Poetreat Review and Interview

Poetreat is a delightful iOS application by developer Ryan Nystrom designed to do one thing well: Let you write poems and discover rhymes.

The app has a simple but beautiful user interface, which starts with its colourful feathered icon. The main interface should look familiar, yet unique, and fits in well with standard iOS apps. You’ll know how to use it.

From the main interface, you can start typing your poems as you’d type anywhere else, but Poetreat analyzes your text as you type, and helps suggest rhymes for you. It doesn’t just suggest them anywhere though, it also has a sense of the semantics of your poem: it keeps track of the structure of your poem to provide rhymes when you need them according to its metre (things like ABAC structure, for example).

Poetreat is free in the App Store, with a $0.99 In-App Purchase to unlock iCloud syncing and custom themes.

The app really caught my eye when I realized what it did about recognizing the structure of your text, so I asked Ryan if he’d be interested in an interview. You’ll find our conversation below:

Interview

Jason: So first off: What’s in a name? How did you come up with the name for Poetreat?

Ryan: The name Poetreat came out of the blue. The app idea was always set in stone, but the name was really tough. I wanted to find something unique that conveyed what the app was meant for. I never intended the app to be used for poems longer than 8 or so lines, so I was thinking along the line of “snippet” or “piece”. After a late night brainstorm I opened the pantry to grab a snack, and that’s when it hit, it was a “treat”. I really liked the word because its supposed to be a small portion but also delightful.

Jason: Why did you decide to make this app? Did you stick with the same concept from the beginning or is what we see here what an original idea became?

Ryan: Originally I made an Objective-C port of a PHP library for text readability called RNTextStatistics. I created that project just for fun and because there was really nothing out there for Objective-C developers to drag and drop into their projects that offered this sort of analysis on text. It turned out to be a doozy of a project, but an incredible learning experience. The syllable counting naturally lead into thinking about meter and rhyme. That’s when I decided to create a poetry app.

Jason: What was the development of the app like? How long have you been working on it?

Ryan: The app actually didn’t take long to develop at all. Call a rhyming API, store some data locally, sync with a backend service, and it was done. I’d estimate just a month or two of tinkering at night and it was completed. For every side project I take on I decide to use a new technology I’m unfamiliar with. One of the big ones for Poetreat was Core Data syncing with AFIncrementalStore. This is a really amazing project. I ended up spending more time creating demo projects to show off how easy it is to sync Core Data with a web service using AFIncrementalStore.

Jason: Poetreat has a lovely and useable interface. What went into the making of that? Was it all custom or did you use open source components or a mixture?

Ryan: You know how I mentioned the development was pretty quick and easy? Well the design was quite the opposite. I’m a developer by education and talent, not a designer. However I really want to be self-reliant because I am sometimes overly critical on other’s work. It makes working in a developer-designer pair really difficult for me. I decided to design this app 100% by myself, but that required a lot of time spent on Dribbble researching what others had done. I created about 5 style guides for Poetreat before I finally settled on the live app.

That isn’t to say I didn’t have help. The designers at my day job helped tremendously with feedback. A couple times they even watched over my shoulder in Photoshop and gave me some tips and tricks.

Jason: The syllable counting feature is something I’ve never seen in an app before. How does that work? What other things do you do with natural language in the app?

Ryan: That all comes from my open source text parsing library RNTextStatistics. Dave Child was the original author of the PHP version. I learned a lot about readability scoring in the process though. Its even spurned my next app that is entirely about readability scoring and improving. The big tests in readability are:

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level
Gunning Fog Score
Coleman Liau Index
SMOG Index
Automated Reability Index

Jason: What are some of your favourite rhymes you’ve found with the help of Poetreat?

Ryan: You know how everyone always uses the word “orange” as the impossible rhyme? Poetreat can actually find some pretty good rhymes for “orange”, my favorite being “lozenge”. Its not exact, but its not a word I’d of ever come up with!

Jason: You’ve previously mentioned to me this is your 7th app for the App Store and you’re really looking to make this a winner. I’ve had my own App Store woes in the past as well. What have you learned from your experiences in the past and how are you using that to your advantage this time around?

Ryan: Well I’ve not learned, but been told that you have to spend money in marketing. I went with two app “marketing” websites:

  1. https://applaunch.us/
  2. http://pitchpigeon.com/dashboard

and filed an official press release. All in all I spent maybe $250, definitely not that much. However now that it’s been 2 weeks I can tell you I will never do that again. Total waste. No reviews, nothing in Google News except the official Press Release. I know that Poetreat isn’t going to set the world on fire, but I think it’s unique enough to warrant some talk. I’m sitting at about 3,500 downloads now, which is by no means a failure. But both of those services above have tracking and analytics for who reads and actually reviews your stuff. I’ve gotten 0 press, most of my downloads are purely by word of mouth and community. I emailed about 15 people on launch day (including yourself!) to take a look at it. Everyone responded with wonderful criticism. I was really happy. I could have only done that and been fine.

I also spent, in my opinion, way too long on design. I could have released this app in November with default UIKit design and it would behave exactly the same. I’m planning on going that route next time. Some UIAppearance and some CALayer animations, but I’m done spending hours in Photoshop.

Jason: In-App Purchase seems to be a popular route these days in the App Store. Why did you decide to offer the app free with IAP?

Ryan: Because its the trendy thing currently, and I wanted to see why. However I’m finding 0 difference in money earned between this and my paid apps. I’ve got about a 2.5% conversion, with 3,500 being about 87 sales, netting me roughly $61. Now I’ll admit that my IAP doesn’t unlock the most amazing features, I definitely went with a freemium model.

(Good News: This interview was conducted a little before WWDC 2013, but Ryan sent me some updated info about how Poetreat is fairing. He says:

Since I sent this email Poetreat got featured in the New & Noteworth, hit #27 in US, #1 US in the Lifestyle category.

Awesome!)

Jason: Almost completely unrelated, but have you ever considered turning the syllable counting and rhyming analysis into a multiplayer/turn-based game? It seems like it could make for an interesting “Rhyme with Friends” kind of game.

Ryan: Abbbsolutely. This is on my palette as a possible followup. It’d be even better to go Loren’s route and use Game Center so I don’t have to muck with servers again. Something like “build a poem together”. However I’ve already tackled a poetry app, and its shown me that sales won’t be enough to motivate me if the idea isn’t exciting.


Go check out Poetreat in the App Store.

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