Russell Quinn and McSweeney's — an American indie publishing house — officially announced their joint iPhone app last Tuesday. Within three hours it had surged to number 1 in the U.S. iTunes book category, broke the top 50 in the all-category Highest Grossing chart, and created a storm of excitement on Twitter.
The collaboration started over the summer. I had been thinking about writing my own iPhone app for a while, but knew that to make something really compelling, I needed great content and a known name that would be prepared to take the risk with me.
I've been a fan of McSweeney's for a long time, and creating an app for them seemed like the perfect match. I had an iPhone. I read their books and watched their DVDs. I would really like to see their content on my iPhone. I was to be my own target audience.
I fired off an email to them proposing that we work together on such project. They replied within 30 minutes and an hour later we were Skyping and formulating the first strategies.
As McSweeney's are based on the west coast of America and I'm currently living in Zürich, Switzerland we had a major time difference to contend with. We started using Basecamp that same day, and have used it ever since for everything from reviewing screen designs, to hammering the copy into shape in Writeboards, to keeping track of deadlines and development to-do lists. A second project also served as an excellent platform for our closed beta stage, giving our testers a place to collect the new binaries and leave feedback.
The whole process from start to finish felt very agile and focussed on just creating the best product we could. The timezone mismatch meant that we were effectively a 24-hour team. I would work all day in peace, then send some previews or questions as I left my workspace for home. Eli, from McSweeney's, would then collect opinions, plus any necessary material and upload it before I awoke in the morning.
This "Getting Real" ideology, combined with an extensive use of Basecamp for all our communication and project management needs, means we really have 37signals to thank for making the logistics of this project possible in such a short timeframe. Hey, even our server-side system is running on Ruby on Rails.
Congrats on the success Russell!