The stunning rise of the Yo app – which does nothing but make a friend’s phone utter the vacuous phrase – has cast a spotlight on one of the sillier niches in the multi-billion dollar app industry. There are more goofy, silly and downright absurd apps and services than ever, as every Tom, Dick and Harry with a bad idea can turn to fundraising sites including Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to pump themselves up.
With thanks to Techcrunch, Valleywag and a subreddit with an unprintable name, here are 10 of the most ridiculous apps and services vying for your dollars recently. Not all have been funded, of course; technology projects don’t have a great track record of winning financial backing. On Kickstarter, for example, only 33% of projects in the tech category successfully reached their fundraising goals, 13th out of the site’s 15 funding categories (dance and theater projects have the highest success rate).
1. One crazy service that opened its doors in June, only to shutter a week later, was called Washboard. Users could sign up to be sent $20 worth of quarters to use in laundromats – for the bargain price of $27. But the startup attracted fewer than 10 users and shut down last week. “Nearly 100% of the Internet thought Washboard was an absolutely absurd concept,” co-founder Caleb Brown wrote in a final blog post. “I had a very difficult time convincing people the service was even real, but we did have customers that were excited for it.”
2. In the app world, Hangtime might be one of the silliest. It’s for meeting up with friends at a concert or other crowded venue. All the app does is flash the screen of your phone in a designated color. The idea is to hold up the phone and tell your friend to look for that color. Beyond assuming the user is tall enough to reach over the crowd, the app wouldn’t work very well if it caught on and a dozen people all flashed the same color. But more than 200 people backed it on Kickstarter, most paying only $1.
3. One of the most ridiculous projects on IndieGoGo sought to raise money to print out the entire contents of the Wikipedia site and publish it in book form – sort of like a crowdsourced Encyclopedia Britannica but with 1,000 volumes instead of 26. Thankfully for trees everywhere, the project garnered only about 20% of the $50,000 needed.
4. Know anyone who still extends his or her thumb and pinky finger to signal “call me”? Apparently the goofball gesture is still popular in some quarters. The Handiheadset Kickstarter project sought to produce a giant, plastic hand poised in that gesture that could be used as a speakerphone. It attracted only nine backers when the fundraising period expired this month.
5. There’s some social-science research suggesting that grateful people are happier, so what better to encourage giving thanks than a gratitude-tracking pet rock? How can a rock track your thankfulness? It can’t. But the Pebblestone personal mind coach does keep track of how many times you pick it up and shake it. You could do that every time you want to note a grateful memory, the creators say. The project is still fundraising until July 6 but has already exceeded its goal to raise 100,000 in British pounds.
6. QR codes seemingly appear all over nowadays, allowing anyone with a smartphone to scan and be whisked off to a particular website. So how about promoting your small business by adding promotional QR code to a pair of jeans or a T-shirt? Kickstarter funders didn’t go for it – the project failed last week after attracting only 2% of the required $2,500.
7. Some goofy projects are considerably more ambitious. The "ORBIT" Flying Autonomous Smart Device would combine a smartphone, mini-drone and digital personal assistant. The fact that you need a phone to use it negates some of the appeal of the phoneless-ness of the device. The inexperienced developer behind the ORBIT attracted only six $1 pledges before the fundraising period ended.
8. Some apps aren’t just silly – they could even be contrary to medical best practices. AT&T’s (T) BabyFirst app is for babies who want to play on their parents’ iPad. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that small children stay away from screens of all kinds, including televisions and tablet computers. “A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens,” the group says on its website. Time Magazine dubbed BabyFirst the worst baby app ever.
9. Silly apps don't have to remain unpopular. Three researchers at Columbia University searched for the most popular app on Android with the lowest rating from users. They ended up finding Droidscale, a supposed way to turn a smartphone into a digital scale. Despite more than one million downloads, users rated the app less than 2 stars out of five. Turns out the app wasn't really weighing anything but just generated a random number. Not so useful.
10. Finally, who is more suitable to highlight the world of misbegotten apps than celebrity Kim Kardashian? Her new app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, lets you role-play in her life, where apparently everything starts with the letter K, including “kustomize” and “krop tops.” Notes Fashionista blogger Nora Crotty: “I made it through about four minutes, which included one outfit change, two city bus rides and one derogatory comment made by me to a maybe-homeless person.” Sounds positively…goofy.