Harvard Pushes Social Media With New Application

When Facebook founder Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 thumbed his nose at Harvard’s administration and created a social networking site he, now famously, declared “I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.”

But Harvard may be finally catching on to the social media revolution with its launch this semester of an open source mobile application for the iPhone and a cell-phone friendly version of its website.

The free application has generated significant interest in recent weeks, registering 5,200 downloads from the iTunes application store, and the mobile site has surpassed 75,000 pageviews since its launch in September.

The application allows users to access an interactive map of the campus, the University events calendar, dining hall menus, and a smattering of other campus related features. The mobile website provides a similar interface and the same functions.

“It’s definitely convenient to have,” Ainsley E. Faux ’13 said. “It’s good to be able to quickly see what’s being served in the d-hall.”

In coming weeks, administrators say they will integrate the shuttle tracker application, which allows users to see Harvard shuttles’ locations in real time, into the official Harvard application.

Since the advent of the internet, University departments have established a presence online as each sub-division and program has launched its own website and, more recently, a Twitter account.

The University’s effort to expand and corral its presence in what Perry S. Hewitt ’87-’88 calls “the digital space,” has been spearheaded by Harvard Public Affairs and Communications. As the University’s director of digital communications and communications services, Hewitt speaks with a degree of fluency about modern media and technology rarely seen among Harvard’s administration.

“I went here and I work here, and the idea that I can look up someone’s phone number wherever I am is hugely helpful, and the more services that we can overlay here the better,” Hewitt said, referring to the iPhone app.

Hewett said that administrators chose to create an application for the iPhone and not another operating system like Android because the traffic on the Harvard network comes overwhelmingly from iPhones. Of mobile traffic on the network, 35 percent comes from iPhones and less than 10 percent from Android.

Several other universities have launched mobile applications in recent weeks, and many of those have used closed-source template for their applications. But the code for the Harvard application was developed by a smaller programming firm, and is open source, meaning that other programmers have the ability to contribute to the application.

“Mobile apps is the first thing that is with you at all times—it’s an incredibly intimate thing,” Hewitt said. “To have a solution that accommodates things down the road or mobile transactions to me was more interesting than the generic app,” referring to the potential of open source programming.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer William N. White can be reached at wwhite@fas.harvard.edu.

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