How Do We Harness Our Idle Mobile Consumption?

I’ve got this nagging thought. More of a question really. The kind of thing that keeps you up at night.

Let’s rewind a couple weeks, just before I uninstalled FB from my phone. I started noticing my typical usage pattern of the app – I found myself skimming content, finding nothing of interest, refreshing, not seeing anything new, refreshing again. How often did I do it? I didn’t keep a count or anything, I just kind of became aware of it, like the lights coming up slowly in a theater. But it was a lot. So much so that after I uninstalled the app, I found myself pulling out my phone instinctively, unlocking it, and wondering what I was doing and why. (Spoiler alert: after uninstalling the FB app, my phone spends about 50% less time in my hand. Try it for a week.)

I keep coming back, though, to the usage pattern – skim, refresh, nothing, refresh. Looking back, I did that a lot. Paying closer attention to how I use Twitter, I do it some, but less than I did on FB.

What am I looking for?

Ultimately, I don’t think I’m looking for anything. I think I’ve got a few seconds – not much more than that – and I want to fill it with something. That something, in this case, was scratching at the itch of data addiction. For some people it’s taking a turn in a casual game. What I’m not able to dig into effectively is how much idle time we collectively spend there. It’s not the same data set as the mobile casual games market, but there’s some overlap there. In lieu of actual research papers in the area (but do share those if you have them) – how many of you find yourself holding your phone in your hand, looking for something to do with it? How often?

So I see these few wasted seconds, and I multiply them by N, and it looks like a big pile of wasted seconds, and I wonder how we can put that time to better use. Projects like Galaxy Zoo did a great job of this for the desktop, and they have built a number of projects around crowdsourcing data sorting that look great – and maybe that’s what I’m after.


What I really want to do is harness that time for open source projects. I just can’t work out how. Mobile is a poor form factor for writing code or documentation. Anything text intensive falls outside the parameters of spending a few idle seconds on something. But I’m not ready to take “It’s not possible” for an answer.

Looking at what the mobile form factor is good for, I want something I can do with my thumb. A few use cases spring to mind.

Triage Bugs – A bug has been filed. I see the text of the bug and get asked a Yes or No question that helps to move it along the pipe. An example might be as simple as “Is this a bug?” – it may be chaff or spam or a test message. Other examples might be “Do we need to ask for a screenshot?”, “Is the version info included?”, “Is this correctly categorized?” Every Yes answer helps move the bug along, every No answer could prompt the filer for more info, or allow the user to take a subsequent action (Add a quick note, categorize, etc).

Pull Request Micro-review – Doing a full review on a pull request on a phone sounds painful. Is there a way to ask simple questions of a pull request that would be useful? “Does this conform to style guidelines?”, “Are there tests included?”, “Is the code well documented?”, or maybe even “Do you like this Pull Request?”

Stack Ranking – Given a pair of bugs or features, which one do you think is the higher priority?

Rendering Validation – This is very niche, but if the project performed some form of graphics manipulation, this would be a great space to feed in test data (images) and validate that the output matched expectations.

Any and all of these have potential downsides, but rather than looking at why they would never work, I’d love to hear what could make them useful. Or what else might be useful. Or any thoughts about what people have tried that worked and didn’t work. Or really just anything.

Any thoughts?

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