Finding the Right Application

USC students offer ideas that could help local media stay on top of mobile technology trends.

USC journalism, business, engineering and computer science students presented entrepreneurial ideas and plans for the future of journalism on May 27 at the USC Annenberg School for Communication Journalism.

The presentations marked the culmination of a two-week News Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program featuring 12 students from USC Annenberg, the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

The students collaborated with USC faculty and the Knight Digital Media Center to pitch their ideas to the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and Southern California Public Radio/KPCC – formulating “best practices” for new mobile technology trends such as social media and applications.

“I think it is very accurate to say that I have been dreaming about this day since the moment I set foot in my office an Annenberg,” said Geneva Overholser, the School of Journalism director. “I have yearned to get students together from across the university and have them think about the future of journalism. And here it is.”

A group made up of Ashley Ahearn (M.A. Specialized Journalism ’10), Kevin Dugan (MBA ’10), Keaton Gray (B.A. Print Journalism ’11) and Taran Raj (Electrical Engineering ’11) stressed the importance of news organizations embracing both new and old mobile technologies. They also built a functional Android mobile application (“app”) for Southern California Public Radio/KPCC.

“There are only a handful of apps that make me wish I had an Android, and the demonstration of the KPCC app is one of them,” said Orange County Register technology reporter Ian Hamilton.

The application for the Android phone came with “text to donate” and “listen live” buttons as well as the ability to register as a user and have a “friends’ card” area that might entice users with special deals from KPCC’s local underwriters.

Five presentations opened the day with topics related to mobile news, including Wireless Access Protocol, mobile operating system trends, social media/geolocator Foursquare.com, Quick Response codes, and iPads.

“You can’t ignore the people still using feature phones,” said Dugan, explaining that a Wireless Access Protocol browser on a mobile phone provides similar services as a computer-based Web browser on a simple screen that hosts fewer pictures and less text. Most of the U.S. population uses phones that do not have the same screens or functions as smart phones such as the iPhone or Android.

Dugan presented his “10 Commandments” of Wireless Application Protocol that media companies should follow, including recommendations such as putting quick data up top, using fewer than three clicks before users access their information and keeping page sizes under 20 kilobytes.

A group consisting of Rebecca Lett (B.A. Print Journalism/Economics ’11), Kevin Lu (M.A. Broadcast Journalism ’10), Drew Prickett (MBA ’10) and Saravanan Rangaraju (Computer Science ’10) partnered with the Orange County Register to pitch ideas for its future.

The students said the Register is well positioned to take advantage of new technologies, which should include a rapid implementation of an iPad application.

The students estimated that 30,000-40,000 iPads have been purchased in Orange County.

“Think of that number in terms of readership,” said Prickett, adding that the paper can create devoted iPad subscribers by focusing on interaction among newspaper, reader and advertiser.

Lett recommended that the Register take advantage of more social media advertising through sites such as Foursquare.com and Gowalla.com.

“Direct your ads with location so you’re getting your readers where the businesses are located,” she said, noting that some newspapers already are implementing live Twitter feeds into their real-time advertisements.

Jason Choi (Mechanical Engineering), Dominique Fong (B.A. Print Journalism/Political Science ’10), Vibhor Mathur (Mechanical Engineering ’11) and Joe Piasecki (Specialized Journalism ’10) saw the opportunity for the Los Angeles Times to take advantage of “geotagging” advertisements by alerting mobile readers to nearby advertisers.

“Phones are portable, which means you can reach readers wherever they are,” Mathur said.

Piasecki said a company such as AdLocal, which specializes in mobile advertising, is a good place to start for exploring local mobile ad networks.

“When we were going into this, we were looking for this Holy Grail, this ‘magic app’ – we never found that,” Piasecki said. “Mobile is about strategy. It’s participatory. The idea is to engage audiences.”

Fong said there are two reasons readers would come to a mobile L.A. Times site: to get hard news fast or to be entertained while passing time. Targeted advertisements would be useful for both audiences.