My Two Cents application claims top honors at RJI Tech Showcase
The University of Missouri’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) named the winner of its seventh annual Tech Showcase on April 21. The winning team, My Two Cents Radio, developed an Android mobile application that attempts to popularize public media through social media integration and uses a new model for consumers to fund content. One judge described the student-produced app as possessing an “engaging boldness and simplicity of idea.”
This year’s competition partnered with Public Media Platform (PMP), a collaboration of five major public media producers: American Public Media (APM), National Public Radio (NPR), PBS, Public Radio International (PRI) and Public Radio Exchange (PRX). The goal of the competition was to design and build a mobile app that would provide users with access to PMP’s combined library of radio, film and print journalism.
MyTwoCents was developed by Georgi Angelov, a senior in computer science; Connor Hickox, a junior in communications; Jack Howard, a sophomore in convergence journalism and Gabriel Reikoff, a sophomore in business and finance. The app gives users access to curated playlists focused on common issues or topics and allows them to share these stories on social media platforms. It also has a built-in donation function, by which listeners can donate their “two cents,” while listening to the stories that they enjoy.
“No other app has done this so far,” Angelov said. “Jack came up with the idea in the shower, and it’s so simple. Everyone talks about the penny gap and how to overcome the penny gap, and [our app] does this. It’s the most un-invasive way for people to donate to their favorite shows.”
The donation function works by having users put an amount of money in a holding account. Then while listening to their preferred stream, the listener only has to tap the donate button to donate a predetermined amount, which can be as low as two cents.
MyTwoCents beat out the other finalist, Shortcut, an app that tailors a public media playlist to your commute time. With the data collected from the content that each user listens to, Shortcut is able to curate content that fits a listener’s patterns. Shortcut was developed by Kristofferson Culmer, a computer science doctoral student; Laura Davison, a master’s student in convergence journalism; Andrew Gibson, a senior in convergence journalism; Jake Kreinberg, a master’s student in business and Manav Singhal, a doctoral student in computer science.
“In the end, the judges went with the ‘My 2 Cents’ app because of what I’d call the engaging boldness and simplicity of the idea,” said KBIA-FM public radio news director Janet Saidi in remarks from the prize announcement. “The app has the potential to be disruptive and could provide an exciting experiment in fund-raising for public media.”
The winning team will travel to San Francisco later this month to pitch their idea to tech companies and participate in a hackathon focusing on media-associated technology sponsored by PMP and RJI. All finalists received a Samsung Galaxy tablet.
Mike McKean, director of the RJI Futures Lab, was quoted as saying, “Both teams did outstanding work. The hackathon will give our winners a great chance to extend their work and rub shoulders with some of the Bay Area’s brightest developers.”
The two teams formed last November when the competition kicked off with the announcement of this year’s partnership with PMP. After an initial pitch, the two teams were selected as finalists to develop their app.
Angelov and Singhal provided their qualifications, which led their respective teams to ask them to join without ever having met them. Culmer had participated in the competition for the last two years, and Angelov competed last year. This was Singhal’s first competition. But all three programmers agree it is the interdisciplinary aspect that makes the competition both challenging and compelling. It allowed them to observe every stage of app development, especially some aspects that might be outside their comfort zones.
“I develop the apps, but I’ve never thought about it from a business perspective,” Singhal said. “You need to have a business skill set. I learned that from my [teammates], like how can you develop a business plan for the product you are selling.”
These lessons are on top of the development itself, which is no small task.
“In the beginning, it was a little intimidating,” Angelov said. “When we first talked about the idea, I had never done a [media] player; I’ve never done anything that was streaming content. It was whole new level that I had to step up to.”
Even with Culmer and Singhal splitting the load for Shortcut, there were plenty of weekends spent holed-up coding. Singhal handled the frontend and integrated the audio player, while Culmer implemented the video player with the video application programming interface as well as the back end server scripting. Angelov, who developed the bulk of the app on his own, had some outside help. QuarkWorks, a local mobile development firm, assisted in the development of the Android UI based off of the designs of RJ Platto, art director for the Student Design Center.
Each week, both teams also had a conference call with Andrew Kuklewicz, PMP’s tech director and PMP Executive Director, Kristen Calhoun. Kuklewicz not only provided the student teams with their access to PMP’s content, but helped them work out bugs in their software.
“[Kuklewicz] was really helpful in building [media player] systems because they already have a player. He asked the people who actually worked on the library to help me figure some of these bugs out, and that really helped me get the player very stable.”
Both teams took advantage of resources on campus.
“Mike McKean and Reuben Stern, directors of the Futures Lab, helped up us with the presentation skills and the concept of design,” Singhal said. “Just for the application name ‘Shortcut,’ it took one month of work and they helped us a lot with that.”
The exposure to a client that can provide feedback and direction is a very different experience than coursework done for the major. Angelov sees finding a solution to a client’s problem as a balance between the total control over design and realizing the expectations a client has in their head.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to think of ways to do something that wouldn’t lead to dead ends,” said Angelov. “You build the specs, you design the complexity, you decide what the constraints are. And that was the biggest lesson: how to go from nowhere to somewhere. And I don’t think that you can learn anything like that from a class.”
Singhal, having already developed a few apps that are available on Google Play, found that having feedback from a client was very different than what he was used to and possibly more typical of what he might experience in the workplace.
Both teams hope to further the development of their apps and ultimately see them on the Google Play, the Android app marketplace.
Overall, Singhal said, having the opportunity to have this kind of an experience is exactly why he came to the University of Missouri. “When I was browsing through Mizzou Engineering website, RJI’s last year’s competition was on the cover,” Singhal said. “This caught my mind immediately, and I knew this is the place I had to be. Participating in this competition was the first thing in my mind when I got into Mizzou, and the rest followed.”