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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston PhD Candidates Develop Mobile App to Connect Communities


Potoo is a mobile app that lets users anonymously post opinions, reviews, and news about specific locations.

The Potoo, an Amazonian bird with mottled feathers reminiscent of bark, camouflages against tree stumps, and makes a distinctive call under the secrecy of night. The little bird inspired the name of a mobile app developed by three computer science PhD candidates at the University of Massachusetts Boston over the past half-year, and launched September 2. Users post anonymous opinions to digital bulletin boards correlating to specific real-world locations, like an apartment or a spot on campus.  

Thamer AlTuwaiya, Zun Phan, and Joseph Paul Cohen created Potoo in hopes it would strengthen the UMass Boston by allowing community members to voice their opinions, concerns, and questions about certain issues they think should be addressed. Posters are anonymous to avoid any potential backlash. 

Development took place at the Venture Development Center at UMass Boston, where Potoo creators say they benefited from in-house start-up advisors. 

AlTuwaiyan conceived the idea for Potoo while looking for an apartment. He felt he needed an application where people left honest reviews about buildings. Because of this, Potoo is similar to Yelp, an app popularly used for reviewing restaurants. Yet, Potoo differs by being suited for not only the longer opinions typical of Yelp, but also short ones, simple announcements, and links to news stories. 

Furthermore, AlTuwaiyan felt it was important posts be clustered according to location. This feature makes Potoo stand out from another mobile app, Yik-yak, whose users share information globally, and posts with the most “up-votes” are more likely to be seen. 

“[Potoo] focuses on communities rather than people sharing unnecessary information that other people don’t [or] might not find relevant.” When using Potoo, members know where their messages go and who their audiences are. 

A few UMass Boston students have had the opportunity to try out the app. Undergraduate Joseph Cullen thinks, “[The app] has a lot of important features that similar apps don’t. Potoo creates a great sense of community. It’s a useful tool for [connecting a campus together].”

To get started using the app, download the app either from iTunes or Play Store, set your GPS or location on, and post something to your area. You don’t need to submit personal information for a profile because Potoo is anonymous. 
The Potoo creators are hosting a promotional scavenger hunt, starting on September 21, where students decode riddles to find and take pictures of Potoo stickers hidden around campus. Three riddles will be posted on the mobile app under “Potoo Nest” every Monday for four weeks. The first students to post a picture of the stickers to “Potoo Nest” can win a $50 prize.
The Potoo office is located in the Venture Development Center on the 3rd floor of the Wheatley Building. For more information about the scavenger-hunt, visit the app website, http://www.potooapp.com.