With the release of the Android L preview in 2014 and the eventual rollout of Android Lollipop later that year, Google heralded a new era in Android apps design with Material Design, the design language that Android developers were to follow from then henceforth. As a result, today’s apps are all beautiful, colourful and intuitive. That hasn’t always been the case.
Go back in time 8 years ago and the apps that you will meet will either scare you or make you faint. Yet, back then, they were the cocks of the walk. The things that dazzled us and made our shiny little droids have meaning. Back when the Play Store was called Android Market.
Skype is synonymous with VoIP (voice calls made over the internet) but it wasn’t really the best deal when it came to integrating casual chats and online calls on Android. Immediately before and after 2010, that honour belonged to Nimbuzz. Nimbuzz had cheaper, better rates, an app that wasn’t as buggy as Skype’s and, generally, a name for itself since it was something that those coming from Nokia’s Symbian platform could relate with. Little wonder that it was one of the very first social apps that I installed on my first Android device.
While Nimbuzz lives on todate on the Google Play Store, its influence has waned and it has been overshadowed by shiny new things and is ridden with lots of reckless bugs. Today, users can make calls over Messenger, something that didn’t exist back then, use WhatsApp, which was just limited to text-based chats and wasn’t as popular as it is today or go with Google’s duo of Allo and, well, Duo.
This was the very first social media application I installed on my first Android smartphone.
Twidroyd was, back then, the most popular Twitter application on the Android Market. It had a huge loyal following. The user interface was good and integration with third-party image-hosting services like Twitpic and YFrog (yes, we needed those back then since Twitter was still an SMS app on the internet and as such didn’t allow users to directly upload images) was excellent. I still remember the distinct Twidroyd notification sound every time I had a new mention on Twitter.
The team behind Twidroyd would later join forces with the team behind Uber Twitter, a popular Twitter client on the BlackBerry platform (and another platform we don’t like talking about around here), to come up with UberSocial, which can today still be found on the Play Store (and they’re even selling the Pro version for much more than it takes to get a quality 2018-class Twitter app. LOL). While they did release a Twidroyd theme that was resplendent with Twidroyd’s Bermuda blue colour scheme, it never felt like Twidroyd. There’s no place like home, so they say.
Remember when it was really cool to use Ashton Kutcher’s own UberSocial for Twitter app, A.plus, with its popping red accents?
Long before Facebook released Messenger, there was eBuddy, a cross-platform instant messaging service that let users add various chat services including Facebook Chat, the precursor to Messenger. Facebook chat on mobile, moreso the mobile web, wasn’t the best experience. If you remember anything about the Facebook app before the year 2013 then you know that it was one of the worst big apps on the Play Store thanks to Facebook’s earlier decision to use HTML5 to build the app. So, to eBuddy we flocked. And eBuddy impressed and delivered. I liked it because through it, I could sign in to multiple Facebook accounts and be able to chat on all of them. Yes, my catfish tendencies didn’t start yesterday. Also, at a time when the storage on devices was very low, eBuddy was a saviour. We didn’t need to have separate apps for Yahoo Messenger, MySpace chat and what not (Nimbuzz, above, also did this well), eBuddy took all the popular instant messaging services and put them under one roof. There was also something else: my attachment to eBuddy was because it was what I was using on my old Nokias before Android swept me off my feet.
I don’t have the right words to say about Twicca. Simply put, it was amazing. Its ubiquitous black interface a big break from the overused blue that characterizes just about every other Twitter app. It was the Flamingo of its day. It had plugins for then popular photo-sharing platforms like Flickr and Picasa and, generally, looked nice. You were not on Twitter if you were not using Twicca. I sometimes miss Twicca (and it’s there on the Store for anyone else having these nostalgic feelings) but come on, let bygones be bygones.
Foursquare was the Fantasy Premier League before the Fantasy Premier League. This is because we all competed to see who was at the top of the leaderboard every week. We all competed to win mayorships. Nothing hurt than missing to visit your favourite joint only for your friend to show up and claim the mayorship from you. Coups, we all hate them. We went as far as adding places just so that we could dominate. Spoofing our location just so that we did not have to lose our mayorships and unlock new badges. It made us competitive. It was fun. Uber fun.
