This week I’d like to introduce you to Jill Seman the developer of Mom Maps. Jill is also one of the founders of the Moms with Apps group. Jill was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions for me about her life, her inspiration for Mom Maps and more. Thanks Jill! After you’ve finished hearing from Jill head on over to see my updated review of Mom Maps.
* Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Jill Seman. I am an Electrical Engineer and mom living in San Francisco. I have two kids. Mary is 3 years old and loves the monkey bars. Alex is 7 and is interested in camping, karate, and all things Star Wars. I love to travel, fly, and explore new places with the kids.
* What were you doing before you began developing iPhone apps? What was the reason you made the jump into development? How did you get started?
Before becoming a mom, I was a systems engineer and manager for various media processing companies in Silicon Valley. I began tinkering around with iPhone apps when I moved to San Francisco as a new mom. I developed the app during nap times, wanting to find good places in a new city with a toddler and baby in tow.
I learned things like the popular Thai restaurant wouldn’t work if it didn’t have a highchair and milder recipes for the children. I also realized that places with indoor play areas and/or toys were a big plus when it was time to have a quick snack with the kids.
* Where did the inspiration for Mom Maps come from? It’s such a big concept…did you start small or dive right into a big city?
It started with a small spreadsheet that I put together using moms’ recommendations for San Francisco. I thought that I would make a quick app to find my way around town and that it would be a fun way to learn about the iPhone platform. When I showed it to other moms, they persuaded me to post it on iTunes so that they could use it too. I then began to get requests from moms who wanted to add their favorite places. So I created a website that allows others to contribute and it has grown from there. I moderate everything to ensure all content is kid friendly. In the last week, I’ve gotten reviews and new locations in Denver, Kentucky, Pomona, Chattanooga, Canada, and Russia.
It has been really exciting to watch this app grow from a small static find-it app to a living thing that continues to evolve. The best part of it is the community of parents who contribute to the app. I enjoy reading the reviews and find all sorts of useful ideas. Typical reviews include:
- Best place for the kids to play while you wait for your food (Rigolo Café, San Francisco)
- Best ice cream in New York City (Chinatown Ice Cream Factory), in Chicago (Bobtail Ice Cream), in San Francisco (Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream), and in Grand Rapids (Jersey Junction Ice Cream Parlor).
- Best do it yourself playground – Adventure Playground, Berkeley, CA
I also get some unexpected and surprising reviews, like the one from a divorced dad in Denver on the best place to watch sports with a kids menu (Hooters). Or where to view the best biking shorts while sipping gourmet coffee in San Francisco (Velo Rouge.) It always keeps me wanting to see what is next!
* What part have parents/users played in the development of Mom Maps?
The dynamic nature of the app was inspired by other parents, as well as many of the features of the app. And as noted above, many of the most interesting reviews come from parents who have been there.
The new feature that I am most excited about is sharing. For each location, Mom Maps now allows you to share it with your friends via Facebook or email. This feature was suggested by parents who wanted the added support for play dates and park get-togethers.
*How does your website, www.mommaps.com, complement the app?
The website contains all the features and functionality of the app but in a web format. It supports the database and gives parents a tool that helps them plan outings ahead of time with a few added benefits:
Visuals: Parents like to see where they are going, so with the help of my Mom Mappers I have added a ton of pictures to the database and we are building up the video content as well. Here’s one of my favorites on Berkeley’s Habitot Museum done by a fellow Mom Mapper: Habitot Children’s Museum.
Mom Mapper Features: The site highlights my Mom Mappers and shows lists of their most recent reviews and favorite places. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some awesome Mom Mappers like:
Family Travel Forum – A website dedicated to family travel. (Over 1,000 reviews from all over the world.)
A Little Yumminess – A family friendly food blog with terrific kid friendly restaurant recommendations. (Over 200 reviews.)
Shayla Love – A local mom blogger who contributes content from San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Ann Arbor and beyond! (Over 150 reviews.)
