News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Apps

June 15, 2010

NYT/Pulse iPad app flap: Legal, branding, technical controversy

Last week a controversy erupted between Apple Computer and the New York Times over a slick, popular iPad newsreader app. Pulse is a nice-looking, easy-to-use RSS feed reader on steroids, and it sells for $3.99. And it was one of the top-selling iPad apps.

...When it was available, that is. NY Times lawyers complained to Apple that Pulse violated their copyright. On June 8, as Kara Swisher of All Things D reported, Apple removed Pulse from the App Store for a few hours. The app was reinstated quickly—but as of today Pulse is no longer available in the App Store. It’s unknown when Pulse was most recently yanked from the App Store, or whether the removal is permanent this time.

This flap highlights the need for news organizations and other content publishers to understand RSS feeds: What it means to make your content available via RSS, and the pros/cons of restricting RSS syndication or access…

In the past week, lawyers, app developers, and journalists have been discussing whether the Pulse controversy means the New York Times has declared war on feed readers. The Citizen Media Law Project voiced skepticism on that front.

The June 13 episode of the This Week In Law podcast features a great roundup of views on the copyright and other legal aspects involved. It’s must-listen material for anyone in the news or publishing business who wants to understand the opportunities, pitfalls, and tradeoffs of RSS syndication.

November 29, 2010

RJI: Mobile tools guide for journalists

Mobile tools and skills offer journalists a range of new options for reporting. To help journalists decide how best to go mobile, this week Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow Will Sullivan published a mobile journalism reporting tools guide.

This guide covers mobile hardware and software that can enhance your field reporting. It’s a great resource if you’re doing some holiday shopping for your journalist friends—or for yourself!

Here’s what it covers…

In the “hardware” section, the guide compares the features of several devices that can help you get the most out of your smartphone:

  • Chargers and batteries
  • Keyboards
  • Lenses
  • External microphones
  • External lights
  • Tripods
  • Miscellaneous gear

And the mobile apps section compares programs for your phone that can enhance your mobile production capabilities for:

  • Audio editing
  • File transmission
  • Geolocation
  • Live Streaming
  • Micro-reporting (i.e., Twitter)
  • Note taking
  • Photo editing
  • Video editing

In addition to comparison tables, the guide also presents detailed product reviews.

April 21, 2011 launches social news aggregator with pay model, access to others’ streams

An entrant with a strong backers and a unique business model has joined the social media news aggregation race, with the launch today of, a Twitter-based iPad app that lets viewers experience not only their own custom curated news stream, but the news streams of friends and prominent figures as well.

The app, developed by the parent company of in collaboration with The New York Times R&D Lab, uses artificial intelligence to serve up a stream of stories likely to be of greatest interest to the reader, based on the links recently shared by the people they follow on Twitter. The stream is filtered both for popularity and for what the reader has read or shared before.

At the same time, users can see similar streams of news most likely to be interesting to other users, based on who they follow or read - described by the developers as the equivalent of looking over someone’s shoulder while they check their Twitter stream. The app suggests “featured users” like VC Fred Wilson, Digg’s Kevin Rose and AOL’s Arianna Huffington.

There’s a detailed description of how works on the site’s FAQ. is one of a series of apps in the space, including another, called Trove, launched Wednesday by the Washington Post and detailed here by GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram, who writes of the quest for “The Daily Me” by various players including Flipboard (which has raised $50 million), Zite and others.

Much of the Twitter traffic about the release today focuses on the business model for the new app. In contrast to free services, it has a pay structure - it costs 99 cents a week to use, or $35 for year. Also, importantly, the service has licensed with more than 20 publishers, other than the Times, to package their stories - among them the Boston Globe, the Associated Press, Forbes, Fast Company, AOL News, Gawker, GigaOm, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb and SB Nation - some of whom are seen as not always hospitable to aggregators.

Each of the partner publishers gets a revenue share (depending on how many times users read an individual article from their site), plus enhanced presentation options and promotional opportunities.

What do you think - is the pay model likely to work for aggregating what is largely free content? Is the “over-the-shoulder” stream a killer app? Will’s more spare visual approach win over news users from Flipboard, despite that service’s head start? Let us know your experience with this and other social media content aggregators like Zite or Pulse in comments below.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

June 01, 2011

Mobile’s benefits not so easily won, media experts warn

It’s one thing to grasp mobile media’s massive potential, but another altogether to use it for effectively winning audience. That harsh lesson - worthy of note by journalism organizations looking to gain traction for their news products - was driven home by mobile marketing and technology experts in conversations and presentations at the May 24-26 Blogworld conference in New York.

