It wasn’t really an “aha!” moment.
Rather, the idea for enRUe, the equivalent of Google Docs for audio files, evolved slowly out of an incessant need to share real-time audio files between several users as efficiently as possible.
Although the smartphone app is the culmination of six years of hard work for Jacky Tuinstra Harrison, she doesn’t plan on cashing in.
“The app has open source code, so anyone can copy it,” said Ryerson’s The Scope radio station manager. “We feel like its success kind of depends on other people in the community seeing our failures along the way and collaborating on how we can fix it.”
This is part of the reason enRUe has been a project so long in the making, she said, and why it still isn’t ready for launch. Development has been moving much faster lately, largely due to the drastic drop in costs for technology development that has occurred over the past several years, she said.
“When we first started, we applied for a grant that was worth $500,000, because that’s how much it would have cost back then,” said Tuinstra Harrison. “We actually made it to the second stage of the application process, but that was it. And now we’re on Indiegogo.”
Indiegogo is an online fundraising website that uses crowdsourcing to find potential donors. Unlike Kickstarter, a similar site, Indiegogo users keep all the donations they receive regardless of whether they reach their initial goal. Despite asking for $12,215, Tuinstra Harrison and her crew collected $725 from their two-month campaign that will go towards enRUe.
“The $12,215 was really just us being transparent about how much this would cost today,” she said. “We never expected to meet the goal. It was more for education and to get online exposure and whatnot.”
Now that development is rolling, Tuinstra Harrison and her colleagues had to make the decision every app developer faces: whether or not to sell it. For enRUe’s creators, it wasn’t a decision at all.
“It’s not what the app is about,” she said. “We want anyone to be able to use this. We just want it to work.”
But Riley Nelko, a technology consultant at Accenture, said Tuinstra Harrison is taking the risk of missing an enormous payday.
“If the app has the same utility as Google Docs, which it sounds like it doesn’t, it could be an extremely profitable endeavour if executed properly,” said Nelko.
Nelko said while Tuinstra Harrison is right in focusing on making sure the app works perfectly before it’s taken to market, he doesn’t understand the logic in not selling it.
“I might steal the code and try and develop my own app once they release it,” he said half-jokingly.
However, Tuinstra Harrison is adamant the app’s success depends on its open code.
“We want this to be about accessibility,” she said. “We’re not going to charge for it.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on September 18, 2013.