Over the past year, Drexel students have been collaborating with the Philadelphia Media Network to develop an innovative iPhone application called Follow Philly, which is set for release in early 2016. Made possible by a grant from the Lenfest Foundation, Follow Philly enables the user to follow certain topics to determine what Philadelphia news content will be displayed on their feed. Follow Philly aims to offer PMN content in a different way than it is offered now, especially to millennials, and change how PMN news currently can only be obtained through individual newspaper outlets.
Follow Philly offers a personalized selection to the reader when viewing news content. Users follow certain topics, which determine what content is displayed. For example, if a student followed the topics “Drexel University”, “college basketball”, “food” and “travel”, then the app would personalize their news feed with only articles pertaining to these selections.
Follow Philly began as a collaboration between PMN and Drexel. Selected undergraduate Drexel students on co-op worked with two lead managers and media entrepreneurs, former Drexel student Ari Winkleman and Jordan Motzkin. The project developed from a Drexel classroom in January 2015 through the Charles D. Closed School of Entrepreneurship with a group of top undergraduate Drexel students. The course focused on understanding millennials and how they engage with news and different types of digital news outlets.
The team’s extensive research found that millennials are completely aware of the news around them and consistently want to engage with and know what is going on around them. They concluded that the majority of millennials are “news seekers” who seek out news sources to follow. They used this information to establish the basis for Follow Philly. Millennials regard PMN news as trustworthy and positive, especially when it is securing a beneficial partnership with Drexel.
“It was interesting to see the project from the initial phase and then be asked to continue with the project and watch it grow and develop.” Julia Casciato, associate project manager of Follow Philly (and former Triangle’s editor-in-chief), said in recounting her experience thus far.
Currently, the app is in the private beta stage targeting a select demographic of users to invite into the app for a test through a team of Drexel co-op students and PMN workers in the LeBow College of Business. Through the beta stage, the team will be able to better improve the app. The beta stage will also serve as a push-off for promoting the app since most beta users will download the finalized version. The ultimate goal for the app is to functionally and efficiently present the first Philadelphia centered news app. Other news app such as Apple’s “News” functions on a more global scale whereas the more local Follow Philly app better connects the user with the city that they are living in.
Upon the completion of the app’s beta period in fall, the Drexel team will work at PMN to finalize the app. Stan Wischnowski, Vice President of News Operations at PMN emphasized his belief in the project, saying, “[Follow Philly is a] real-world, real-time research and development process that we plan to use as a template for the future.” The app provides assurance that PMN continues to evolve along with rapidly growing technology providing a perfect partnership with Drexel’s technologically advanced tools.
Casciato expanded on her experience, “I think [this] is a really unique experience that goes along with Drexel being a different university that affords you all these opportunities. It’s been wonderful to work with so many people that are experts in their fields. I’m really excited to see where this is going to go down the line when we finish.”
Opportunities like these are what helps Drexel students truly “Be Different.”
Students are encouraged to go to followphilly.com to request an invitation to download the app during the beta period here.