Beyond the iPhone: Delivering Mobile Content & Services

Programmer/Project Manager at West Virginia University
Nov. 13, 2009

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Beyond the iPhone: Delivering Mobile Content & Services

  1. Beyond the iPhone Delivering Mobile Content & Services Dave Olsen, WVU University Relations/Web
  2. My Background • Seven years at West Virginia University • Work for University Relations/Web • Programmer/Project Manager • PHP & Ruby on Rails • iPhone User
  3. The Talk • The Why of Mobile • Tips for Developing a Mobile Strategy • WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem
  4. Why Mobile? 276,000,000 that’s a really big number
  5. Why Mobile? Mobile Internet Usage is Growing 1 in 5 Americans use mobile internet in a typical day
  6. Why Mobile? SMS Usage is Growing 4.1 billion text messages a day
  7. Why Mobile? Anytime, Anywhere Access mobile access to information empowers your students, faculty & staff
  8. Why Mobile? The Lines are Blurring traditional computing vs traditional mobile
  9. Why Mobile? It’s Easier Than You Think and cheaper too!
  10. Types of Mobile Solutions • SMS/Short Codes/Text Messaging • Mobile Web • Mobile Websites • Mobile Web Applications • Mobile Web Widgets • Native Applications
  11. Buy This Book Mobile Design and Development by Brian Fling O’Reilly 2009
  12. Developing a Strategy: Tip #1 Don’t Convert, Create it’s an opportunity
  13. Developing a Strategy: Tip #2 Focus on Context, Goals, & Needs task, locale, informative
  14. Developing a Strategy: Tip #2 Our Top 5 Mobile Web Sections by Total Use 10000 7500 5000 2500 0 Athletics Calendar People Map News
  15. Developing a Strategy: Tip #2 “Content delivery is secondary to tangible utility.”
  16. Developing a Strategy: Tip #3 You Can’t Support Everything create device families
  17. Developing a Strategy: Tip #3 How We Organize Phone Types Feature iPhones Phones Smartphones
  18. Developing a Strategy: Tip #4 Keep it Simple keep it manageable
  19. Keep These Qs in Mind • Who are your users? What type of behavior can we predict about them? • When will they interact? Will they have time while waiting for the bus or will they use your site during a football game? • Why will they use your service? What value will they gain from your content & services?
  20. WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem
  21. WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem Twitter
  22. Why Twitter Mobile Reporting easy-to-use tools
  23. Pros of Twitter • Easy to set-up • Lots of clients on many devices • Lots of 3rd party services • Easy to embed into web pages
  24. Cons of Twitter • Training users unfamiliar with Twitter • Can fall flat if not regularly used • Expectation of interaction
  25. inauguration09
  27. Resources • Twitter API - • Twitter.js - • NC State -
  28. WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem SMS Twitter
  29. Why SMS Primary: Emergency Notices Secondary: Experimentation
  30. Pros of SMS • Ubiquity • Works on any mobile device nearly instantaneously • Can be incorporated into any web or mobile app • Can be simple & cheap to set-up & manage
  31. Cons of SMS • They’re limited to 160 characters • The provide a limited text-based experience • They can be very expensive and complicated to setup & manage.
  32. WVU SMS • “WVU Alert” using e2campus • Interactive Keywords via • APPSTATUS • WVUDIR • WVU
  33. About TextMarks • Uses the shortcode, 41411 • You select a “keyword” • Ad-supported. Can pay to remove them. • Prices start at $10 per month • Requests can be forwarded to web pages • Keeps state so it can be interactive
  34. WVU SMS Usage • 8,600+ users signed up for WVU Alert • 300+ votes for the poster session • 4,200+ uses of APPSTATUS • 1,800+ since Sept. 15th.
