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Developing Minds Want to Know: Q&A with Lori Roth, Director of Mobile Products at WhitePages

by Brad Spirrison

Top people search company WhitePages is attempting to put an end to the fragmented user experience of switching from app to app to stay connected. They recently launched an Android app called Current Caller ID. It combines social networking with call and text ID into a single free app.

Alongside their existing WhitePages and Localicious apps, the company continues to be a leading provider of contact information for people and businesses in the U.S. In this installment of Developing Minds Want to Know, we talk to Lori Roth, Director of Mobile Products for WhitePages about the inspiration behind the company’s suite of apps, what inspires and motivates her, and what the future holds.

Key Company Facts:

Name & Title: Lori Roth, Director of Mobile Products

Company: WhitePages

Location: Seattle, WA, and New York, NY

Size (Revenue and/or Employees): 100 employees, 15 of whom are on our mobile team.

Primary Apps/Platforms: WhitePages has a Top 50 mobile website and popular apps on Android (including WhitePages and Current Caller ID), iOS, BlackBerry, webOS and Windows 7 that have been downloaded more than 25 million times and have over 8 million total active monthly users.

APPOLICIOUS: What inspired you to become an app creator?

LORI ROTH: WhitePages is the largest online provider of contact information on the web, providing consumers with access to 300 million landline and cell phone numbers. While certainly there is a strong use case for accessing this information on a desktop (as 40 million unique users do each month), we realized early on that there was perhaps an even bigger one in mobile, where calling and/or texting is one click away. We expanded into the mobile world in 2005 and have continually built off our core web offering to create unique experiences. The possibilities are endless, which inspires our team to conceptualize, create and build, build, build!

Here’s a video showcasing Current Caller ID by WhitePages:

APPO: How long have you been developing apps, and what is the most significant difference between now and when you began?

LR: We were in the iOS App Store from the very beginning in 2008, and that same year became one of the first brand-name publishers to develop for Android when it was still quite small. The evolution and improvement in both the iOS and Android app stores has become key factor for developers to distribute and market their apps at mass scale. The next big leap came when platforms allowed in-app billing which gave developers the tools to monetize their apps, generating a rich revenue stream for all platforms.

In addition, the recent emergence of mobile platform APIs such as Facebook, Foursquare, Google+, etc. has opened doors to endless possibilities for developers, as well as consumers. Finally, the evolution of operating systems has allowed for apps to become considerably more focused on providing a great experience for users. As an example, we have always loved developing for Android because of the openness of the platform and the ability to plan and execute a marketing strategy. With the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich, we were thrilled by the huge leap forward in design and UI introduced by Google, which we then leveraged to develop Current Caller ID.

APPO: What apps (outside of those that you develop) inspire you the most and why?

LR: Inspiring apps are innovative, have a clear value for the user, limit barriers to use, and ALSO have a beautiful user interface. Developing an app that is successful with all of these is incredibly difficult. Some apps that we view as innovation leaders are Glympse, Pocket, Flipboard and Instagram.

APPO: Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?

LR: There are many innovations taking place right now, from voice to photo sharing to social network integration. However, one of the most innovative areas has been location. When it was introduced, location was one of those new technologies whereby the ‘technology’ itself became the “holy grail” and yet no one could really figure out how to deliver a great user experience with location silently powering it in the background. Remember that classic example of receiving a coupon just as you walk by a Starbucks? It’s only been recently that app developers started flipping the paradigm, thinking instead about leading with a great experience, first and foremost, and then leveraging the technology to power it.

Foursquare began this disruption of thought within the app world, which led to an explosive growth in apps that have great value propositions supported by location technology - everything from mapping to traffic crowdsourcing, to family safety, social tracing, and nearby content. Location is now beginning to meet the expectation of the many years of hype.

APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?

LR: Incorporating location technology into our user experience has been a focus for WhitePages for some time. All of our search apps, including WhitePages and Localicious, were launched using location to provide easier access to maps and directions for people and business search results. Building on this notion, we launched our Localicious app on Android last year, which combined neighborhood data and Foursquare functionality to help users find all the best restaurants and shops in their neighborhood, or any other. We were really excited when this app was recently recognized as a Webby Award Honoree for Best Use of GPS or Location Technology.

Our recent WhitePages for iOS upgrade also focused on location aware features. Our “Nearby” feature makes a great example. Imagine you want to pick up a bottle of wine on your way to dinner at a friend’s house in an unknown city. You can simply search for your friend; find a nearby wine shop, and directions to both, with just a few taps.

For our most recent app, Current Caller ID, we incorporate location by surfacing the city and state where the caller is located and display news and weather to help users be “in the know” on topics relevant to the person they are communicating with. Going forward, we know there will be many other ways to evolve the use of location data within the app!

APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications.

LR: We take a very integrated approach to marketing our apps. This includes public relations, social media, mobile advertising, PPC and app store SEO. We are fortunate we can also leverage our top 40 website and our various mobile properties to promote our new apps and drive downloads.

APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector?

LR: The two most predominant constraints that we run into are the closed functionality of iOS which limits the services we can offer on that platform and Android’s fragmentation which makes it difficult to offer a consistent experience for our user base across devices. As an example, while we would like to provide Current Caller ID for iPhone users, we are unable to because Apple does not allow developer access to the calls and texts of phones, which prevents us from identifying calls as they come in.

APPO: How do you (or will you) make money from your application?

LR: WhitePages has a great track record of making money with our free apps by offering optional premium features and through advertising. With Current Caller ID, we are hyper focused on user adoption and so are offering it for free. However, there are a variety of premium features that we can offer in the future to generate revenue once we grow the base of users.

APPO: What advice do you have to those working on their first applications?

LR: Three thoughts: (1) Think broad: In order to give yourself the biggest opportunity for distribution you have to think beyond a single app on a single platform. Start with the consumer need, and how you are going to meet that across multiple platforms including devices, sms, social networks, and mobile or desktop web. (2) Think distribution: Create your app with app store SEO in mind and incorporate ways for users to socially share or interact with each other using your app. These two things are the cornerstones of your distribution especially if you have zero or little marketing dollars. (3) Think money: Plan up front your monetization strategy even if you are launching a free app to gain distribution.

APPO: Where do you see the app sector one year from now? Five years from now?

LR: In thinking back on how the app sector has changed since 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone, I would just say hang on for the wild ride ahead. Given the pace of evolving technologies including such things as tablet penetration, machine learning, cloud based storage, location, social, voice recognition, photo technology, and more, there is a wealth of opportunity out there. We at WhitePages are excited about taking full advantage of these technology innovations to help people find, be found and connect with one another!

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