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A masterclass in how not to do soc

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    Posted: 13 May 2011 at 11:49

The Apprentice: a masterclass in how not to do social networking and app development

By Adrian Hon Media Last updated: May 12th, 2011

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The candidates display their ignorance

Expecting The Apprentice to show an accurate portrayal of app development is like expecting Nick Clegg to develop a personality. Nevertheless, I sat down to watch last night’s show with the same attitude as watching England play anyone good at football – I knew it was going to be bad, but just how bad? It turned out to be a masterclass in outdated sales thinking and a complete misunderstanding of how social networking and app development works in the 21st century.

The teams’ challenge this week, to develop a mobile phone app in the space of 24 hours, prompted excited expressions from the contestants. I imagined them thinking, “Finally, I can make my brilliant idea for an app and become rich and famous!”

Perhaps due to the tight time limit and the utter vacuum of imagination present, they both decided to create soundboard apps; you know, the sort of thing where you press a button and some B-list celebrity screams a catchphrase. A bunch of kids could have come up with better ideas. Really, they could – in fact, some kids are rather talented developers.

Once their apps were made, the teams proceeded to market their products, 80s-style – in other words, they pitched them in person to three websites in the hope of getting a write-up. They even had flipboards. It would’ve been touching if it wasn’t so laughable. When it comes to marketing apps these days, writing a good email and shooting a good demo video is far more important than having the gift of the gab.

Of course, no one wants to admit this, least of all the TV producers, so we were subjected to yet more excruciatingly painful pitches from the teams at a gaming conference, none of which appeared to make the slightest impact at all.

What many people do not realise is that the rise of ’social’ online isn’t merely about people sharing the mundane details of their life on Facebook, or blasting out adverts to billions of mindless punters. It’s about people being able to share knowledge of all kinds – particularly opinions and reviews of products and services – with the entire world with incredibly ease and speed. News of a good game, or a terrible movie, can spread on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs within hours. It’s a terrifying prospect for advertisers, but it’s only a good thing for consumers.

The ’slick’ salesmen on The Apprentice don’t realise this. As one contestant said, “Show them the product, shake their hand, and they’ll put it online.” But the world just doesn’t work that way any more.

Before the only-too-predictable twist ending, Lord Sugar shared some pearls of wisdom with the teams:

“You don’t need no big factories here. You didn’t need to go to a bank and ask for millions of pounds in investment. You used your brains to come up with a product that you could develop quite simply and you can go and put it up on the web and make some money. Because that’s the beauty of this business.”

Well, he got half of it right. It’s true that developing apps doesn’t require millions, but the one ingredient that was glaringly missing was, of course, developers. Throughout the show, you could catch glimpses of these remarkably patient people who were responsible for turning the teams’ ideas into actual code. Lord Sugar’s theory is that by throwing developers a few coins, they’ll turn your brilliant ideas into reality, as if by magic.

The problem is that developers are not simply maths geeks; they have their own ideas and they don’t need any more from people whose only skill is shaking hands and drawing on flipcharts. Many of the bestselling apps and games of recent years were made literally in developers’ bedrooms, in spare evenings and weekends outside of work hours.

That’s real entrepreneurship, not the sham version you see on The Apprentice.

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