Herding Cats. The Application Developers Alliance – a trade body for an amorphous blob!

Interesting news ahead of CES. The concept of a trade association for app developers has surfaced again. Jon Potter, formerly of the Digital Media Association, will launch the Application Developers Alliance at the CES trade show. He references the lack of organization within the developer community, and the need to bring it together.

It seems the Application Developers Alliance will aim to offer members the pretty standard array of trade association benefits – member networking, business match making, discounted services and industry lobbying.

The announcement has got pretty good pick up in the tech blogosphere, and there is speculation that RIM and Google may be involved. A positive start.

Frustratingly there is scant further information. It looks like its in stealth mode at the moment, as I failed to find an Application Developers Alliance website and Jon’s Linked In profile has not been updated to reference his work on it. I have messaged Jon via Linked In, so I will report back.

I’m assuming the concept has been heavily researched with developers to get this far, so the thing I’m most interested in is the insight behind the need for a trade association, the reaction from developers, and their willingness to pay.

The concept of a single addressable “developer community” is an urban myth. Developers hang in tribes around particular languages, platforms, operating systems, or beliefs. Rather than being singularly addressable, they are by definition completely fragmented. Each individual tribe requires specific attention, knowledge and understanding of its particular needs. So far I've not come across a one size fits all solution. Trying to figure all this out, is both the challenge and appeal of working in developer marketing.

During the first year of BlueVia I have been open that our goal was primarily to raise awareness. Therefore the team attended over 100 events in 2011 and we spoke to pretty much everyone that would listen. The pure marketer in me wasn’t comfortable with this less than precise method, but it worked. We were also in startup mode, and there was not the time to attempt to develop a sophisticated segmentation model of the community ahead of launch. We did kinda try, but quickly discovered there was nothing out there we could use as a framework, it would all have to be from scratch.

That changed into the second half of 2011. Since then we have been working hard on creating our own segmentation of the community, which will allow us to identify much more precisely who would benefit the most from BlueVia.

However, it hasn’t been an easy piece of work to deliver. This is why I’m so keen to hear from Jon on the approach for the Application Developers Alliance.

If you accept that generic messages to the developer community will not work, then you have to be much more targeted in the way you tailor your proposition to individual developers.

Below is just a small sample of the categorisation attributes we identified and considered during our segmentation work

  • Technology – perhaps the simplest approach is clustering around the developers preferred development platform – iOS, HTML5, Android, Ruby, .Net, Java, etc. This is relatively easy but risks missing the nuances of their actual needs and drivers.
  • Organization type – is the developer an independent, a startup, in academia, an agency, a charity, an enterprise? Each situation brings its own set of needs and approaches
  • Business Model – is the developer seeking to generate direct revenue from app sales, advertising, text messaging, in app billing or are they seeking to grow audience and market share, are they an open source developer, or a little of everything?
  • Geography – another myth is apps are global. There are very few Facebook’s and FourSquare’s out there. Understanding the regional dynamics of technology, business, and competitive conditions is vital. I hope the Application Developers Alliance is intending to be an international body, and not just focused on the USA.
  • Industry Vertical – is the developing producing apps or services for a particular vertical like games, financial services, energy, health, retail, etc

As you can see, the number of possibilities can quickly multiply, especially if you look to combine these to create a rich persona.

Patrick Mork floated the idea of an app trade body back in August 2011. I will have to reach out to him to see where that went, and if he is aware of Application Developers AllianceThe Mobile Entertainment Forum (disclaimer: I’m a board member) has also spent considerable time trying to figure out how it can become more relevant to independent developers, recognizing the huge contribution they collectively make to the mobile content and commerce industry.

So news of the Application Developers Alliance is welcome, but it faces some interesting hurdles. I’d love to analyze the detail, and understand exactly what kinds of developer Jon is intending to sign up. Its well documented that many developers are very negative towards marketing activities, even if its pushing something that directly benefits them. It will be fascinating to see how the Application Developers Alliance is pitched to them.

What do you think? Do developers need a trade body and will they sign up?

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