Wasee wa mombasani nani anatumia Foursquare? #fb
— The Unsullied (@echenze) November 15, 2010
I just unlocked the "Superstar" badge on @foursquare! http://4sq.com/m9Cthi
— The Unsullied (@echenze) April 29, 2011
I just became the mayor of The Mombasa Polytechnic University College on @foursquare! http://4sq.com/eFG9Ck
— The Unsullied (@echenze) May 2, 2011
— The Unsullied (@echenze) April 20, 2011
I just ousted Abubakar D. as the mayor of Central Bank of Kenya Mombasa on @foursquare! http://4sq.com/cdXZuR
— The Unsullied (@echenze) June 22, 2011
I just became the mayor of Mombasa Memorial Cathedral on @foursquare! http://4sq.com/etOdhA
— The Unsullied (@echenze) June 19, 2011
— Caroline (@shikungigi) November 29, 2012
There were even Foursquare check-ins from outer space. From Mars! Guess the rover became the “mayor” shortly after this:
— The Unsullied (@echenze) October 4, 2012
Then in 2014 some brilliant people at Foursquare had a lightbulb moment and decided you know what? Mayorships are bad. They refined mayorships to make them less competitive. Like that nursery school nonsense of “everybody wins”. Now one place could have as many “mayors” as possible. The thinking was that the person with the most check-ins to a place in your social circles becomes the “mayor” of that place. Previously, one could only become a “mayor” at a place after dethroning the previous occupant, the person who had the highest number of check-ins. Of course, after that small episode, everybody left. Rather, we all swam to safety, Swarm be damned!
Even after winning the location-sharing wars with Gowalla, Foursquare alienated users by discarding the features we treasured. The features that kept us checking the app every other day. “It is irrational and it is crazy, but I am indeed that “guy” who lately has been fighting for the mayorship with that “girl” for the mayorship of that “coffee shop.” Om Malik summed it up nicely. Sadly, that is not a language the geniuses at Foursquare understood. In fact, as if to add salt to injury, what we knew as Foursquare became Swarm and the Foursquare name was relegated to a “tasting app”. Sigh.
That new @Foursquare app, Swarm, sucks! How is everyone a mayor of the same place? BS. Where are share to FB & Twitter buttons?
— The Unsullied (@echenze) May 22, 2014
There’s this feature on Swarm but it’s too late now:
Foursquare should have a feature whereby I can opt to check in automatically to places I'm at. Just like I do with Google.
— The Unsullied (@echenze) February 17, 2013
A combination of errors as a result of failing to understand users and fixing problems that no one had, like “making mayorships less competitive” and the emergence of built-in location sharing features in all the major social networking apps where we flocked to share our Foursquare shenanigans has meant that Swarm, Foursquare’s successor, is all but on life support. Why would I check in on Swarm when I can do the same on Facebook? When I can tag everything I post on Twitter and Instagram with the location?
Not even a new CEO will help Foursquare. Sorry, that ship sailed. They messed by changing an app/service that needed no changes.
— The Unsullied (@echenze) January 15, 2016
Checking in to exotic locations to get rare badges? Sounds about right. It’s the same psychological play that drove Pokémon Go to crazy levels of popularity as we all tried to outdo each other in completing the Pokedex by getting the rarest Pokémon. That worked for Foursquare. It worked for Klout (see below) and, definitely, it was going to work for our TV-watching habits. And work it did since Get Glue became the glue that bound us with our favourite TV shows, movies and documentaries.
— The Unsullied (@echenze) July 10, 2012
— The Unsullied (@echenze) July 25, 2012
— The Unsullied (@echenze) July 25, 2012
Get Glue lives on today as TVTag but without all the pomp, glamour and hype of old. After all, we can add activities like watching The Grand Tour to our Facebook feeds with little to no effort and its idea of “curating TV moments” is as old as old gets.
