[well]Disclaimer: Rap Genius was in the YC S11 batch along with Ridejoy. I’m friendly with the founders but have no financial stake in this article nor many details of their future plans (besides world domination of course =D)[/well]

On Tuesday, Jan 28, 2014, Rap Genius launched their iPhone app, Genius, a project cofounder Tom Lehman called “the true launch of Rap Genius“.

Having started as an annotation platform for rap lyrics, Rap Genius has since branched into rock, poetry, and even news. Until now, they were only available on the web or via a mobile website. But a native app has been in the works for a LONG time – remember their ad for a “Mobile Czar” way back in October of 2012?

Lehman also says that 50% of Rap Genius traffic is mobile and they only expect it to grow, so Genius is basically represents their first iteration of the future of their product and company. Given how crucial this app is, I thought it’d be valuable to study the app’s design for lessons and ideas.

The Genius Design Teardown

[Click to enlarge]
[Click to enlarge]

Genius takes us through a basic set of explanation screens when you first open the app. The key feature being the reading of annotations, with three secondary features of getting lyrics and annotation of your own music library, playing the actual song of the lyrics you’re reading, and a Shazam-like music recognition feature. You’re then prompted to sign up, sign in or, if you’re reading carefully, use the app without doing either.


I think they’re right to focus on the music annotation as the primary benefit. I assume they are not only trying to satisfy their core user base, but also expand their audience, many of who might not even be aware of their core offering. The other features seem pretty neat though – we’ll see more about them in a second.

Continue reading

Jason iPhone 5 Home Screen 2012

I recently got an iPhone 5 and have gone on a new tear in exploring apps, downloading new ones and re-evaluating their priorities.

I’m always curious to see what constitutes other people’s first screen apps – this is where many mobile entrepreneurs dream of living – so I thought it might be worth examining mine.

I’ll give a run down of my home screen apps as of November 26, 2012.

Notable & Unique

These are the interesting apps that give you a sense of my personality – they’re tools that make my life work more efficiently and enjoyably.

  • Pennies – a really barebones budget tool. I tell it my monthly spending goal, and it gives me a simulated “gas tank” of money. As I record purchases, the needle drops, showing me exactly how much I have left for the month.
  • Runkeeper – I’ve talked before about how much I like Runkeeper, the iPhone/web app I use to track my running, and it definitely makes the first screen
  • Evernote – if you don’t already have a note system, I recommend Evernote. Syncs notes from desktop, web and mobile. I use it to draft blog posts, record new ideas and manage a lot of the info for my startup
  • Songza – my new favorite music app. I pay for Spotify Premium to hear the songs I know about but Songza is free and gives me playlists of music I haven’t heard of (including great electronic dance and instrumental music)
  • Pocket – a new favorite, great for waiting in line, sitting on the bus or when you’re bored and without signal
  • Instacast – while walking to work, I listen to my podcasts: BacktoWork, The WSJ Morning News, Systematic, Planet Money and Here’s The Thing
  • Quora – the social q&a site always has new fascinating answers to thought-provoking questions. A place to learn and sometimes get taken down a rabbit hole
  • Chrome – my cofounder convinced me to install Chrome as my default browser – unlimited tabs, address bar knows your favorites if you sync with desktop chrome, and tabs open in the background


You probably have some of these on your home screen too – which just shows how ubiquitous some services are to our lives.

  • Facebook – for staying in touch with friends, though I really only check it when I have notifications
  • Twitter – for staying in touch with the world – specifically my world of technology, entrepreneurship and SF-flavored pop culture
  • Hacker News – interesting articles and discussions specifically geared towards entrepreneurs
  • Gmail/Mail – I like Mail because it’s faster for checking messages and composing. I use Gmail when I’m trying to search for a specific email or email someone who’s contact info isn’t on my phone, but in Gmail
  • Dropbox – I have most of my working files stored in Dropbox so it’s nice to be able to access them instantly via my phone
  • Google Authenticator – you use two-step authentication for Gmail and Facebook right? No? This is one of those security measure that is really worth taking.


When you’re on the go, one of the most valuable things your phone can help you with is getting where you need to go. These apps help me arrive at the right place and on time.

  • Apple Maps – despite the criticism, I think the standard iOS 6 Maps app is doing well enough. The worst thing is it’s lack of transit directions
  • Routesy Free – super handy for the real-time MUNI and BART schedules when I already know which bus/BART train I want to take
  • Google Maps (web bookmark) – when I need transit directions to get somewhere new
  • CityMaps2Go – offline maps, useful when traveling abroad or navigating SF without signal
  • QuickMaps – drag to get Google Maps directions from where you are to key locations (home, work, etc)
  • Caltrain – necessary when planning trips down to Palo Alto from SF

Standard Issue

Sometimes you don’t need a custom app when the standard-issue app does just fine.