Microsoft mobile marketing exec Barbara Williams, for instance, told May 24 attendees that while numerous organizations have launched mobile marketing campaigns, few are hitting home runs. “It comes down to experience and expertise,” she explained. Shortfalls in organization skills are of most common - among them, Williams suggested, were internal organizational silos that prevented an enterprise-wide approach, a lack of understanding of mobile’s potential by key executives, the inability to demonstrate return on investment,  and a reluctance to move funds from more tried-and-true approaches.

April Ward, a digital marketing executive with General Electric, also pointed out the weak link for organizations is not necessarily budget, but knowledge. She detailed a case study of a GE mobile project that became a reality after she was able to show concretely how many users were already coming to GE web sites via iPad and iPhone, as well as to illustrate how GE outlets might have been lagging competitors with apps.

The form in which organizations go mobile is critical to consider as well, whether via an app on a mobile device, or simply a mobile version of an existing web site.

Mobile app software developer Burton Miller advised that while mobile apps can certainly grow traffic for sites, pay apps have proven difficult for bloggers and news sites to profit from - industry data shows that just 10 percent of the adults using mobile apps for local news and information were willing to pay for them. A failed pay app could prove expensive, given that he said apps can cost upwards of $20,000-$50,000 to develop.

Miller suggested free, ad-supported mobile apps might be a smarter strategy for most organizations. While paid apps bring revenue just once, no matter how often or long consumers use them, he argued news provides a persistent product that could gain user fees repeatedly via ads.

And despite growing pains for the mobile ad industry, Miller said he sees ad revenue growing, with larger brands stepping up with mobile budgets, and mobile agencies like admarvel and pubmatic cropping up to help outlets navigate mobile ad minefields - for a cut.

The potential to tie mobile to burgeoning social networks is especially attractive, expert panelists agreed. Social networking is the fastest growing mobile category, pointed out Michael Burke of appssavvy . And Viktor Marohnic of app developer shoutem, which developed the food blogger app YoungandFoodish and community app WeHarlem, suggested that social networking features are among the “stickiest” app features, along with on-demand and real-time features like news.

The key, argued Burke, is to uncover what people do with their mobile devices: “If you understand what people are doing, it’s very simple - just become a part of that.” Added Miller: “The news industry doesn’t want to be left behind, because readers care - they’re going to the phone.”

For more information on mobile at BlogWorld, integrated into the conference for the first time with 10 separate sessions featuring dozens of speakers, check out the full track of mobile panels on the BlogWorld site.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

October 14, 2011

Fuego: New mobile tool to follow the future of journalism, anywhere

Lots of smart people are always discussing the future of journalism and media on Twitter—but knowing which of those conversations are most important at any given time can mean spending your whole day on Twitter.

To help solve this problem, today the Nieman Journalism Lab debuted a mobile-friendly version of its Fuego tool…

According to Nieman Lab director Joshua Benton, Fuego for Mobile is a “heat-seeking Twitter bot, our tool that amalgamates the best and most interesting stories the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about on Twitter and presents them to you for quick reading.”

On a mobile phone, the result looks a little bit like Storify, the popular social media content curation tool. But there are some key differences:

  • Fuego displays a running list of the current most popular or important Twitter conversations about the future of news (rather than tracking the progress of a single story).
  • Fuego’s curation is done algorithmically, rather than manually—which requires far less work than Storify or manual retweeting.

How did Nieman Lab do it? In an interview, Benton explained that Fuego combines the Twitter application programming interface (API) with some custom algorithms to select and weight tweets, plus tools to deliver the results through a user-friendly mobile interface. It was created in-house at Nieman Lab by Benton and write/coder Andrew Phelps.

“The people who talk about the future of journalism on Twitter tend to be a pretty self-referential and insular crowd—and for creating an automated curation tool, that’s actually a very good thing,” said Benton.

“In the abstract, this concept could be applied to other topic areas. We experimented with that. But we found that if the people you’re aggregating tend to tweet about a lot of different topics, if they aren’t as focused, that it doesn’t tend to work as well for this kind of automated curation.”

That said, he acknowledged that it might work well for other niche or vertical topics—such as coverage of specific industries.

Initially Nieman Lab seeded Fuego with about 10 Twitter users who are thought leaders on the future of journalism and who tend to tweet pretty consistently about that topic. From there, Fuego started scanning tweets from everyone those users follow on Twitter—yielding an aggregate set of about 7000 Twitter users.

Since Fuego focuses on links, the system filters out tweets that don’t contain links. Among the remaining tweets, it algorithmically weights results to determine what gets listed via the Fuego interface. For instance, tweets by people who are followed by two or more people in the initial “seed set” of 10 are weighted more heavily; as are more recent tweets.

