The Hearst Fellows Challenge

Hearst Corporation's Office of the CTO challenged five students to build prototypes of personalized applications.


Driving user engagement is a core objective for media companies, even if there is less agreement on the best metrics with which to measure it. As companies begin to capture more available data, and further develop the sophistication to wield it, the opportunity to drive engagement through personalization bears more and more promise: the thinking goes that if you can understand what brings a user to a site and can learn more about her while she is there, you can offer more reasons to stay.

Personalization often involves sophisticated algorithms that serve up targeted content, but opportunities beyond (or built on top of) content recommendations abound. Building for mobile adds another dimension to the personalization experience, as GPS and other sensors can offer up more context for what would constitute uniquely engaging content to a particular user at a particular place and time.

The questions that interested Hearst Corporation were basic, but big: What kind of content is likely to engage individual users, and under what conditions? What are the product experiences that not only provide the right context for this personalized content, but can delight users?



For Hearst Corporation’s second seed project with NYC Media Lab, they chose to explore these questions by issuing a challenge to the NYC university community. Hearst CTO Phil Wiser took to the stage during NYC Media Lab’s 2014 Annual Summit (pictured) and invited undergraduate and post-graduate students to apply for a fellowship around prototypes of new mobile applications expressing the idea of content personalization, called the Hearst Fellow Challenge.

Students submitted their personalization prototype ideas via the NYC Media Lab website. Five students were chosen from NYU, SVA, and Parsons the New School for Design. Together, the fellows met weekly with Hearst executives and NYC Media Lab team members over the course of an eight week period to refine and progress their prototype ideas. The fellowship culminated in a final presentation of functional prototypes to Hearst management on December 1, 2014.