Critical Drinking

Data Data Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink — The Future of Untappd

As a interaction designer, I’m excessively aware of the wide range of apps out there that enable you to track everything from flights to calories, expenses to pregnancies, Cylons to package deliveries. And of course, from the beginning there have been services like FourSquare that help you game your real-life errands into virtual clout — seemingly just for the fun of it.

I’m also keenly aware of how these apps try to monetize — they collect the data and then make that data available to brands on the back-end for market sizing, trending and targeting of passionate audiences. But few of these apps are targeted at geek cultures. And the thing about geek cultures is that they don’t typically engage in things like this just for the fun of it — they want something more out of it. For mainstream audiences it’s deals, or special privileges, or rewards in the system — but for geeks, we’re typically looking for a little self-reflection instead. In other words, if I put data into a system, what does that data say? What does it say about me? About us? About this geek culture I’m a fervent contributor to?

Imagine my geeky excitement when I stumbled upon the app Untappd for checking in to beers, bars and breweries. An app that enables me to log the beers that I’ve drank, comment on, rate and share those beers, but also tie that moment to a place and brewery in a few simple steps. Brilliant. And the guys, just two of them, that created Untappd have made enormous strides in improving the quality of the app over a short amount of time. It’s faster and easier to use than ever.

Untappd enables friends to follow each other, toast to great beers and comment, even upload pictures of their experiences. By any argument, it’s a fairly full-featured tracker.

One of the most engaging parts of the app is the badge system. They gamified drinking better than any beer pong, or game of asshole you’ve ever seen with badges like Weekday Warrior (drink 5 beers during the week after 5pm) but also badges that encourage exploration like New Brew Thursday (drink a new beer on three Thursdays in a 30 day period). And some badges that just make things fun, like Ahoy Matey (awarded for drinking a beer on a boat).

But as I approach 500 unique beers logged on Untappd, creeping up on ‘Legendary” status, I find myself wondering what all this tracking is really going to get me in the end. There’s no reason these guys need to push much further in order to obtain the kind of data they need to shop around to beer brands. We’ve all helped them create a valuable product. But because they’re tapped in to a geek culture, I would like to re-consider what’s possible and desirable with that data in a user-facing way, and argue for some more focus on that side of the engagement. After all, the more we engage with the data, the more robust the data product they’re selling on the other end will be. I’ve broken up my thoughts into mainstream and geek audiences — this app isn’t just for geeks after all. But with some small twists, I bet we could turn a new craft beer drinker into a geek in no time!

For Mainstream Audiences

  1. Help me make a decision before I order a beer rather than focusing just on the check-in experience after. There’s so much data that could help! But I never have enough time once I’m at the bar to look up each beer on the menu individually and assess. How awesome would it be if there was a mash-up of Beer Menu’s data with the rating and social system in Untappd to enable me to quickly assess what’s hot and what’s getting rave reviews on the paper menu in front of me. I’d instantly know my next three beer choices. Right now, the only way to get decent venue info is to search for a beer and then drill down to an associated venue. Five screens later I can see beer check-ins at that venue, but it’s not matched to their current menu and doesn’t show ratings. 
  2. If a user follows a brewery, they should be able to see any users associated with that brewery (brewmaster, owner, fans, etc) as a way to discover other beers that are relevant to their new-found tastes. It’s a great chance to latch on to the guy who just made your new favorite beer.

For Geek Audiences

  1. So I just clicked on “Follow a Brewery.” Now what? Right now, all that means is that breweries get to follow you. It’s a bit of an unfortunate trick. But it could mean so much more. If I follow a brewery, I’m expressing a deeper sense of loyalty and engagement, and that should be rewarded with product release announcements, tapping events, brewery news, even a glimpse at their basic stats in the system. Right now, the only way to get to a brewery’s page is to log a beer or pull up a previous check-in and the information is fairly limited. Currently there’s not an easy list of the breweries you’re following to refer to (outside the web portal) and see any news or new beers, etc.
  2. Give me context for my check-in. A simple rotation of my smartphone could reveal a horizontal layout geared towards geeking out over my beer. I could see charts describing it’s IBUs and ABV relative to style criteria. Am I part of a surge for that beer or location? Am I the first one in a few weeks to drink it? What’s its rating history like? What are bloggers saying about it elsewhere? The brewery back-end view does some of this already.
  3. With almost 500 beers logged in the Untappd system (some are pushing into the thousands!) I’d love to get a look at that history in a compelling way. How many are IPAs? How do I tend to rate different styles of stouts? Do I statistically prefer higher or lower ABVs? The web portal for Untappd offers a few filters and sorts for locating a past check-in, but there’s no way to stand back and get a look at your activity. What’s the point of logging 500 beers if you don’t learn anything about your habits and preferences?
  4. Beer blogger promoted badges. For those of us that have a decent following and are willing to pony up for the creative effort, I’d love to see more specific blogger-based or brewer-based badges. For geeks in the scene, the people are as important as the beer, and we tend to follow in the steps of other bloggers to uncover our next great brew. It’d be a blast to create a bar crawl or beer hunt that others could join in on and get rewarded for. After all, it’s our activity that drives attention to the platform to begin with. Let’s double down on that.
  5. More detailed ratings with just a few clicks. It’d be awesome if we could avoid so many 3-star beers by letting people rate the appearance, smell, taste and mouthfeel  to create an overall score. Simple 5-star ratings for each category could enable a super-simple, weighted score. Certainly for mainstream audiences, the app should give people the ability to rate it overall without the additional effort. But by simply giving less weight to generalized scores and promoting more detailed scores in the system you could arrive at a more balanced electoral college of beer rating that would serve everyone better.

A Few Additional Details 

  1. When a friend logs a beer, show the rating they provided at the surface level in the feed. This is a critical factos to engagement over that check-in, but right now I have to dive a couple screens deep to reveal this info.
  2. Scroll memory. When I click in to a friend’s check-in a return to the main feed, I have to start at the top again every time. I want to return to my last place in the list.
  3. Scroll choppiness. It’s a bitch.
  4. Comment notifications. I’d love to see the comment right in the notification feed. Why would I need to click through?
  5. Friend notifications. When I accept a new friend, they dissapear from the list and it’s almost impossible to find them again unless they just checked in to a beer. Help me learn more by retaining their presence in that list and allowing me to click through at that perfect moment of engagement.
  6. Search my history. A basic keyword search for the beer name, type, comment and place would be so money. As a beer blogger, this is my notebook.

I’m hoping that after hitting 500 uniques, I’ll be just as engaged as when I logged my first beer back in April of last year. It’s been fun, and useful to keep track. But with so much data in the system about me and others, I think it’s time to get some of that back to better inform my next 500! Cheers to Untappd’s 2012 plans, whatever they may be. Good luck guys. 

Michael Kiser