Based on these computations, Fuego displays right at the top of the page the top three current topics or stories; additional popular or relevant topics are listed below that. This list is refreshed frequently.

Nieman Lab also has a special Twitter account, @NiemanLabFuego, which automatically posts a tweet whenever a new item gets added to Fuego’s top three stories.

The technology used to deliver Fuego to mobile devices is interesting. It’s a mobile web app—which means it functions rather like a mobile app, but users don’t have to download and install anything. Just click the Fuego for mobile link from your phone or tablet and it will immediately launch.

Developing mobile web apps is generally more efficient and less costly than developing native apps for specific mobile platforms. The same code base serves multiple mobile platforms and device types. In contrast, native mobile apps require developing and maintaining a separate version for each platform (iPhone, Android, Mango, etc.).

On most smartphones and tablets, users can save a bookmark for a web app on their homescreen, to provide easy launching similar to that of native apps. On the iPhone and iPad, users can also launch homescreen web apps without all the trappings of the mobile Safari web browser, so you save screen real estate by now displaying the location bar, etc.

Simpler mobile web apps (including Fuego) that don’t require animation or much interactivity will even run on many feature phones—if they have better browser like Opera Mini. You can also save mobile Fuego (or any other web site or app) to Opera Mini’s home screen for a similar easy-launch capability.

Fuego was originally introduced on the Nieman Lab’s website in August as part of their redesign, but the mobile version was just rolled out today. The full web version offers three time-based filters: past four hours, past 24 hours, and past week. So far, those filters are not yet available on the mobile version.

Benton noted that eventually Nieman Lab will probably make its Fuego codebase available, but for now it’s so customized it probably wouldn’t be very useful for other organizations or purposes. They’ll also update the Nieman Lab iPhone app to include Fuego. He notes that for iPhone users, it helps to have your apps in Apple’s app store since iPhone users are trained to look there first rather than seek out web apps.

Still, going the web app route is useful to reach a broader audience—especially crucial since Android now far outsells iPhone in new smartphone sales, and WindowsPhone Mango may become a strong contender in coming years.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

November 02, 2011

Downloading mobile apps is popular; using them less so, says Pew

Half of adult U.S. mobile users now have apps on their cell phones. However, only half of these people actually use their apps on a regular basis—and nearly one fifth never use the apps they have at all. This is according to a new Pew study on phone and tablet apps, which holds clear implications for mobile news strategies…

“Having apps and using apps are not synonymous,” the report cautions.

Virtually all smartphones and most feature phones now come with at least some basic apps preinstalled (especially for weather, games, etc.). Indeed, at the time Pew did its research, only about one third of mobile handsets in use in the U.S. were smartphones—which means that a significant portion of apps are installed on feature phones.

What about tablets? Pew noted: “Among adults who have a tablet computer, 39% report using six or more apps on a weekly basis, while just 8% report using no apps regularly on the device.”

As of August 2011, 38% of all U.S. adult cell phone owners reported that they had downloaded apps to their phones—double the figure from a year earlier.

Downloading apps remains primarily an activity of those who are younger, more privileged (higher incomes and education levels), and who live in or near cities.

News is part of the category most popular with phone app downloaders. Over three quarters of app downloaders report downloaded apps that provide “regular updates on news, weather, sports or stocks.”

Still, this does not mean that news apps get used particularly often. Pew cited recent app research from Nielsen: “According to Nielsen’s quarterly Mobile Insights Survey, games continue to be the most popular apps in terms of use in the 30 days prior to the survey. In the second quarter of 2011, Nielsen reported that 64% of app downloaders in their survey had used a game app in the prior 30 days. Next most widely used were weather apps (60%), followed by social networking (56%), maps/navigation/search (51%), music (44%) and news (39%).”

Getting consumers to pay for apps presents a mixed picture. According to Pew, just under half of U.S. adults who download apps (about 16% of all adults) report having paid for an app at some point. Half of people who have purchased apps report that the most they’ve ever paid has been $5. But 17% have paid more than $20 for an app. Urban dwellers, college graduates, people from households earning at least $50,000 per year, men, and those aged 30 or over are especially likely to pay for apps.

Pew asked about mobile internet use—which mostly means mobile web access. Even though a mobile web browser is technically an app, consumers often view it as a different type of activity. Currently nearly half (48%) of adult U.S. cell phone owners access the internet from their phones—significantly more than the 38% who have downloaded apps.

