Digital Telepathy brings great Web design to the masses with its Filament app store

By Michael Carney , written on May 29, 2014

From The News Desk

When you design websites and apps for companies like New Relic, Apple, and Google Ventures’ portfolio of startups, it’s fair to say you’re the real deal. Such is the case with Chuck Longanecker and his San Diego design firm Digital Telepathy. But for all his success, Longanecker has remained frustrated at the limited number of clients he can work with and the overall low quality of the average website experience.

“We just want to make the Web a better and more well-designed place,” he says. “We looked at how expensive it is to build best in class Web experiences – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars – and said there has to be a way to bring design to the masses.”

Digital Telepathy’s answer is to create an app store for Website design. Filament, which went live to the public yesterday after six months in private beta (with a hefty 25,000 users) launches with just six apps. This includes three products designed by Digital Telepathy – Flare (content sharing), Passport (social directory), and Ivy (targeted engagement) – and three third-party products – Mailchimp (email marketing), CodeDrop (Web app management), and Google Analytics (instant Web analytics). The company also teases eight more apps as "coming soon." Expect this offering to expand dramatically over time as Filament opens its doors to the developer and designer communities, while continuing to build and release its own proprietary apps.

Longanecker and his team designed the platform to work with any CMS. Users simply insert a single line of code and then use the Filament platform, “WYSIWIG”-style, to drag and drop apps onto your website and manipulate the design accordingly. This means, for example, if you want to deploy Flare to a Wordpress blog, it’s as simple as dragging the app into place using the Filament dashboard and watching the other elements on the page auto-resize to match. Press publish, and the changes go live to the user’s website.

“We’ve been building these apps on the side for the last five or six years, taking hard coded design trends and productizing them,” Longanecker. “Some, like SlideDeck and HelloBar have caught on, and others have crashed and burned. But in all cases, the biggest headache has been distribution.”

Longanecker figured that Digital Telepathy isn’t the only dev shop that has cool products that would benefit website owners, if only they could get in front of them. Filament, he hopes, is the answer.

“We figured, why don’t we just build a place where we can house all these apps in one location, and that way we can spend our time building new tools, without worrying about developing new platforms or distribution every time,” he says. “It’s also been a problem getting people to install code without breaking their sites. This way, you drop a single line of code in once and everything else becomes seamless and instantaneous.”

Filament is still a closed platform today, meaning third-party developers can’t simply upload their apps at will. That will come eventually, but Longanecker and company are taking their curatorial responsibilities seriously. He offered the cautionary example of the Wodpress plug-in repository, describing it as “99 percent crap.” On the other end of the control spectrum is the iTunes App Store. Filament, Longanecker says, will look to find a happy medium.

“We don’t want to let users down by offering apps that don’t improve their experience,” he says. “At the same time there’s a lot of good stuff out there that didn’t come from Digital Telepathy.”

Filament is targeted at the pro-sumer market, meaning startups and small business owners that either aren’t capable of designing their own Web apps or don’t want to pay someone an arm and a leg to do so. Large enterprises like Nike aren’t deploying Filament any time soon, although a future enterprise class product is not out of the question, according to Longanecker.

“We’ve seen a lot of less technical, more marketing minded people adopt the platform,” he says. “But they still care about improving user experience. We’ll look to move up the foodchain over time”

The current Filament offering is free, but eventually users will be asked to pay for app downloads, most likely under a freemium model. Filament will also offer a Pro version of its platform, Longanecker says, delivering deeper analytics and global insights aggregated from across the platform. In the meantime, Digital Telepathy is bootstrapping the project with revenue from its consulting and services practice.

“This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Longanecker says. “They say you can’t commoditize design, but we can certainly make it easier and more efficient to deliver design to the masses.”