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Project Spotlight: BugPhone by Jordan

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Written by Jennifer MooreSeptember 16, 2020

This entry is the first in a new series that will highlight WWCode DFW's members' work and projects. 

It is our unique pleasure to introduce the BugPhone project. DFW’s Jordan brought this impressive, large-scale, and real-word idea to life, which includes development, deployments, operational surprises, and technical support for end-users. 

Cellphone with a holographic sticker on the back resembling a bug person. Is this THE BugPhone!?

About the Creator

Jordan was a school teacher for several years before they transitioned into technology. They are now a director at WWCode DFW and became an application engineer at Ride Alto after graduating from the DevMountain boot camp in 2018. Jordan is also a board member of Bugmane LLC and a Van Labs engineer, which are the organizations that support BugCon, the convention Jordan developed this project for. 

About the Project 

BugCon is a convention for the alternative comedy and podcasting community. The convention’s participants developed a unique sense of style and humor last year, and they wanted to maintain this distinctive energy during this year’s online format. As such, BugPhone attempted to capture some of the previous conference’s vibe and recreate the casual and impromptu atmosphere of an in-person convention. 

Multiple models of cell phones with a pile of SIM cards.

The BugPhone project consisted of approximately 150 cellphones that registrants received with other convention swag via mail. These phones were powered by Twilio SIM cards on a private virtual cell network (they could not receive calls or texts outside the network) and preloaded with all other attendees’ contact information. However, instead of names, these contacts were entered as random numbers. This system created a virtual private environment where participants had to discover ways to meet each other as if they were at a traditional convention and played into the group’s alternative sense of humor. 

The community discovering the group texting feature.

Operational Challenges

To highlight the convention’s characteristic strangeness, Jordan assigned all phones a UK number, which would appear foreign to the conference’s primarily American audience. Each phones’ contact list also included a number that would send messages to the entire group. 

However, the group chat’s popularity and the UK phone numbers made the project more expensive than Bugmane and Van Labs had expected. Jordan had to temporarily shut the network down and reissue US phone numbers to everyone. This process required updating the phones’ contact lists, which, unfortunately, did not go smoothly. 

Jordan emailed all attendees correct address books after the convention and instructions for how to update their phones via Bluetooth with Windows or Mac. The phones themselves were some of the most inexpensive varieties the group could buy; some were even T9-style feature phones, depending on the attendees' swag package. These factors meant that there were many potential use cases to cover with this documentation. 

T9 Style Feature Phone

Future Followup 

Despite surprising difficulties, the project was successful and well-received. Jordan is working on a followup to the first BugPhone project, this time as a (hopefully) less expensive smartphone app. An app should be more accessible to the whole community because it won’t require purchasing a cellphone as part of a mailed package (coincidentally, the 2G and 3G cell bands that the phones used are being retired in the United States, so they were unlikely to be practical next year anyway). 

Jordan is developing the mobile app using Nativescript-Vue. The app will include more features than the hardware version; notably, a joke generator powered by the GPT-3 AI. Jordan notes that this feature makes BugPhone one of the first products to rely on GPT-3 in production. 

This project entailed a significant amount of work from Jordan, who learned a great deal in the process. Please join us and give them a well-deserved #ApplaudHer for this endeavor. 


This article was originally published by a WWCode member, Jennifer Moore, which you can read on her blog

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