Ralph Cochrane and the team at AppChallenge have been working with the UK Data Service to support new ways of engaging more people with data, mainly through mobile app development, hackathons and coding competitions. Ralph introduces the UK Data Service’s new quiz app:
Our latest initiative is the UK Data Service Quiz App (available for free on both Android and Apple devices) which builds on ideas that we crowd-sourced from developers around the world and discussions with the team at the Service. We wanted to find a way to bring some of the open data sets to life and appeal to a wider audience, not just within the data science community.
Quiz Master – the content management system
The app is driven by a content management system (built using PHP and mySQL) which is hosted on the UK Data Service infrastructure. Similar to WordPress, it’s a web based system that allows members of staff to add a new quiz, create questions and even run their own internal games to test how well the questions will be received.
Mobile App development
Developing the apps took a little more time. We focused first on the iOS app for Apple devices, which has been developed in a language called Swift provided by Apple. We’ve been impressed with the rigour with which Apple tests apps before they are published on the app store, even if it’s been painful for us at times when they’ve found little things that they consider to be a problem. If you have an iPhone why not try the UK Data Service Quiz App and tell us what you think on Twitter @AppChallenge?
Moving on to Android, we have just issued an update to the app which brings it closer to the iOS app, in particular fixing an issue with offline use when there is little or no mobile reception. There are many more Android phones out there, but that is also a double edged sword. Designing an app that will work well on a wide range of devices with different capabilities is not easy. There’s also the fact that many Android users don’t update their ‘phone regularly, so even the underlying operating system can have many variants.
Creating something intuitive and fun in an app that visualises data in an easy-to-engage-with way is not easy. From our first “finished” version of the iOS app to the version in the appstore to now we’ve issued eleven minor updates. Most fixes are to the user interface or to deal with highly unlikely scenarios e.g. you start the install then lose Internet access, but we’ve learnt a lot along the way.
Engagement is harder than it sounds too. We’ve added functionality, such as being able to send all iOS users notifications e.g. “It’s the FA Cup Final today. Have you tried our football quiz?” because we noticed that new users would install the quiz app and then only use it once. There is real skill to both creating questions that are interesting and promoting the app online to generate more downloads. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that the app is merely one tool in the toolbox to reach new potential users of UK Data Service data. It works best when it is integrated with topical events and other outreach programmes e.g. via Twitter, Facebook and the blog.
We’re continuing to promote the app online directly within app stores in the UK and to date we’ve had about 1000 downloads. If you know of anyone who likes general knowledge quizzes, why not ask them to have a go and give us some feedback? After all, it is free.