Michelle Whiteaker – Michelle has a blog that chronicles her adventures in Southern California with one of the most extensive list of park reviews.
Tot ‘n Tow – This is a blog that chronicles a nanny’s travel adventures in NYC, Paris and beyond.
There are many more. Mom Maps supports many communities, including family travelers, local moms, outdoorsy moms, foodie moms, gadget dads and nannies who travel often.
Enhanced Search: The website is also the place where I fine tune the search capabilities for the app.
Mom Maps Blog: The Mom Maps blog collates some of the best reviews and highlights some of the best Mom Map reviews and recommendations.
* What do you see as the most helpful resource that Mom Maps can provide to a mom on the go?
The best part of Mom Maps is the ability to get an idea of what a place is like from other moms who have been there before. Here’s an example of a playground review with a distinctive mom’s take:
“I love that this playground has a separate play areas for young toddlers and older kids. No grassy areas, but still a fun place for the kids to run around. The only thing I do not like about this place is that there are pickup basketball games every Sat morning – right outside of the play areas. Makes it tough for the kids to run around and play.”
- Emily for Rochambeau park in San Francisco
I’ve been to this playground and it’s a good one, but I do try to avoid it on Saturdays as the pickup games do change the atmosphere.
Probably the most exciting aspect of the app is how it has enabled parents to have an impact on parks and play areas around San Francisco. One of the local San Francisco playgrounds benefitted from Mom Maps interaction with moms and civic organizations – via twitter, FB, and the web. This activity resulted in playground improvements and the possibilities for this type of impact are exciting.
* As one of the founders of Moms with Apps do you have any advice for other parents who are in the process of developing for the iPhone/iPad? Any tips on balancing life and keeping your sanity?
The really great thing about programming for the iPhone is that it is something you can do in your spare time. I find the best time to work is during nap times or in the evenings when the children have gone to bed.
My advice is to do something that you are interested in. When you have kids, you want to make sure that you invest your time in the best way. So, whether you’re interested in literacy, inventive games, or productivity, check out the iTunes store and see what is already available (now over 300,000 apps) as it will help you hone in on your best idea. Then, take a look at the Moms with Apps site. There are a bunch of great articles there that will help you find programming resources, developers, designers and marketing help.
* What is your personal favorite app? The one you use most often?
I love maps and the way you can find great hidden spots when you are on the go. So, I must admit that aside from Mom Maps, Google Maps is my favorite. (Geeky, I know.) I also like some of the productivity apps to help me access info quickly like facebook and twitter. Here are some of my other favorites:
1. Help for Medical Emergencies from Birth to One year: Baby MedBasics ($1.99)
When that late night fever hits or you’re away from home when a medical emergency arises, this app is an essential for everyone from parents to babysitters. The Baby MedBasics app contains lifesaving information that will help you move from panic to action. Download it.
2. Keep it Organized and Keep Your Sanity: Evernote (free!)
Evernote is all about wrangling the tidal wave of everyday details we encounter, can you relate parents? Jot down notes, make a voice or photo note on the go, and tag, categorize and sync it all to your desktop. Stay organized and keep it easy peasy. Download it.
3. Find a Bathroom When You Need One: Sit or Squat (free!)
We’ve all been there… the code red bathroom alert. This app does just one thing — helps you find the nearest bathroom using your phone’s GPS (and find out how decent or dire the “amenities” are). Even if you only need this one only once in a blue moon, you’ll thank your lucky stars you’ve got this one at the ready. Download it.
4. A travel game for the kids: Little Suitcase ($2.99)
Fun for getting the kids ready for a trip. It’s a game that involves getting ready for a trip, packing what you need and exploring new places. Great for toddlers and preschoolers.
5. Kid-Friendly Web Browsing: MobiCip Safe Browser ($4.99)
It’s tough enough to find the right balance of technology and digital media in today’s family life. When you add in the possibility of children viewing inappropriate content, the stakes really get even higher. Browse the web with Mobicip Safe Browser using the age-appropriate filters, and breathe just a bit easier. Download it.