  35. WVU SMS Usage Moving Average, Dec. 15, 2008 to Nov. 2, 2009 for APPSTATUS 50.0 37.5 25.0 12.5 0 Dec 21, 2008 Jan 13, 2009 Feb 6, 2009 Mar 2, 2009 Mar 26, 2009 Apr 19, 2009 May 13, 2009 Jun 6, 2009 Jun 30, 2009 Jul 24, 2009 Aug 17, 2009 Sep 10, 2009 Oct 4, 2009 Oct 28, 2009
  36. Resources • TextMarks - • Neustar - • mBlox -
  37. WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem Twitter SMS Mobile Web
  38. Why Mobile Web Non-discrimination deliver a solution for everyone
  39. Pros of Mobile Web • Relatively easy to create, maintain, & publish • Same tools you’re used to • Ubiquity • Can sometimes access hardware (e.g. GPS)
  40. Cons of Mobile Web • Difficult to support across multiple devices • Older handsets offer a limited experience • Slow loading pages due to network limits • Can’t support all the features you’d have with a native app (e.g. offline access, camera)
  41. Lessons Learned • iPhone/iPod is by far #1 on the mobile web • Redirect, Redirect, Redirect • Tasks/Tools Trump Canned Information • Give it Time
  42. Types of Content • Informative • Emergency Information • Campus News • Locale • Campus Map • Utility/Productivity • Events Calendar • People Directory
  43. WVU Mobile Web • Based on MIT Mobile Web • Optimized for “families” of devices using device targeting/ adaptation • Launched August 31, 2009 • 100,000+ pageviews • Preview:
  44. WVU Mobile Web • Utilizes a number of Google APIs for content • Supports LDAP & RSS • Technical Requirements: PHP 5.1+, SQLite3, Apache 2 • Code:
  45. Current Content • Athletics/Game Day Information • Campus Map with Facility Hours • Campus News • Emergency Information & Phone Numbers • Events Calendar • People Directory • WVU on YouTube
  46. Athletics • Uses the events from the athletics category in our campus calendar • Links to information on our athletics mobile web site • Most popular section
  47. Campus Map • iPhones use regular Google Maps API • Smartphones & feature phones use Google Static Maps API • Currently our only dynamic map solution on campus • Browse by building name, code, type or by campus
  48. Campus News • Integrates with news sources around campus via RSS • Feature news from WVU Today, Health Sciences, and OIT • Link to campus paper & athletics site
  49. Emergency Info • Integrates with e2campus via RSS • Clicking phone number launches dialer • Includes phone numbers for schools & colleges as well as dorms
  50. Events Calendar • Integrates with campus calendar using .ics updates into Google Calendar • Individual calendars are actually categories from our campus calendar • Search uses Google Calendar API
  51. People Directory • Integrates with our campus LDAP system • The LDAP library is also used for the directory search in WVU SMS • Can email vCards from results page
  52. WVU on YouTube • Integrates with our campus YouTube account using the YouTube API • Not very popular
  53. Mobile Web Usage Total Pageviews based on System Numbers 3000 2250 1500 750 0 8/31 9/2 9/4 9/6 9/8 9/10 9/12 9/14 9/16 9/18 9/20 9/22 9/24 9/26 9/28 9/30
  54. Mobile Web Usage Our Top 5 Mobile Web Sections by Total Use 10000 7500 5000 2500 0 Athletics Calendar People Map News
  55. Mobile Web Usage Phone Usage based on System Numbers 4% 3% 16% iPhone/iPod Smartphones Feature Phones Computers 78%
  56. Mobile Web Usage iPod vs iPhone based on Google Analytics 39% iPod iPhone 61%
  57. Mobile Web Usage Visitor Loyalty based on Google Analytics 32% 1 time 2 or more times 68%
  58. Mobile Web Usage Visitor Loyalty based on Google Analytics 0% 2% 6% 16% 2 times 12% 3 times 4 times 10% 5-8 times 9-14 times 14% 7% 15-25 times 26-50 times 51-100 times 15% 18% 101-200 201+
  59. WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem Twitter SMS Mobile iWVU Web
  60. Pros of iPhone App • Going to offer the best user experience • Can take real advantage of the hardware • Can be straightforward to build especially if using something like PhoneGap + jQTouch to build app in HTML + JavaScript
  61. Cons of iPhone App • Only supporting one platform • If developing in Objective C may need time to learn language & Cocoa framework • Need to rely on Apple for distribution & they can be bizarrely arbitrary
  62. iWVU • Built by student & released in August 2009 • Uses Objective-C • 4,000+ downloads • 200,000+ pageviews according to AdMob • Open sourced:
  63. WVU’s Mobile Ecosystem Twitter SMS Mobile iWVU Web
  64. General Resources • Mobile Design & Development by Brian Fling (O’Reilly, 2009) • Twitter.js - • - • Poll Everywhere - • Mobile Web - • jQTouch - • PhoneGap -
  65. Questions & Comments • Let me know what you think! • •

Editor's Notes

  1. Again, my name is Dave Olsen. A little bit about me, for the last seven years I’ve worked for the web unit of University Relations at West Virginia University. I’m a programmer slash project manager and I specialize in delivering solutions written in PHP and Ruby on Rails. And, for the record and since we’re talking about mobile, I’m an iPhone user
  2. After this talk you’ll understand why you might want to venture into mobile at your institution, some important tips for developing your mobile strategy, and then we’ll cover some of the mobile solutions we’ve developed at West Virginia University.
