One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

I love that pearl of wisdom by Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland. If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there! This is especially true of smartphone apps.

The design of your app, including the content you put in it, will depend on the audience you intend to serve. It is tempting, but incorrect, to assume that your audience will be young people. Not true. The fastest growing segment of the mobile device industry is older folk like me. As it has been since the dawn of time, young people and old people have generally different tastes, and definitely different physical capabilities. It’s no secret that older folks have poorer eyesight, and thus tiny buttons and fonts in your UI will be a frustration to them. My recommendation is that you design your UI for all ages, and then everyone will be happy.

Content is a different matter. You won’t make everyone happy. The best tour guides get close, as they know how to hit the sweet spot that is risqué enough to energize open minded folks, but not so risqué that it offends conservatives (⁠1). But keep in mind it is easier to be saucy in person, as most folks will roll with a tour guide’s faux pas if they find him likable, or funny, and especially when they are face-to-face with him. This is another huge advantage of the live tour. This leaves you with basically two choices.

One is the use the “Joe Friday” technique. People of a certain age will remember the fictional Los Angeles detective Detective Sergeant Joseph “Joe” Friday from the popular Dragnet television series from late 1960’s.  Detective Friday, a humorless policeman interested only in solving the crime, is known for the famous catchphrase⁠ (2) “Just the facts, ma’am. Nothing but the facts”. In other words, do your best to convey content of facts and figures which cannot be disputed, such as “Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882.” Very few can argue with that fact, and the ones that do are outliers. The risk you run with the Joe Friday technique is the your content will lack pizazz. In other words, it will be bring.

Your second choice is to throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out. Most historians agree that history is colored and shaped by the lens of the person relating it, and since all history is conveyed by humans, all history is colored to some extent. The more you color, the more you will excite and provoke, and that can be both fun and dangerous. It all depends on the audience you want to attract. There are some who will want to also know, for example, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in the company of his mistress Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, a scandalous fact that some do not want the children to hear, but a fact none-the-less. Do you want to take folks on a serene boat ride with no waves, or the 100 foot high roller coaster? There is a market for both.

If you are public servant, then you may not have a choice in the matter; you are obligated not to “rock the boat” wth potentially offensive tantalizing tidbits real or imagined. If you are from the private sector, well then, the only guide you have is your own conscience. You can go crazy with creativity. Ghost tours. LGBT tours. Off-the-beaten track tours. Anything goes. Just beware of your content’s shelf-life.

1 Unless, of course, they are very conservative, in which case pretty much nothing makes them happy. I put them in the “no win” category.

2 In fact, Sgt. Friday never actually said those words, but it is commonly attributed to him and has become an legendary American cultural myth.