Non-developer with mobile web/app idea, looking for guidance

Hi everyone –

Disclaimer right off the bat: I’m brand new here, and am by no means a professional web developer. Feel free to let me know if I’m off-base on anything, whether it’s smaller stuff like semantics or larger stuff like big-picture thinking.

With that said, I have an idea for a project and am looking for some guidance. I’ve done some preliminary research/googling, but think I’m at the point where I’m better off reaching out directly to the experts.

In short, I’m trying to create an app or mobile website that helps Massachusetts residents make informed voting decisions on *state-level* elections (as opposed to the national-level races that receive overwhelming media coverage).

As it currently stands, my basic outline is this:

Screen 1: User is presented with a list of 10-15 political issues (gun control, minimum wage, taxes, etc.) and is prompted to select the 3 they consider “most important”
Screen 2: User is prompted to enter their zip code
Screen 3: User is presented with a list of state-level elections that will be on their ballot in November based on their zip code. For each election the user is shown the candidates who are running, along with a quick summary of those candidates’ stances on the issues selected as ‘important’ on Screen 1
Maybe-stuff: User can sign in with twitter/facebook/etc to have their inputs from Screens 1 & 2 saved; User can elect to get push notifications on their phone or email reminders when one of their elections is upcoming.

I believe I can handle the content, but am unsure of the technical aspect.

Briefly, about me: I consider myself a beginner in terms of programming & web development, however I do have *some* familiarity. When I was younger I taught myself HTML, CSS, and a splash of Javascript in order to build a website for a family business, and recently I taught myself a (limited) amount of VBA in order to create a handful of Excel macros at work. I’m not intimidated by the thought of learning a programming language and doing coding myself, but I definitely realize it will take time & effort.

With all of the above in mind, I have the following questions:
1) Ideally, I would like this to be optimal for use on a smartphone. Should this be an actual app, or just a mobile-optimized website? (The response to this will almost certainly lead to additional questions)
2) Given my experience level and assuming I could devote 1-3 hours per day, is this project something I could reasonably expect to finish on my own within a month? Or would I be better off seeking outside help? If I were to hire someone to do this, what rate should I reasonably expect to pay?
3) I’d like to include some form of advertising in this – not expecting to get rich, but at the very least would like to offset some of the time and/or monetary costs. Does this change anything from a development perspective?
4) Is there anything important I’m overlooking? I realize I’m not an expert and I’m not going to become one overnight, but at the very least I’d like to reduce the amount of “unknown unknowns” in play here.

In short: What’s the best way for me to go about this? Any and all input is appreciated.

Any time you are investing time or money into something, you should appeal to as wide of an audience as possible, in my opinion. Limiting this type of thing to a mobile-only app would eliminate the possibility of a lot of people using it. Not to mention that doing something like this would probably be much easier as a website (I have no knowledge of mobile app development). That way you could have versions (using CSS media queries) for mobile and desktop and appeal to as broad of an audience as possible.

Absolutely not. There is no way you are going to finish something like that in 30 - 90 hours of time with your level of experience. One thing I have learned is everything always takes longer than you think it will.

Is there a reason you feel the need to do something like this? Because most newspapers (and their websites) already publish candidate positions on the issues. And I do not foresee you making much, if any, money doing this, certainly not enough to pay somebody to do it for you.

It does not change anything from a development perspective. But if you are doing advertising for this, you are probably doing pay-per-click along the lines of Google Adsense. I don’t know what political campaigns pay for advertising to drive traffic to their websites for voters or donors, but it may be a decent amount of money. But how many visitors would you plan to get per day? How many of them will click on an ad? I don’t run Adsense any more. When I did, click-through rates were a dismal 1% to 2%.

You are overlooking that you will have to ensure you have correct information regarding candidate positions on all the issues. You are also overlooking that most people are politically identified as it is and will vote for their party’s choice no matter what. That means your only audience is the “undecideds” of which there are what, 10% - 20% of the total voting population? You could also be overlooking existing websites that already have this functionality. Perhaps not in Massachusetts, but they are out there.

Cheesedude - Thanks a ton for your response, you’ve definitely given me some stuff to think about. One thing I want to clarify:

Keep in mind that I’m gearing this toward the state-level elections. I’m not interested in the elections that send people to Washington, instead I’m focusing on the elections that send people to the State House in downtown Boston. Newspapers generally give minimal coverage to these races in favor of the national ones because the national ones are relevant to the entire state (and frankly, fit in better with the “spectator sport” aspect of politics that’s become so common today), whereas the state-level races are much more localized. For example in 2012, newspapers across the state ran endless coverage of Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren, but people living in the Fourth Middlesex District heard little regarding Kenneth Donnelly vs. Gerry Dembrowski. In fact, I would guess that many people living in that district hadn’t even heard either of those names until they went in to vote and actually looked at the ballot.

I think this is important because many people don’t realize that these state-level elections have a much bigger impact on their day-to-day lives than the headline-grabbing national elections. For example, last year when Colorado legalized marijuana, that was something that was done by the CO state senate and state house. Other examples include gay marriage, abortion, liquor laws, education funding, property taxes, minimum wages, etc. A lot of these laws are decided by the people elected in the state-level elections.

I understand that many people are politically identified and will vote the party-line regardless, but this wouldn’t necessarily be geared toward them. I guess my goal with this would be to encourage more “normal” people to get involved in local-level politics in a way that requires a minimal amount of time on their part. I think this would have a much larger appeal to people who are not currently considered a “likely voter” in that it would help them realize (a) there’s more to politics than just the bickering that’s constantly covered on CNN; (b) there are elections that are much more likely to impact my day-to-day life; and (c) these are elections where my vote is much more likely to matter (i.e. 1 out of 20,000 vs. 1 out of 300 million)

Thanks again, really do appreciate the response.

Is Android App Inventor still a thing? I haven’t heard much about it in since it was first announced.

I’m not sure if that’s still used or not. But it might help you. I think it was originally made by Google for Android and it looks like it has expanded to be more than that.

Even still, if you’re starting from scratch as far as knowledge goes… 30 to 90 hours is pushing it. I would guess a paid developer could do it in under 20hrs, depending on a lot of factors, but freelance developers are not cheap.

Given the time left, the fastest development route for desktop and mobile combined is using CSS and HTML5 ! (and jquery, if needed). I created a downsized website with multiple pages that can be read on any smartphone with ease as well as a desktop. In other words, a regular websited, tailored small enough that it does not have to be shrunken to be easily read on any smart phone. If you start out with a website that just displays the candidates’ positions and does not request input you could have a useful service out there PDQ. (Can you get positive and objective input from each off the candidates on their own plans for each topic? Now that would be helpful!)
(NOTES: Longer term you might want to look at PhoneGap which can translate a tailored website to iPhone, Android, etc… Note to present an app available on Apple’s app store you will need a physical Mac computer even with use of PhoneGap. The alternative - developing native apps for iPhone - has a long, long learning curve - and many people ahve the much cheaper Android smart phones…)