The brief mobile career of Miranda July, the artist-turned-app developer

Of all the possible competitors to enter the mobile app space, it's hard to imagine developers encountering anyone more versatile than Miranda July.

Perhaps best known as the writer, director and star of quirky films such as You, Me and Everyone We Know and The Future, July is an even more prominent figure on the art scene, where she has done everything from photographs to sculpture and installations. More recently, though, she raised a lot of eyebrows with Somebody, an app created in partnership with fashion label Miu Miu which essentially asked strangers to deliver messages between friends. At the end of last month, however, Somebody was abruptly shut down. 

In an interview with the online magazine of art resource, Artsy, July explained some of the context behind the decision: 

"I never could quite stomach any of the sort of 'best-case scenario' outcomes that make it successful, one of which is to sell it -- that's what everyone dreams of. Then suddenly it's this other company, and that's almost like a betrayal of the original idea, one that was actually in reaction to all those other things. Somebody is one individual woman's response to what she's feeling in response to her phone, and that's such a unique, special thing, for that to happen."

It's not that July didn't think of becoming a real app entrepreneur. As she explained to Artsy, though, assembling the team to do a lot of the work is harder than it may seem, at least to non-developers. "If it's successful, it would always take up a chunk of time every week. It felt best to keep it as an art project," she added. 

This is an interesting point for other app developers, many of whom start out by moonlighting or making mobile games on the side before making the leap to full-time studio. Like July, many of the ones I've spoken to are less interested, at least at first, in building a million-dollar business than scratching a particular creative itch. This could include creating the kind of app they wish was already in existence, or building upon the fun they enjoyed in someone else's mobile game. 

Also like July, however, every indie developer eventually reaches a point where they have to make an important choice. Can you turn what you've made into something that generates revenue, at least enough to sustain yourself financially? Can you do that while still respecting the quality of the experience you've developed, or the ideas your app expresses? What are you willing to sacrifice, and will it all be worth it in the end?

Answers these questions is by no means easy. It may not be rocket science but there's certainly an art to it. --Shane

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