  • Settings – turning on Airplane Mode, fiddling with Wi-Fi & Brightness
  • App Store – finding apps I read about online, seeing what’s new/featured, updating apps
  • Calendar – checking what day of the week some future event lands on; most of my event input goes in iCal on my MacBookPro
  • Clock – setting my morning alarm and countdowns for or a work session or laundry reminder
  • Camera – loving the Panorama feature of the built-in app
  • Photos – mostly used to email a photo or screenshot I just took
  • Phone/Text – they don’t call it an iPhone for nothing

What I noticed: my most accessible apps are either communication services (email/phone/text), useful tools (evernote/camera/navigation), or content (instacast/pocket/HN). Facebook and Twitter are like a combination of all three.

What about you? What are your favorite homescreen apps? Let me know in the comments!

[alert style=”grey”] GUEST POST: Suelyn Yu is an interaction designer at frog (see her portfolio) and worked closely with the team at Ridejoy to help craft our iPhone application. I feel very lucky to have worked with such a kick ass designer and I think this case study should prove useful for any startup that’s looking to build a mobile app. Now, on to Suelyn!)
– Jason   [/alert]



Do you remember the last time you were traveling on the highway? I do. There are usually countless cars all around me, and yet most of them are full of empty seats. I often wonder to myself, “Why isn’t there a way for people headed in the same direction to travel together?” One company, Ridejoy, aims to solve this problem by helping people share rides anywhere, anytime.

As an interaction designer at Frog, I’ve designed to encourage people toward pro-social, offline actions. When Ridejoy was preparing to build an iPhone app, Kalvin, one of the co-founders, reached out to me for help. I worked with the Ridejoy co-founders; Christine Yen, who built the app; and Seth Warrick, who created the brand and visual design.

It just launched in the US App Store.


After running Ridejoy.com for several months, the team learned a great deal about their current user base. In developing an iPhone app, we wanted to do far more than just “port” the site over to mobile – but instead, craft a new experience.

We identified 3 key challenges:

  • How we get drivers and passengers to post more rides?
  • How do we speed up the process of making driver and passenger matches?
  • How should Ridejoy facilitate “arrangements” between drivers and passengers?


For a rideshare service to be successful, it needs to be able to draw from a large pool of rides when matching up passengers and drivers. We know that many people are driving by themselves or are looking for an affordable ride, but if they don’t post their travel plans on Ridejoy, there is no way for these people to get matched up. Continue reading

So one of the big things that happened last week in the tech world was the launch of Color, a geo-aware photo sharing app that has received $41M of funding from Sequoia Capital and other major investors before it even launched.

It’s garnered a number of different reactions from different folks in the tech world – why don’t we take a look in this week’s LINK ROUNDUP

Color Looks To Reinvent Social Interaction With Its Mobile Photo App (And $41 Million In Funding) The TechCrunch article that starts it all. Jason Kincaid gives a generous but even keel explanation of the app and why the startup behind it could be very successful.

Color This is the post on Hacker News which has a number of comments, mostly negative, about the app and the startup and why this is an example of how the tech bubble has really burst.

Aim Higher: Stop Building Photo Sharing Apps Cristina Cordova, a blogger and biz dev at Alphonso Labs, the folks behind Pulse, felt so strongly about Color that she emerged from a 6 month blogging hiatus to tell the world that startups need to aim higher than just building photo sharing apps.

Color.xxx Pitch Slides Lampoon Tech Bubble Absurdity Another hater – this time it’s a fake slideshow that mocks the premise behind Color and more broadly a great deal of the current Silicon Valley mentality when it comes to building companies.

Color Founder Bill Nguyen Explains Why You’re All Wrong — It Really IS A $41 Million Idea Business Insider gets an interview with Bill Nguyen, the cofounder of Color, who is trying hard to get on top of the negative press and explain why Color is really so compelling.

The Color Of Money MG Sigler of TechCrunch comes in with a comprehensive analysis of all the commotion and offers some interesting insights into what we really ought to take from the launch and subsequent commotion: Sequoia really believes in the app and it’s easy to call things a losing bet than throw money down on what you think is a winning bet.

‘Color’ is Primal and Kind of Brilliant The last link here is one by blogger Cody Brown who shares his own personal experience using Color and how he found it to be a fun way to connect with a neighbor. He agrees that it’s kind of creepy, but also fascinating when applied to a global scale.

So what do you think about everything that’s happened with Color? Have you had a chance to try it? I haven’t personally been able to play with it because it requires iOS 4.2 or higher and I don’t want to upgrade because I jailbroke my iPhone and want to keep tethering…