I’m live blogging the news app demonstrations at Hacks/Hackers Unite, where we are seeing a variety of interesting applications for news gathering and delivery. Just as interesting, we’re hearing the panel of judges reflect on what makes a compelling app, so I’m going to capture the issues and suggestions here, which will be particularly useful to people who are thinking about building apps for content delivery:

  1. Go easy on text. One of the virtues of the iPad is its highly visual interface. You lose that advantage if you present a page jammed full of text.
  2. Get linking. If you follow the advice in point #1, use links to take the user to more detailed information within a browser.
  3. Build on existing content management systems. If you build your app on top of an existing CMS full of data, you are drawing on a much richer source of content than if you try to build your data/content from scratch.
  4. Make it social. Designing your app so that the content is informed by the user’s social graph is a way to make it more viral and appealing.
  5. Go multi-player. If you’re building a game, setting it up for table gaming among multiplayers (with a split screen or play areas for different users) is a great way to take advantage of the iPad’s shareability.
  6. Choose your channels. Think about the audience you are trying to reach when you choose the social channel(s) that your app will leverage. For example, sending messages from your app via Twitter only makes sense if you’re sending it to an audience that is Twitter-savvy.
  7. Use humor. The WhosReppin.Me app prepopulated its tweets with cheeky messages. This is a great way to stand out in a demo competition, but it’s equally effective if you’re trying to stand out in the App Store.
  8. Make it scaleable/replicable. If you are creating an iPad app as a container for a specific piece of content (like a book or video) or a collection of content (like a collection of related articles), create it in a form that makes it easy to pipe a new collection/instance of content into the app, so you can readily create new instances of the app rather than coding an app from scratch for each new piece of content.
  9. Know your constraints. Some of the features that seem like they should be a natural and effective part of the user experience (like using your finger to select a block of text) are still poorly implemented on iPad. Don’t build your app around features that aren’t available or don’t yet work well.
  10. One size doesn’t fit all. Different kinds of audiences have very different use cases for a given kind of content; for example, local residents will want to see one kind of local content, where visitors/tourists will be interested in a different kind of experience/access to local content. Don’t try and please everyone, or your content app may not help anyone.
  11. Bonus tip: Give yourself a deadline. As Hacks/Hackers founder Burt Herman just pointed out, all of these very imaginative applications in just 36 hours. While 36 hours isn’t actually the optimal amount of time for building a fully functional app, it was enough to create some very cool projects. So if the idea of taking on an iPad dev project feels daunting, remember: you can do something really interesting in a very short amount of time. And you’ll learn a lot more from doing something now than you will from waiting for a month worth of dev time to magically free up in your schedule.