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Discovery & User Experience

The Power of Informational Apps

An IU News Room Release last Thursday highlighted the work of Dr. Rob Potter, an Associate Professor at IU’s Department of Telecommunications. Potter and his co-authors in Australia conducted a study of 225 adults as they used unfamiliar “apps” on devices like Google Androids and Apple iPhones. The researchers found that, surprisingly, users found information-based apps more stimulating and engaging than mobile games. Furthermore, these apps were effective in influencing the users’ affiliations for certain brands.

“We found…that when you have an app that provides people with information, it is something they internalize and personalize,” Potter said. “You’ve invited the brand into your life and onto your phone.”

The researchers focused on retail-centric apps, like the Kraft app for cooking/entertaining tips and Target’s app for weekly ads and product reviews. However, the findings could have equally important implications for the information sciences. Libraries, too, have a “brand.” Until recently, it’s been stuck on dusty shelves of printed books, hard to access and annoying to deal with. Harnessing the power of apps, we could slowly change that stereotype and promote our services and resources as tools patrons find useful in their daily lives.

How can we do this with limited technology and manpower? After all, most libraries are not a Best Buy or a Gap Jeans, with billions to spend on sleek-looking software. But looking at it from the glass-half-full perspective, we already have a head start. Libraries are all about information. This study debunks the myth that we need to produce the next Angry Birds to distract users from the boring “thinking” stuff underneath. Users want information, and they want it quickly at their convenience.

At IU, we’re lucky enough to have access to indexing service apps for staff and students. As listed on our new mobile website, the EBSCO-driven OneSearch@IU allows Android and iPhone owners to make the most of our subscription databases while on the bus or waiting for a computer in the Information Commons, as do ScienceDirect and Naxos. Various freeware can also be found for the popular Google Scholar. Simply by promoting these existing resources, we could potentially increase the visibility and perceived value of the libraries to students and staff.

You can read the full study in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of Interactive Marketing, titled “The Effectiveness of Branded Mobile Phone Apps” (Volume 25, Issue 4, Pages 191-200; DOI: 10.1016/j.intmar.2011.06.001). Full-text is currently unavailable through our subscription, but you can obtain a preliminary copy of the paper by contacting Bethany Nolan at at 812-855-6494 or

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