A mobile-friendly web site is accessible to a broader mobile audience, which makes it a stronger base for a news organization’s overall mobile strategy—compared to native apps for smartphones and tablets, which are platform-dependent.

If you do develop smartphone or tablet apps, consider focusing on specific demographics or audience needs, rather than simply repackaging all of your content (“shovelware”). Pew’s research shows that apps are more popular with certain types of people, and for certain types of activities. Apps that allow people to do things they already enjoy doing, rather than simply absorbing content, stand a better chance of getting used more often.

Remember that downloads are not the best measurement of app success—usage is.

Perhaps the best way to ensure mobile success is to understand the composition, preferences, and constraints of your news org’s potential mobile market. Pew’s app research was national in scope, but mobile market characteristics vary considerably by geography. That’s why it’s a good idea to do your own local mobile market research.

But be careful about how you ask about app usage. Many mobile users aren’t really clear on the “app” concept.

Kristen Purcell, Pew’s associate director of research, explained: “There is some confusion among segments of adults about what an app is and whether their phone has any apps. We have found that virtually all adults know if they have ever downloaded an app or not. But 10% of cell owners answer “don’t know” when asked if their phone came equipped with apps. This is even higher (15%) among cell phone owners age 50 and older.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

April 10, 2012

To grow your mobile audience, focus on mobile web, not apps, says NPR

“Here’s the truth: If your app is the only component of your mobile strategy, you’re missing the boat. Mobile-optimized web pages are rapidly becoming the most important way to grow your online audience,” NPR’s Steve Mulder and Keith Hopper recently wrote.

That’s why NPR is building a prototype mobile-optimized site for affiliate stations…

Mulder is director of user experience and analytics, and Hopper is director of product strategy and development, for NPR Digital Services. So they’re always watching the numbers. In their post on the NPR blog, they noted:

“When we look at the numbers for 50+ NPR stations across the country that are using Digital Services’ Core Publisher content management systems, the trend is clear. Last July, 9% of traffic to station web sites came from mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). As of March, it’s already up to 14%.

“We see the same thing for traffic. Mobile now represents 17% of the unique visitors to (That’s mobile site traffic, not including all the NPR apps.) And it’s rising quickly.

Other recent research bears this out. This year’s State of the News Media report from Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism found that nearly one in four U.S. adults now get news on at least two digital media devices (computer, tablet, and/or smartphone).

Also, a recent survey conducted by Roger Fidler of the Digital Publishing Alliance at the Reynolds School of Journalism (Univ. Mo.-Columbia) found that more than twice as many mobile users prefer the mobile websites of new outlets compared to their apps.

News apps are still important, but “not a silver bullet” Mulder and Hopper observe.

“For all their success, the benefits of having an app (especially as an engine for capturing new audience) are starting to plateau. ...Research is showing that apps attract the particularly loyal segment of your audience who is already consuming a lot more news. ...But of course, stations want to reach a wider audience of casual users as well. And for this larger segment of casual users, mobile-optimized web pages are the preferred way to access your content.”

They offer three reasons why NPR stations (and probably any news outlet) should focus on enhancing their mobile web offerings and experience even if their apps appear successful:

  1. The mobile web is where the audience is. (They offer ample data to back this up.)
  2. The mobile web user experience has greatly improved in the last couple of years.
  3. Mobile web offerings are easier and less expensive to build.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 09, 2012

Review: RCFP “first aid” app for journalists

Recently the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press launched a free “first aid” mobile app to give reporters in the field immediate access to legal resources, especially when encountering obstacles to newsgathering or access. Here are some reasons why anyone who commits acts of journalism should have it on their smartphone—and what news publishers can learn from this type of publishing project…

This app is basically an e-book which you download as an app and customize with information specific to your state—and which RCFP periodically updates with fresh information. For resource guides where information changes often, this is probably a better approach than publishing a traditional e-book, and certainly much more mobile-friendly (and user-friendly) than publishing in pdf or print format.

The app covers these six legal topic areas:

  • Newsgathering
  • Court access
  • Public meetings
  • Public records
  • Confidential sources
  • Libel

When you first download this app, select all the states where you do reporting. For instance, if you report even occasionally from one or more neighboring states—and especially if you cover courts, where venue changes can carry local cases into another state’s courts—it’s a good idea to select all the states you may be reporting from. You can add or remove states from your list at any time.

With state customization, when you access relevant sections of this guide to get answers you’ll see a short overview of the topic at hand followed by state subheadings with additional info, including citations for relevant state laws. This can be helpful if you need to, say, press for access to a closed meeting that should be public. Knowing which law to cite can help persuade an official barring the door who may not be as familiar with legal requirements.

