Beerio

A product vision for a great craft beer experience, which evolved into a prototype mobile note-taking web app and a Kickstarter project.

Back in 2009, as I was getting more deeply invested in the craft beer scene, I ran into the classic problem: It was tough to remember everything I tried—and not just for the obvious reasons. My frustrations led me to create a web-based note-taking app for craft beer, and what eventually became Beerio, my successfully funded Kickstarter project.
The Solo Phase
When I started in on this idea, it was a wild-eyed idea for myself—scratching a personal itch. I began sketching on pages of Field Notes notebooks the various features that I might want, and how they might work out. Branding, functions, and flow were all carefully considered.
Some of those that are now real competition, like Untappd, were right on the cusp, whereas others that I did enjoy like 97 Bottles or BeerMenus existed but were not really optimized for mobile. And of course, Beer Advocate was there through it all, but we’ll get to that sort of thing a little later.
Though the ideas became quite expansive, at that point it felt like more of a UX and design exercise than a real possibility. But, I figured I could build myself an MVP of what I wanted most: the note-taking aspects of a broader service.
My Personal Web App
It was nothing much to look at, but the web app I built for myself back in early 2011 worked like a charm for myself. The initial version was based on HTML5 concepts and localStorage, a browser-based data store, with my own hand-hewn Javascript.
The challenge of both designing and building the web app was a fun one. I avoided existing package managers and frameworks at the time owing to wanting an experience that was fast and light—something that was known to be an issue in those days if you remember the HTML5 boondoggle that was the Facebook app of the time. I wrote every line of markup and Javascript, trying to keep functions as limited as possible.
What resulted was a little crude, but published to my personal website was obfuscated and perfect for just me on my iPhone, added as a web clip.
Many Field Notes notebooks gave their lives for my early ideas on storing beer. One of my favorite ideas was a “rebeer,” which would let someone take an updated note on their original beer (icon idea in the center).
Finding a Partner for Beerio
I played around with several names, but the one I liked the most was Beerio—it had a great, playful sound, but also hinted at a slightly geeky intention. Once that was in my mind, and I had a basic proof of concept in my web app, I began looking to find a way through to making it real.
One surreptitious connection was through hunting down the owner of domains with the Beerio name—in particular, the former owner of beer.io, which seemed like the most clever permutation of the name.
Who I found was a friend of the Philly and San Francisco beer scenes and a good web and mobile developer. It seemed like a great fit, and I worked on trying to improve the user interface and create a great mobile experience to make a working MVP with a real backend.
The honeymoon, unfortunately, was a little short lived. By mid-2012, we ran out of steam on the project, focused on our full-time jobs and brushing up against the communication issues that inevitably crop up between folks on two coasts with increasingly busy lives.
There was a ton of exploration—originally we built the web app on Django, and investigated frameworks like Ratchet as potential faster ways to build it out. There was even a native iOS app that was built out and deployed to us for early testing through TestFlight.
We had managed to create a real web app and published it out to Heroku, but greater integration we talked about with the Open Beer Database as a potential data store never really came through.
A screen from a full-sized website version of Beerio circa early 2012, when we had greater ambitions as a service for both  discovery and note-taking. For expediency, I used the Bootstrap framework to explore design concepts through markup.
Beerio, Take Two
When our work petered out, I reanimated my little web app as a potential way to keep exploring the concept in 2014 while working on my application for SVA’s Interaction Design MFA program.
In rebuilding it, I took advantage of some tools to make things easier. I ported my existing markup to use Cactus, a static site generator that could easily publish out to S3, and integrated jQuery to make it a little more convenient to write the Javascript, which looked a little foreign to me several years later.
Energized by the rebuild and what I was learning through my Interaction Design program, I knew I wanted to do something significant with the project.
Beerio as a Classroom Project
In a class in strategic innovation, students were expected to present on how to provide a new solution in a given market, differentiating from the existing players and making a business case for a venture. It was clear to me that Beerio could be that entrant.
As I revived and reconceived Beerio, I made a new case for it. As a comparison and rebuff to apps like Untappd, I didn’t want to include gamification as a concept—leveling up on alcoholic beverages is an invite to addiction for some, which felt inappropriate if not outright wrong. And beer geeks need not apply, as I looked to complex rating or tasting systems from BeerAdvocate as great for someone who wants to be an authority, but not so much for a casual user.
I developed a pitch and deck for the app, and presented a revived idea of Beerio as a way for folks who were new to craft beer to understand it better. In combination with a class on “slow code,” I began using the now-defunct kimono API to help pull listings from BeerMenus, which at the time was still just a website, to integrate into my web app. The resulting addition of data made the app feel instantly more useful for logging beer in situ.
Slides from my pitch deck for the strategic innovation class. Though the aim was ambitious, I tried to make obvious what was running (my prototype) and discussed theoretical partnerships for data, e.g. Foursquare.
And Now, Kickstarter
The biggest leap, however, was going to be trying to make Beerio a reality by getting people involved. In the program’s Entrepreneurial Design class, one of the best-known activities students do is the $1,000 Project. As is implied by the name, the goal is to raise $1,000 for any given purpose (so long as it’s legal). The rules give a lot of leeway for potentials—students have made anything from flash cards to T-shirts to in-person events.
A popular way of helping fund these projects of course ends up being Kickstater, almost to an unfortunate degree. (Often, students use Kickstarter without really thinking if their audience is there, or if they really need to make a thing versus do a different kind of activity.) I love Kickstarter, and think it’s a great way to connect people, so I looked for how to make my project rewarding there.
What my project turned out to be was a way to take my personal web app to the public—obviously tried before, but solo this time. I decided to provide pint glasses as a suitable reward for most backers, but for my big backers I wanted to offer custom beer-making kits kits.
The project was a great success.
I set my goal at that $1,000 mark, my hope was to exceed it—and I cleared the bar in less than 24 hours. Though it wasn’t excessively funded, it got a great, close community of people I cared about and those who were interested in my concept to help push it along.
Some of the promotional material made for my Kickstarter campaign, generally as screen shots from the existing web app as built in early 2015. Note the “Nearby” tab at the bottom, which was using BeerMenus data via kimono.
The Laura Hansen-designed Beerio logo, made in spring 2015.
New Looks and the Future
Having reached a goal so quickly, I moved fast to make Beerio look as great as possible. Laura Hansen, a graphic designer, helped create a new set of icons and branding for the app, which I loved and began integrating into my existing work.
I continued plodding along with the development of the product, and also got through the work of purchasing and shipping rewards, which always turns out to be more complex and time-consuming than one might expect.
Ultimately, though, work and thesis reared their heads and made continuing to work on Beerio an unlikely possibility. I announced in the fall of 2016 to backers that the alpha was as far as I’d go on developing the app.
What’s the Future of Beerio?
This is the question I keep asking myself. This was a passion project that I still have high esteem for, and where I still believe in the vision. The limitations are not insurmountable: dedicated development and support could be found elsewhere.
Some ideas have been in connecting with the greater craft beer community, and how to get that message out to a broad audience. I love the journalistic work of BeerAdvocate and the recently launched October (from Threes Brewing and Pitchfork Media), but it feels like it’s preaching to the choir. Like my vision of Beerio as a way to make craft beer more inclusive, I’d love those stories of those who make, serve, and drink beer to get outside that bubble.
There’s also still an opportunity to improve the existing landscape of apps. I’m a regular user of the BeerMenus app, and was impressed with what I saw from Next Glass (the owners of Untappd) and Tap Cellar, but I’m still itching for improvement in the experience of remembering craft beer—so maybe it’s not over yet.
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