First Impressions: Shout Around (Beta) The Essential Convention App
In March this year, prominent cosplay photographer Martin Wong began a Kickstarter for a new app designed to “completely change the way you attend conventions.” The app is called Shout Around, and is currently available for beta testing on Android and iPhone. A lot of big name cosplayers have been promoting this app as well, such as Holly Wolf, Abby Dark-Star, Stella Chuu, Ivy Doomkitty, Bindi Smalls, and Jessica Nigri. Needless to say, as a casual convention goer/cosplayer looking to step up my game, this app sounds perfect for me.
I have been following since the Kickstarter, and was really excited at the potential of this app to really do some great things in the convention community. I signed up for the Android beta as soon as I saw it, and was very eager to check it out. I don’t have an iPhone to test the app out on, so my point of view may be limited somewhat by that. The overall look of the app is bright, colorful, and minimalistic. It avoids a lot of potential clutter, but yet leaves me feeling as though the screen space could be better utilized. One thing I found concerning was that the app goes into a “full screen” mode where the navigation buttons at the bottom and notification bar at the top both disappear. This feels like a poor way to set up the app, and I felt uncomfortable not being able to easily see the time or other notifications I may have received.
I tested a few different features of Shout Around, but found that not a lot of it was working at all. I attempted to do “shouts” several times, both public and friends only. None of these ever went through from what I was able to see, nor was I able to see any shout from anyone nearby once I had followed a few different people. Update: Since initial draft, I was able to successfully test the Shout feature. I found that once I did manage to get my test Shouts out, I actually could not find a way to delete them. In addition to following people, I also hit the “match” button with a few. All that happened was their profile zoomed off the screen with no confirmation message of any kind, or any information about what I had actually just done. Their profile reappeared once the app was restarted usually, again with no confirmation about any interaction.
The in-app purchases currently consist of tokens which are currently just used to purchase various borders for your profile. These tokens seemed to be generated when I followed people as well, so there is a way to obtain them without a purchase, albeit at a much slower rate. The store offers a few additional colors of borders for free, and I tried to use one of these to test it out before looking to purchase any tokens for a paid border. The app repeatedly crashed when trying to do this, and at no point did my border change to the one I was attempting to use from the store.
Signing in to the app requires a Facebook account, which is pretty common nowadays. With most apps, I’m glad to see they offer a “sign in with Facebook” option because I’m lazy and would rather just use the login information I already have. However, with this app, Facebook isn’t just used for your login. It pulls your information directly from the Facebook mobile app. It generates your profile, and determines what you can set as your profile picture. You can’t upload pictures to the app. You can only choose from Facebook or Instagram photos, once you connect your Instagram. In fact, if you attempt to connect pictures from Facebook, it will pull from whatever Facebook account you are currently logged in to in the actual Facebook mobile app, potentially causing account login issues for people who regularly use multiple Facebook accounts.
Everything I’ve described so far could really just be chalked up to “well, it’s in beta, and maybe it works better on iPhone where they’ve been testing longer.” I’m disappointed that not a lot of it seems to be working for the platform I use, but that all can still be fixed. The biggest concern for me was more related to the issue of having Facebook be so closely connected to the essential function of the app. One of the selling points for the app was the ability to do everything “without giving out your personal info.” This, like a lot of the other selling points, sounded fantastic. Personally, I have always kept “real” me and “internet” me fairly separate since way back in the good ol’ MySpace days. I have basically never been widely known by anyone other than family, school friends, or coworkers as “Ana.” Hell, that’s even a nickname, and the only people who even call me my full name are doctor’s offices and other places where I’m obligated to give my full name. A lot more people know me strictly as “Schrei”, and I have been using that as my online name since my little blood elf priest became my main character in World of Warcraft way back in 2008. At the very first convention I attended, Blizzcon 2013, I was with my World of Warcraft guildies and exclusively called “Schrei” the entire time. It feels perfectly natural and normal for me to be called Schrei, and for my close friends to call me Schrei.
Facebook is a weird place where “real” and “internet” me have met, to a certain extent. I keep most of my cosplay dealings on my cosplay page, and only accept friend requests of people I have personally interacted with and feel okay with them being allowed into my more “personal” section of the internet. The vast majority of people I meet and talk to at conventions only get to meet “internet” me, and I’m much more comfortable that way. It makes sense, then, that for an app built around meeting people at conventions, I would want to be known as “Schrei” rather than “Ana.” When I initially opened the app, I didn’t see this option. I waited a bit for a few more updates, checked again, and still did not see any option to edit the name displayed on my profile. Curious, I sent an email.
This was the response: “Currently, we don’t have an option to let users change their display names because we want to minimize catfishing behavior, people are more comfortable and feel safer seeing other real users around them. We also want to foster the building of genuine friendship with real people, so we believe using our real names is the best first step establish a trusting relationship.
You can always edit your bio to include any other alias that your friends are familiar with.”
This is entirely what inspired this more elaborate review. The rest of the issues I can assume will be fixed at some point. This, however, destroyed a lot of the hope I had for the app. I have built many, many genuine friendships with people who know me as “Schrei” and refer to me as “Schrei.” I believe all of these friends would say that we took our first steps towards a trusting relationship without real names. In fact, I don’t feel nearly as comfortable making new friends at conventions if I have to be “Ana.” “Ana” gets to stay at home with the social anxiety that would never dream of allowing me to do what I do at conventions, while “Schrei” makes friends, does panels, talks to hundreds of people, poses for pictures, and even gets on a stage and performs in a costume.
Names are important, and that is something that I and the creators of Shout Around most certainly agree on. However, I disagree that a “fake” name makes a person any less “real” or trustworthy. Yes, there are those who are fake people behind fake names, but what does this limitation really stop that an alternate Facebook account can’t circumvent? All it does is create more hoops to jump through for those who, like me, have two distinct parts of their lives that meet through Facebook. For the record, I did create an entirely new Facebook account for testing of the app. This is incredibly inconvenient, but it also leads to issues when I attempt to add pictures and am logged into the Facebook app on my main account. This led to the Shout Around app switching which account I was logged into without me ever choosing to sign out.
Overall, I am still very hopeful that Shout Around will change the convention scene for the better, despite the fact that I have mostly been unable to use it as intended currently. The people behind it mean well and have a bright outlook for what it can be. Hopefully they continue to work and iterate on the app, and make it into what it truly can be. I know I’m not going to entirely write it off, but so far, I’m going forward with more cautious optimism.