone. RIM would control the email server and the device, creating a connection we haven’t seen since Ma Bell was broken up (remember, up until the late 1970’s, you didn’t own your phone: you rented it from the phone company).

Getting your email everywhere was amazing. Large companies invested heavily in RIM servers and a slew of mobile hardware. Execs and managers experienced the first wave of mobile device lust, as people started calling them “crackberries” (as in, more addictive than crack). You’d start to hear stories about managers spending longer in the executive bathrooms because they could sit in quiet and answer emails in the stalls.

Let’s remember, President Obama ran for office in 2008 with a BlackBerry in his pocket.

The reason the BlackBerry succeeded was because it built an ecosystem. It delivered secure email all the time because it connected the RIM server to the RIM device. It was a closed loop. There was no way for other devices to enter into the ecosystem.

BlackBerry was a little too focused on email, not seeing the iPhone and Android as serious competition because their phones didn’t do the crucial thing that BB did: get RIM-based email from work. Sure, they could play videos, video games, music, they could text, send and receive email and a million other things, but they were different than the BB. BlackBerry felt safe.

I wonder if they started to feel fear when all of their BB users started carrying around two devices: one to get BB-based email, and one to do a million other things BB wouldn’t do (or do well)? Rather than compete in BB’s game, Apple and Google found a new game: Better phone and device experience. Their phones would be so engaging and cool and useful, that people would carry two. And then, once they fell in love with the newer device, they began to look at the BB like a glorified pager, yesterday’s technology, an anvil clipped to their belt.

The fall of BlackBerry is one of ignoring changes within the ecosystem, of assuming that everyone would always want their one idea, in the same way, forever. The world shifted around them and now they can’t catch up.

The mobile world is still grouped into ecosystems. iPhones and Androids have built ecosystems of apps, of support, of ideas, of tools. Yes, their phones are pretty amazing, but the reason people don’t jump from one device to the other is that they embrace the unique ecosystem each device represents. If I’ve been using an iPhone for two years, it’s going to take a lot to convince me to go Android, because Android doesn’t have all my games and all the tools that I’m used to (they do, but they go by different names and work slightly differently). And I can’t assume an Android fan will jump ship just because the iPhone offers a fingerprint sensor.

I love watching commercials that tell me that their new phone allows me to choose the color combination of my case, as if that would be enough to drag me out of my selected ecosystem into a brand new one. It’s like telling the Flamingo that there’s prettier scenery in the Arctic and expecting a migration. No single feature determines the ecosystem. And no one chooses based on a feature. They choose the ecosystem.

What does this have to do with event apps? When picking an event app, it’s tempting to go “feature shopping.” This app offers more networking opportunities but this app has an easier-to-use interface. However, no single feature should determine the app you select. What’s crucial is the ecosystem. Beyond the list of features, you should be asking questions like:

  • Will it have people to make sure it works?
  • Will it have people who can help me get the most out of my app, or am I on my own?
  • Will it work on everyone’s device?
  • Will it get used by attendees?
  • How easy is it to add content to the app?
  • How specific can I make surveys?
  • How easy is it to get data and analytics from the app?
  • How well will this app integrate into my event?

An app with a million features that doesn’t have support, that makes it hard for you to push and pull content, that doesn’t integrate into your event inevitable shares a similarly tragic fate with the BlackBerry. It may have a slew of interesting features, but removed from a useful ecosystem, it’s of no use to you.