Getting Organized: Developing an Organizational App
Organizers are a popular category in the mobile app world. A subset of this genre, the familiar organizer app, aims to render notes tacked to the refrigerator obsolete.
One example is Cozi, a web and mobile service that provides a centralized online calendar, to-do lists and shopping lists, among other tools.
The free service offers iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps so family members can access the calendar and lists from wherever they happen to be. Holly Mesrobian, Cozi's chief technology officer, discusses the development work behind the organizer.
What approaches did you use to create an app that spans both PCs and mobile devices?
In terms of implementation, we have managed to span mobile and web applications by reusing as much of our business logic as possible. We have done this by pushing these business rules into a shared services implementation which is leveraged by all of our clients now and into the future. Using this approach ensures we keep business rules consistent across all of our applications and enables us to build new clients with different user interfaces with the minimal engineering effort.
What development frameworks, languages and tools did you use to create Cozi?
Operationally, we use a whole host of other open-source tools: OpenStack for virtualized public/private cloud management; Puppet and MCollective for configuration management and deployment management; Debian packages as our standard package format; Zabbix for monitoring; Flume/HDFS [Hadoop Distributed File System] for log aggregation and analytics; and Jenkins as our automated build server.
There are quite a few family organizer apps out there. How do you make Cozi stand out?
Our best marketing is word of mouth, so we listen carefully to families who use Cozi. We also have a variety of communication channels, including surveys and social media engagement on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. What we learn from our families directly drives new product development. In fact, our latest new features in Cozi -- the Cozi meal planner, multiple reminders and on-device notifications -- was a direct result of user requests.
Cozi is intended for use by an entire family. From the UI and UX perspective, how did you go about designing and developing an app that appeals to different age groups and expectations?
We are fanatically focused on families, and our design principles are guided by that focus. So design principles such as being clear and simple, having minimal clutter, and focusing on what most users need to stay organized helps Cozi appeal to a wide audience.
In the course of working on Cozi, have you learned anything surprising about the ways families use mobile technology? Any key takeaways?
Families are accessing data at an ever-increasing rate and part of this is due to mobile applications. With web applications, people only looked at data when stationary; now, it's all the time. This means system availability, performance and scale are more important than ever.
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