Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 49
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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University Debuts iPrinceton Mobile App With Maps, Events, Courses, Virtual Tour

Dilshanie Perera

The future has arrived for Princeton University with the debut of its new iPrinceton application for mobile phones.

The app is designed to be a resource for both students, faculty, and visitors to campus, and has 10 interactive features, also called modules, that provide pertinent information about the University through the mobile interface.

Via a free download, iPrinceton is currently available for the iPhone from the iTunes App Store and for BlackBerry from the BlackBerry App World store, with future release for Google Android devices and the iPad to follow shortly.

The goal, according to Serge Goldstein, associate chief information officer and director of academic services at the University’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), is to provide a “quick digest of information,” like an event schedule or location of a building one is looking for. “We wanted to focus on things uniquely germane to someone walking around; there’s a distinct mobile aspect to this.”

The software features updated and interactive listings of directories of faculty and students, campus news, information about University athletics, an events calendar, a course catalogue with details about classes, a searchable campus map, access to the entire library catalogue, as well as video, images, and social media links.

Future modules currently in development will showcase daily menus offered by Dining Services, and a feature called “Places” that could show users where the closest cafe, or computing cluster, or laundry machine is on campus in relation to their current location, Mr. Goldstein said.

A joint effort by OIT and San Francisco-based technology design firm Blackboard Mobile Central resulted in the software development of the iPrinceton application.

Mr. Goldstein characterized the app’s trajectory over the past year as a “highly collaborative project” involving the provision of information from myriad departments within the University. “The Registrar’s Office gave us schedules, Facilities gave us maps and building data, Communications gave us news...what we had to do was take that information, bring it in, format it, and transform it so that it could be used in the app.”

Characterizing “the biggest challenge” as “simply getting to all the data that we needed,” Mr. Goldstein said that certain surprises cropped up while gathering information. For example, when perusing the list of building data that Facilities had provided them, he said “an interesting question came up: What does it mean to be a Princeton University building?”

The buildings that the University owns but does not use frequently because they house other tenants, like the Eden Institute, were contrasted with properties that the University leases but that regularly house University functions. Mr. Goldstein said the targeted end use of the information, trying to find a building while walking around campus for example, guided staff in making the decisions of “what should be on the map.”

Keeping the data up-to-date is crucial, with Mr. Goldstein noting that OIT looks to “tie the mobile app to the canonical repository of information,” like student directories. “There are a few instances where we have to build up the data ourselves,” he admitted, noting that “we can also feed that back to the departments,” resulting in two-way flows of information.

Speaking on behalf of the Office of Communications, Cass Cliatt said that “the app draws from content that we upload regularly,” so that they do not have to produce information specially for mobile media, or send it to OIT first. In her view, iPrinceton “recognizes the changing landscape for consuming information.”

“The app is one more tool — coupled with social media, the University’s core website, and our various print publications that we employ to reach people tailored to the way they prefer to communicate,” she said.

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