Lady Gaga and the 'big head' effect in mobile apps

Appetizer Mobile finds one way to stand out in a forest of apps

Apple now has more than 350,000 apps in its App Store, offering developers a large -- and growing -- market in which to sell their wares.

But it takes more than app development savvy and code crunching to get noticed in a such a busy marketplace, said Jordan Edelson, the CEO of Appetizer Mobile, a group of 20 developers based in New York City. It helps to have subject matter that really clicks, such as a top musician, he said in an interview on Monday.

"You need the big heads," Edelson said.

He should know. Appetizer Mobile just produced a 99-cent App Store mobile app called " Lady Gaga: The Monster in You." It lets the superstar's fans -- Lady Gaga calls them "little monsters" -- doctor up their own photos with eyeliner and face make-up to upload to an iPhone or to Facebook, much the same way Lady Gaga decorates her own face. (The app is also free on FaceBook).

"The problem with App Store is just getting visibility," Edelson said in an interview today. "You can get lost in the App Store."

Lady Gaga and Interscope Records worked on the app, which had a soft launch on May 26 to promote her latest album. It will be upgraded later this week to include a "Monster Globe" that allows those users who have "monsterized" their own faces to upload their photos to a server that shares them to other devices and can show the users' general locations around the globe.

Appetizer Mobile's new mobile app is getting a boost from superstar Lady Gaga.

The soft launch generated a "tremendous amount of traffic that overwhelmed our expectations," Edelson said. "I attribute that to Lady Gaga, definitely."

Edelson said a non-disclosure agreement prevented him from saying how many copies of the app have been purchased.

The coming Monster Globe upgrade would seem to open up Lady Gaga fans to a host of security and privacy concerns, especially if young fans retouch their own photos and put them on a globe that shows where they live. But Edelson said there are privacy protections in place to reduce anxiety. "We're very conscious of all that," he said.

Users of the app will be governed by the terms of service governing privacy in the App Store and on Facebook. They will also be required to opt-in for having the GPS location of an iPhone reflect where they are on the globe. The location on the globe is not even as specific as an address or an entire city, and only shows a large triangle over the area where a person is located.

The globe will only appear on a person's phone reflecting the images stored on a server, though Lady Gaga's Web site is expected to take those photos for use on the star's Web site for perhaps a single day, he said.

In its initial functionality, the globe can be rotated by a mobile user, but a specific location can't be pinpointed, meaning it would probably be difficult to pair a certain fan with a definite location, aiding privacy, Edelson said.

Users will be able to flag objectionable images, which will automatically remove them for a content manager to review, Edelson said. Also, the photos will only stay live for a limited time, although that duration hasn't been decided.

Edelson said he is ready for a crush of traffic with the app's growing popularity, and will rely on a third-party cloud-based set of servers to store the images. Lady Gaga already has more than 10 million Twitter followers and 32 million Facebook fans, so the impact could be profound.

"Right now, the app is meant as a fun, promotional tool that gives Gaga fans a way to interact," he said. "They are a crazy, animated group and like to dress up, so this is a natural extension of that. "

Eventually, Edelson said he is hopeful the globe function can be adopted by companies and other organizations. They could use the concept to show places around the world where their customers are located.

"This globe concept could be extended beyond Gaga, with custom animation," Edelson said. "Static numbers are boring and people don't want to analyze numbers all the time. When we came up with the Monster Globe for Lady Gaga's promoters, they loved it."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about app development in Computerworld's App Development Topic Center.

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