  3. So why are we talking about mobile? Why is it something your institution should look at sooner rather than later? According to a report released in October from CTIA-The Wireless Association, there are currently 276 million wireless users in America. That’s a really big number. Now obviously you’re only going to be relevant to a small slice of that very large number but it shows what kind of penetration wireless has made in the population. By the way, the US only has roughly 308 million residents.
  4. With mobile internet, usage and penetration is definitely growing. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in April 2009 32% of Americans had accessed the mobile internet. Nearly one fifth of Americans use the mobile internet in a typical day. Contrast that to December 2007 when 24% of Americans had accessed the mobile internet and only one tenth of the population used the mobile internet in a typical day also according to pew.
  5. And in looking at another mobile related technology, SMS. Again, from that report from CTIA – the Wireless Association there were 4.1 billion text messages sent a day. That’s an increase of almost twice the number of text messages sent at the same time a year before. Clearly, from the numbers (and I’m not going to hit you over the head with a ton more) mobile is becoming engrained in everyday Americans life and they’re quickly picking up a technology that we can & should adapt to and exploit. So some more esoteric reasons why mobile is something your institution should look at.
  6. To me, true anytime, anywhere access is at the very heart of why you’d want to utilize the mobile internet. Once you provide mobile access to information you’ve empowered your students, faculty, and staff to make decisions wherever and whenever. Mobile is the ultimate 24/7 availability of information.
  7. As mobile devices like the iPhone, Palm Pre, or any of the Android handsets come out the lines between traditional computing and traditional mobile are blurring. These devices combine the power of and interface of the desktop with an, essentially, always on internet connection. As such users are starting to expect access to the resources they would traditionally get on their desktop or laptop.
  8. And, at the end of the day, deploying a mobile solution and making your services mobile-friendly is easier and definitely cheaper than you think. And hopefully I can show you some solutions that can help you.
  9. So mobile is sort of a big umbrella of technologies and there are actually a number of different types of mobile solutions out there that your institution can pursue. I’ve ordered tried to order these by level of interactivity. The first is SMS, aka Short Codes or Text Messaging. It’s very simple. They offer limited interactivity but has by far the broadest support across mobile devices. An example of using short codes would be a poll like for American Idol voting. E.g. text your vote to 55555. The second type of mobile solution is the mobile web and that can be further broken down into two types. We have the original mobile web with sites that are flat and not very dynamic and then we have our Web 2.0 influenced mobile web applications that offer a richer experience using JavaScript and AJAX. The WebKit browsers on the latest devices is really bringing a revolution in the mobile web space. A mobile web widget is the bridge between a mobile web site and a native app. It’s essentially a mobile web app but one that’s built on a framework that’s specific to a particular device and actually runs on the device outside of the browser. Flash Lite or Yahoo! Blueprint would be examples of mobile web widget frameworks. And last but not least we have native applications. These are applications written in the native language or framework for the device. For example, on the iPhone native apps would be written in Objective C and Cocoa. Though I should note that the line between web apps and native apps, especially on the iPhone, is blurring with projects like PhoneGap and Flash Professional CS5 gaining traction.
  10. Before I get into some things to keep in mind when you’re developing your overall mobile strategy I want to highlight a book that can be a great resource as you dig deeper into mobile development. The book is called “Mobile Design and Development” and it’s by Brian Fling. It was released by O’Reilly in September of this year. It covers general mobile all the way through technical tips, especially for the iPhone.
  11. Use this as an opportunity to create rather than just simply convert. Developing a mobile solution isn’t about just converting your home page with all of its politically dictated myriad of links or, say, your president’s message and making that available to mobile users in some slimmed down method. It’s really about creating a whole new organization and interface for services that make sense for mobile use.
  12. “Context, goals, needs.” Context is the circumstance in which a user is using your mobile site (e.g. at a football game or waiting at a bus stop). What you want to focus on is how and where your user will be and how that might define the tasks, goals, and needs they’d want to solve using your mobile solution. This is the one thing you have to get right straight out of the gate to get pick-up for your mobile solution. And this is one where you definitely have to leave politics at the door.
  13. So just an example of how important these tasks and goals are in terms of what people are using. These are the most popular sections by total use for our mobile website available at Obviously there is more data, pages in, say, the maps section vs a news section but it does show the types of content that our users are after the most.
  14. And just to beat a dead horse on this. And, honestly, if you take one thing away from this talk about mobile this is it. Content delivery is secondary to tangible utility (and credit to my Assistant VP for this quote) and I didn’t include this just because he’s in the audience today. Users have a specific task they want to accomplish, and frankly I think this view bleeds over to your regular website, and your mobile tools and tech has to reflect those tasks a user wants to accomplish. Again, finding out the latest events on campus trumps browsing. campus news.