Another victim of making sweeping changes that ended up alienating users rather than drawing them in is Klout. A corruption of the term “clout” which means the power or influence one wields, Klout had all the user goodwill a service would want. Yet it ended up disappointing us.
Like the proverbial birds of a feather…:
— The Unsullied (@echenze) July 15, 2011
Klout jumped on to the social media scene with a celebrated means of looking at a user’s linked social media profiles and using complex algorithms to determine the reach and engagement rate of each one of the user’s posts over time. It would then use this information to compute the said user’s influence score on social media. The higher, the better. Like with Foursquare, the quest to have higher Klout scores started driven by regular blog posts from Kenya’s then-nascent blogging community which regularly ranked the “top” and the most “influential” Twitter users. Being on any of those silly lists and “awards” earned one bragging rights in pre-2012 Kenyan Twitter. Skrr skrr kids will never know.
Then one fine day, Klout’s geniuses also had their own lightbulb moment. They reworked the algorithms that computed Klout scores and introduced stricter measures of influence. The end result was that Klout scores of everyone dropped and people had to work thrice as harder to see their Klout scores go up. You could no longer wake up the next morning to see yourself zooming past 200 other tweeps thanks to a single-digit increase in your Klout score. Uuum, here’s what they missed: it’s social media and, back then, it was never that serious. We all stopped using Klout. The famed Klout score became irrelevant.
What does the Kiswahili word bwerere mean to you? Bwerere was what would later become the free Pesadroid app on the Play Store, at least as far as I can remember. It’s been a while.
Felix Kiptum’s app Pesadroid was one of the few homegrown quality apps that one could find on the Android Market in 2011. That Overview that was making me smile sheepishly like a little girl every time it did its magic in the background? It has nothing on the real OG, Pesadroid. Pesadroid was the M-Ledger before M-Ledger. For a moment, it shone. It failed to catch up with the times and maintained its dated interface. It also took long to be updated to reflect new M-Pesa rates. As a result, when someone else offered us a better proposition in the form of M-Ledger, we were all so glad to part with Kshs 200 to unlock the premium features of our new catch. Safaricom’s acquisition of M-Ledger, which meant proper tighter integration with M-Pesa, meant that we were not abandoning M-Ledger any time soon as it had a leg up. Unfortunately, that also meant the beginning of the end of Pesadroid as we knew it.
Forget Telegram and its shady oversized (they call them Supergroups) chat groups, 2go was the OG, complete with “rooms” as if to prepare one for the sins they were going to commit in their virtual nakedness.
If my hated namesake, Uncle Ezekiel Mutua, thinks that Sauti Sol’s Melanin is this day and age’s gift from biblical Sodom and Gomorrah of old then he clearly missed out on the 2009-2011 wave of 2go when the app was at its peak. 2go was the real virtual Gomorrah, there are no questions about that.
While the app, famous for casual flirting among the young, still lives on, its lustre has since waned as the lust and tastes of those it once served advanced. There’s Tinder today. And, well, Samantha (apparently, according to Google, Kenyans are really curious about Samantha).
It beats logic to hop onto Twitter and type both the name of the song and the artiste and then go a step further and add the all-too-familar hashtag that broadcasts your music tastes to the world, #NowPlaying. What if we could go to one place where we could see what all our friends are jamming to then easily share what we’re playing on our handhelds with the rest of the world on all social media platforms we’re on without having to log in to 3 different apps? That, in a nutshell, is what Soundtracking did. It even went the extra mile of detecting the songs, like the now-Apple-owned Shazam does. And we loved it because of that. It is the only service that enticed me into sharing my music with an audience I mostly ignore: my Instagram followers.
Unfortunately, Rhapsody (those people whose bloatware you find on your machine when you buy a new HP computer) bought Soundtracking and that was the end of the service. The app is nowhere to be found on the Play Store. As if I’d be missing it, anyway. Spotify has stepped up and stepped in to fill its shoes.
What apps do you have fond memories of from back in the day?