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

Get your IUB Libraries news on the go…

I think being mobile-optimized is one of the niftier features of our new blog service. Using a plugin (WPMS Mobile Edition), we are able to simply flip a switch and … pow! automagically enable mobile-friendly blogs.

Curious what this looks like? Here are a couple screenshots of the reDUX blog taken on my iPhone.

mobile friendly blog (screenshot)mobile friendly blog post

Shiny! If you are running your own WordPress site (just a single site, rather than a multi-site installation like ours), you might want to try something like WordPress Mobile Pack.

Barcodes & QR … a quick scan

One of the nifty things about having a tiny computer (that is, your smartphone) on your person all the time? You have a whole new way to interact with the objects around you. The buzz on QR codes (sometimes called 2-D codes) has steadily grown for the last couple of years — after all, once something’s featured on primetime television, you know it’s catching on.

Libraries and higher education have been busy building services with these technologies as well – here are just a few examples.

Ryerson University Libraries put QR codes in their catalog records to provide another quick way for users to access bibliographic (title, author, etc.) information and location information about the item using their mobile device. Then they took it one step further, and developed their own mobile application for scanning the QR codes, as well as barcodes. Read the write-up in a recent issue of the Code4Lib Journal.

At the University of Waterloo, some students developed a mobile app called QuickCite, which produces formatted citations (MLA, APA, Chicago) from scanning a barcode … and they’re selling it for the low, low price of ninety-nine cents.

The action isn’t all in Canada, though – at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, computer science professor Bo Brinkmann [together with the Miami University Augmented Reality Research Group (MU ARRG!)] has been working on a prototype for a shelf-reading system powered by QR codes. The Android app leverages augmented reality to scan the shelf, identify out-of-order items by their spine codes, and even goes so far as to calculate the fewest number of steps to order them properly. Awesome! Together with two librarians, he gave a presentation at ACRL in Philadelphia last month, and I was really impressed at what I saw (read a write-up of the session).

Have you seen any cool library applications for QR codes or barcode scanners? Feel free to share in the comments.

Smartphones: The Numbers Game

Hardly a day goes by when my social media feeds don’t bring me a story about how Android is taking over Apple’s mobile market share (or conversely how no other platform will ever overtake iOS), or how iPads are revolutionizing mobile technology, or how 82% of people who are 19 years and 3 months old and live in an apartment with three roommates and a dog are coming to school with fourteen mobile devices in each of their pockets. (Okay, I made up that last one.)

So what’s the truth here?  How can we find out what is really going on with mobile tech? You can find all kinds of numbers, but it’s not difficult to lie with statistics, so how can we find statistics that will be meaningful? (As a side note, my father – a psychology professor – gave me a copy of “How to Lie with Statistics” when I was in high school and it changed my life. For real.)

The Cloud Four Blog published an excellent post a couple of months ago that addresses exactly this issue: “A ‘Comprehensive’ Guide to Mobile Statistics.” It includes excellent information on available sources, types of statistics available, what each type is good for, and what to watch for with each. There is also a good discussion of which stats you should care about, depending on your role and what you are doing with mobile. There is some additional good information in the comments as well, so make sure to read those.

What do you think? Are any of the sources linked in the Cloud Four post interesting to you? Let us know in the comments!