You can also search the text of the app’s content.

The RCFP app also has also a “hotline” feature, where you can place a call or send an e-mail to RCFP for immediate legal answers and assistance. And soon this app will connect journalists to RCFP’s new hotlines for both the Republican National Convention (Aug. 27-30, Tampa, FL) and Democratic National Convention (Sept. 4-6, Charlotte, NC). Presumably the app will also add convention-specific content as well.

This guide is a great example of how to deploy a useful mobile resource that communicates a body of knowledge and actionable tips. There are some opportunities for improvement, of course.

First of all, it would be helpful if users could create text, voice, photo, or video annotations to relevant pages in their copy of their apps, and then have the option of saving them offline, sending them to others, or sharing them back to RCFP. This could enrich the body of knowledge RCFP has amassed, and also provide useful feedback and case studies to further improve and promote this app.

Also this app could (and probably should) also be implemented as a mobile web app—a mobile-friendly interactive web site that can be viewed through a browser on a mobile device. This would offer the significant benefits of search visibility and direct linkability.

For instance, imagine that a reporter who never heard of this app is unexpectedly forbidden access to a courtroom. She would probably call her editor, or reach out to colleagues or social media, or quickly search Google for fast answers and options. If all this content was available on the web, the Google search would deliver relevant pages—perhaps even state-specific info from RCFP, since Google mobile search results are inherently weighted by location.

Similarly, if this apps content was simultaneously deployed via a mobile-friendly website (and if both versions were served from the same content management system to keep them synchronized), the reporter’s editor, colleagues, or social media contacts could send her a direct link to the relevant information. She then could view this in the web browser of her phone, tablet, netbook, or laptop without having to download or install anything. These pages also could advertise and facilitate the download of the mobile app.

A joint downloadable/web app deployment would enable another possibly popular and useful feature: the ability to share links to relevant pages of app content via e-mail, text message, social media, and more.

Still, making all this information available first as a freestanding downloadable app is useful, since you might easily end up reporting from a location that lacks good (or any) wifi or cell signal.

Community publishers might consider this app not just as a useful resource for their own reporters and community members, but also as an example of how to deploy a mobile-friendly resource for your community.

For instance, if your news venue often covers topics such as the school system or harassment by local law enforcement, a mobile guide that offers current context, law/regulations, resources (including phone numbers and e-mail addresses), tips and advice, and your recent or important coverage could prove quite popular with community members. This approach might help promote your news brand—and perhaps also provide new direct or indirect revenue options.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 23, 2012

What “mobile first” means to

Reaching mobile audiences takes thoughtful strategy and execution. Community and niche outlets, or any news startup, might take a page from how one national news curation site delivers mobile news. focuses on curating in real time the top breaking news stories from around the world. The bare-bones website and mobile apps are intended for quick glances—but they have a strong presence in all of the most popular social media (especially @breakingnews on Twitter).

This week, in a blog post, general manager Cory Bergman observed: “While social media gets lots of the attention, the explosion in smartphones and tablets is reinventing the way we consume and interact with content.  We’ve seen it firsthand here at Breaking News: traffic from devices surpassed desktop traffic back in January, doubled it in June and the gap continues to grow.”

He shared these insights and lessons:

  1. “Mobile first” is a mindset. “The key is to start envisioning a product optimized for devices, and work backwards to the desktop web.”
  2. Aim to solve problems. “Leverage the unique form and features of devices to solve problems for people. For us, the stream is the story—which is a mobile-friendly form—with push alerts as a feature.”
  3. Your users can make or break your product. “Imagine a world where users had to click past comments from others about your website before they ever saw your home page. That’s how people discover and download mobile apps.”
  4. Live in the devices world. “How do you start thinking in devices?  Like anything, it helps to immerse yourself.”
  5. Dig into the metrics. “Breaking News’ mobile traffic jumps 15-20% on the weekends. By digging into your mobile metrics, you can learn about consumption patterns and the true momentum of your products.”
  6. Recalibrate goals around mobile. “Most newsrooms measure their digital performance in desktop and social metrics, but for a truly ‘mobile first’ approach, goals should reflect performance on devices.”
  7. Take advantage of mobile tools. “There’s a new crop of mobile companies offering useful tools for user tracking, search engine optimization, A/B testing, advertising optimization and more.”
  8. Experiment and fail (quickly). “Mobile-first companies often iterate on a mobile web version first, grafting the best features into subsequent app releases.”
  9. Recognize that mobile is hard and costly. “Your users have choices.  If your mobile products are slow, clunky and more focused on being ‘scalable’ than ‘delightful,’ you have an uphill battle.”