  15. “You Can’t Support Everything.” There are hundreds of mobile devices around the world and while there will only be a subset of them on your campus that’s still a lot of devices. You have to breakdown what you’re going to support. And, by the way, this is influenced by the type of mobile solution you end up pursuing as well.
  16. For example, for our mobile web site our strategy has been to group devices based on types of features a phone may have. So in this case we’re focusing on delivering solutions to the following groupings: feature phones, smartphones (lumping blackberries, palm pres, treos, etc. together), and Apple mobile devices. With the latest devices that have WebKit browsers like the iPhone (Android and Palm Pre) we’re either going to have to add another family or push them into the iPhone pot.
  17. And, for the last strategy tip, “Keep it Simple.” Less is more when it comes to mobile content and tasks. Just think about the standard screensize that a mobile site would have, the type of network connection a user is going to have, or just how limited your message can be when using SMS. And getting something simple out there is a great way to gauge interest.
  18. These are some questions to keep in mind as your evaluating what mobile solutions that may work for you. Just keep asking them whenever you need to make a decision.
  19. So now that we’ve talked about why you might want to develop a mobile solution as well as some tips for developing your mobile strategy lets look at the mobile ecosystem we currently have at West Virginia University. I just want to say that these aren’t actually listed in order of how we implemented them. I tried to list them in terms of how easy it is for others to follow in our footsteps.
  20. The first mobile solution I’m going to talk about is Twitter.
  21. This solution is actually different than the other three I’ll talk about because, while we do push out updates through our various Twitter accounts, I’m suggesting it as a mobile solution because of it’s utility in collecting from live events and easily publishing that collected information. We have used it on multiple occasions to enable quick and easy reporting from events.
  22. When looking at our usage of Twitter for mobile reporting these are some of the “pros” that we found. It’s obviously very easy to set-up. A joke really. There are lots of clients to choose from on many devices and even if there isn’t a client for your device a user can always text their updates to Twitter. So no matter what device our reporter has they have the ability to at least share text-based observations from the event. One interesting note, we’ve had several occasions where we have had users who had Twitter accounts and had used them and everything but didn’t realize they could actual text their updates to Twitter. They had always returned to their computers to post updates. There are a lot of 3rd party services for posting pictures and video. Twitvid, Yfrog, Twitpic, the list seems endless. You can even live stream video through a service like Qik from your mobile device and have the announcement/updates about it go out through Twitter. There are just a lot of possibilities for different kinds of content that can be delivered through Twitter. It’s not just 140 characters. You can use a product like Twitter.js to quickly embed a twitterstream in your website or wherever you might be hosting information about the particular event your hosting, So essentially your Twitter feed can be integrated into the rest of the event content or, say, next to the live webcast of the event if you’re going to take questions and provide answers or something. I’ll have the link to Twitter.js as well as a couple of other resource in a few slides. And if you’re a little more adventurous you can always tap into the API. The API is really useful if you want to combine multiple streams into one. With that you can have one central account follow all those tweeting and then use the API to display all the tweets for that central users followers.
  23. Most of the people we’ve had using Twitter for reporting had had some experience but a few we had to train. Telling someone that Twitter is like the status update on Facebook is a double-edged sword. They get it but their tweets tend to be “is doing something.” Real-time updates sometimes lead to the expectation that there are going to be a lot of updates. Everyone gets all excited but if users aren’t at least updating regularly it’ll burn out. I was surprised with our first set of reporters to see other Twitter users ask questions of them during the event. Twitter is not a one-way street and there are folks who expect to interact with the reporters so you have to tell folks to check their replies.
  24. So the first event that we used Twitter for was in support of a group of students who went to the Inauguration in DC for President Obama in January of this year. You can still see the archived site at In this example we ended up using the Twitter API to push the content to our homegrown blogging engine. We’ve also used a similar set-up for reporting from the Clinton Global Initiative as well as the G-20 Summit.
  25. While this site, our Twitter directory, isn’t for live reporting it does use Twitter.js to display the results. So you can check it out to see how we set that up.
  26. A few resources for working with Twitter. Obviously there’s the Twitter API if you’re into a really custom solution and feel comfortable programming. Twitter.js can be used to really quickly embed a users Twitter stream into a web page using JavaScript. And, recently, North Carolina State launched their own twitter directory site at, it’s fantastic, but the bonus is that they open sourced the code they’re using to power it so that’s a great resource for getting your own Twitter directory up and running.
