angryphone

There isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed in 140 characters and an at-reply. Or so we think as we tap out another Tweet complaining about our burnt coffee, delayed flight, or malfunctioning app, anyway. Really we’re just starting a conversation that will ultimately lead to nothing (in the case of the burnt coffee or delayed flight) or further discussion (as with the malfunctioning app) meant to suss out the root of the problem.

Appboy, a New York-based startup that has raised $2.5 million from Accelerator Ventures, Metamorphic Ventures, and others, aims to make that discussion a little easier. The company has partnered with HootSuite to help developers learn why a user decided to spew a series of enraged missives across the Twitter-verse, joining social media with data collected via Appboy’s customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Say, for example, that a user is complaining about an app crashing every time it’s launched. There are a few things that could cause the problem, from the user’s device to the version of the app they have installed and the last time they updated their device’s software. An incendiary Tweet is unlikely to carry all of that information, forcing a developer to play a game of “20 Questions” with an already-disgruntled user.

Appboy’s partnership with HootSuite allows developers who have baked the Appboy SDK into their apps to see user data directly from their Twitter stream. Basic information, like that mentioned above, is right there, obviating a borderline-masochistic back-and-forth and allowing developers to attempt to solve the problem right away. Since that’s likely what the user wanted in the first place — unless he was just looking for attention, which wouldn’t be all that surprising — it’s a win-win.

Outside of HootSuite, Appboy is similar to Offerpop and other CRM solutions that allow companies and developers to identify and reach their customers. If Offerpop’s Fan Database is like “binders full of Facebook fans,” as I joked in February, Appboy is essentially a binder full of the people who use your app. Everything, from the last time someone launched your application to how long they used it and what version they have installed is a few clicks away in Appboy’s cloud-based service.

Companies and developers can then use that data to reach out to users via email or an in-app message. This could be useful if a company needs to push an urgent update, as both Evernote and Amazon had to within the last week, or if someone has stopped using an app and the company wants to get them back in the habit with a “friendly” reminder. (Note: If someone stops using your app please don’t be “that company” and continue sending them push notifications. They probably just aren’t that into you.)

Appboy co-founder and CEO Mark Ghermezian says that the service, which launched in December 2012, has been built into some 800 applications, 100 of which are live on the App Store. The service currently costs $5,000 per month, but Ghermezian says that the price will likely change as the company matures.

Whether or not the service will be worth that $5,000 per month depends on how much developers are willing to put up with from disgruntled customers. Patient developers might be fine sending countless emails asking the same “Can you tell me what device you’re using, which version of the app you have installed, and what operating system you’re running?” question over and over again. Other developers — or as I like to call them, “people who enjoy their sanity” — might appreciate the peace and quiet that comes with not having to do all that.

As a user, I would be worried that a company might abuse the data they’ve gathered about my usage habits and, to put it politely, annoy the shit out of me for relegating their application to a rarely-opened folder on my last home screen. (Appboy doesn’t share that information — yet — but I’m assuming some of these companies have a vivid imagination.)

There’s a fine line between helping users by communicating with them, which might have helped prevent people from losing their libraries by updating their Kindle application to a broken version, and spamming users who didn’t particularly like your app anyway. Not that Appboy can be blamed for what its customers decide to do with its service, even if it means having to repeat “Don’t shoot the messenger” as the notifications continue to roll in.

But hey. You can always complain about it on Twitter.

[Image Source: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books]