After a quick look at FilterSquad co-founder and CEO Dave McKinney’s resumé, you may wonder how he ended up in app development. With a long history as a successful musician – including cracking the UK Top 40 – followed by a few years as a marine biologist for the Australian Government, McKinney doesn’t exactly have the typical CV for running a successful development studio.
But it turns out that his varied career path was the perfect combination of circumstances to create Discovr, the music discovery app Filter Squad launched early last year to critical acclaim.
“When I was working in science, I was very interested in looking at big data sets, and reducing them down into simple formats that other people could understand,” McKinney says. “So I was working with these big data sets in science and thinking of ways to solve fairly classic science problems, and then I was also thinking if some of those techniques could be applied to music.”
For most people, the connection may not have been obvious. But for McKinney, combining his two passions seemed to make sense.
“Music is just a big data set, and so navigating through that world of music is challenging and difficult, and (I though that) if there was a way I could make it easier or more interesting or more fun, that would be worthwhile. And that’s where Discovr came from,” he tells touch.
But even though Discovr does a great job of making large amounts of complicated data easily accessible by using the iPad or iPhone’s screen, what’s fascinating is that it actually began life as part of another project.
“Discovr was actually a side project for us. It was actually meant to be a navigation element in another application. We built it out and were messing around with it – we found it interesting and so we released it as an actual app in itself,” McKinney says.
Since the original launch of Discovr in early 2011, Filter Squad has gone on to release different versions of the app to help bring large complicated datasets to usable nuggets of information on Apple’s touchscreen devices. The first Discovr sequel was Discovr Apps in June last year, followed more recently by Discovr Movies and Discovr People. McKinney says it was a natural progression.
“I’ve always had this lifelong fascination with technology, and using technology to do things – to make things or solve problems or whatever. So with mobile applications, which are everywhere these days, I’d been spending a lot of time thinking about how good they are for providing simple ways of doing things, and so for me that next step [for Discovr] was very logical,” he says.
“The foundation of all three apps is exactly the same. They’re all about dealing with a large set of data, working out how we can relate different entities together – is this movie like that movie, for example – and then displaying them together in a way that’s simple and that provides a heap of information around each individual entity.”
All three apps run on essentially the same core code, with the team working around the peculiarities of each particular set of data. But due to the way it’s been designed, it means that the Discovr concept can be applied to almost any large set of data.
“Discovr now has been built as a platform so that we can apply it to different sets of data. So we have do have a number of other Discovr applications in the works right now,” he confesses.
“We get lots of requests for (Discovr apps targeting) all different types of media, so the ones that we get lots of requests for are typically the ones we build next. We get a lot of people asking for Discovr Books and Discovr TV, and they’re relatively straightforward for us to tackle, so we have done quite a bit of work in different media.
“And then, separate to that, we’re also working on different areas that aren’t so much about discovering physical things like music or books or movies, but discovering other things in the world. And that’s interesting for us – it’s a whole new set of challenges and intricacies to solve,” McKinney says.
On top of that, Filter Squad is in discussions with music streaming services like Spotify and Rdio to try and find ways to integrate their services into its applications.
“We don’t want to become a streaming music service company ourselves, however we’re working with Spotify and Rdio to look at the best ways to implement their services in our applications. Right now Discovr is a great way to discover new music, but it’s not a music player that lets you play full-length songs,” he says.
While the Filter Squad team is busy working on the next breed of apps, it’s also putting a lot of effort into fostering the Australian development community. An influx of investment capital last year has allowed the company to hire more staff, including a community manager who is putting a lot of time and effort into organising Australia’s first Music HackDay at the end of April.
“All around the world there’s this thing called Music HackDay (musichackday.org), which is a 24-hour hackathon where software and hardware hackers get together to make stuff. It’s really all about creating products purely for the love of creating. There’s no commercial agenda, there’s no specific outcome – it’s purely about exploring and creating,” McKinney tells us.
“To me that’s one of the most important things we’re doing right now – fostering a sense of community in the Australian startup scene and the tech scene, and hopefully bringing people together to create new work. That’s definitely a big part of who we are as a company.”