  27. The second part of our mobile ecosystem is SMS, aka short codes or text messaging.
  28. So why did we try to use SMS… The main reason why we’ve utilized SMS is for emergency notifications and to be honest, the little bit more work we’ve done with SMS has been primarily experimental.
  29. By far the number one reason to utilize SMS is ubiquity. Every device supports it which means anyone can utilize your SMS-based services. And just looks at the sheer numbers of text messages being sent. Works on a mobile device nearly instantaneously… give or take a few minutes but that’s still nearly instantaneously. For a developer, you decide to use a service like Textmarks, and I believe their are other similar services out there, you can open up a text message-based interface into your web application. Again, you gain access to a new, very large market for your services. Again, using a service like TextMarks, it can be really easy to set-up and manage not to mention fairly inexpensive.
  30. Obviously you’re limited a bit when using text messaging with the type and level of interaction a user can have. This is primarily driven by the character length limitations. Though an important caveat to the 160 character rule, you can send more than one message thus doubling, tripling how ever many characters you have available. Sometimes we get so focused on the one message we forget we have the option of sending more than one. And, SMS can be fairly expensive if you decide to purchase a custom shortcode. It can cost upwards of $1,000 a month. If you’re interested in checking that out you can use a service like Neustar to purchase one. And that’s N-E-U-star. But the shortcode you buy is useless until you sign-up with a service like mBlox to manage the text messages between carriers and your server. Or you can use a service like TextMarks and skip a lot of those headaches and cost though you won’t have a custom short-code.
  31. Like many schools after the Virginia Tech tragedy we attempted to update our emergency notification procedures. Our main use of SMS right now is “WVU Alert” and we’re running that on the e2campus platform for those that might be familiar with them. So that’s obviously our primary use of SMS on our campus. The more experimental stuff has been built using interactive keywords from So we’ve used it to enable students to check the status of their application via SMS (and this seems to be moving beyond “experiment” and I’ll share those numbers in a second). Users can text message our online directory and get information back which is kind of neat if not much more than a stupid pet trick, and unfortunately the numbers so far back up that that’s pretty much what it is… And, finally, we have a generic account that we played around with at one point to try to deliver ringtones and other downloads for phones as well as using it to allow users to vote for their favorite posters at a poster session. On that last point, if your interested in exploring polling via SMS I suggest you check out a service like Poll Everywhere which has a solution designed specifically for that situation. They were originally based on the TextMarks platform but eventually set-up their own system.
  32. I want to take a second to talk about TextMarks. I’m a big fan of their service. It really makes a developers life easy for delivering anything SMS based. And, in my opinion, you really need a developer to take full advantage of the service. They have their own shortcode so it’s something you don’t have to purchase. You do have to select a “keyword” though so Textmarks understands how to route your requests. By default TextMarks is ad-supported but they do offer a white label service and prices start at $10 a month. If you want a three letter keyword you have to by the $49.95 a month package. We just upgraded to the $100 a month package. Obviously requests can be forwarded to a web page or app. They also offer an API so you can push notifications out to users too. And one of the most interesting things for us, the keyword can keep state between requests. Allows for much more flexibility and interaction. One thing I don’t have listed here is that the primary purpose of TextMarks and what you can use it for with out involving a developer is as a subscription-based marketing list. Basically users can subscribe to whatever keyword you come up with and you can send them messages. So it might be good for an events organization or news updates.
  33. Now that we have that advert out of the way how are SMS based services working out for us? For our text alert system we currently have over 8,600 users signed up. The poster session we did, our one and only SMS-based poll, really surprised me with 300 plus votes. Frankly I was happy to hit triple digits but it really gained some interest. One thing about that project is that we made an effort to display the live results nearby the posters so that might have helped spur people to vote for their favorites that might not have been in the lead. And over the last year or so we’ve had over 4200 uses of our APPSTATUS keyword. What makes me really happy and why it may no longer be an experiment is that 1800 of those uses have come since Sept 15th. And over the last few weeks we’ve been averaging over 45 interactions a day.
  34. And we have a nice chart that illustrates the uptake in usage of that mark and shows why I’m optimistic about interactive SMS usage on our campus. The trend is definitely up. And the kicker is that this is for a service that, as far as I know, we haven’t really advertised. Only a user who visits the website to check their status would see the note about the APPSTATUS keyword and even then it’s a little bit buried.
  35. So here are the resources I discussed for SMS: Obviously TextMarks is a great service Neustar gives you the ability to buy your own short code. That’s the five or six digit number a user enters to essentially “call” your SMS service. And then mBlox is a service that will forward SMS requests on a carriers network to your server.