By Gretchen Parker
USC Annenberg announced today the launch of a social and technological innovation lab that will develop projects with both a real-world application and a societal impact. More than just an incubator, the lab will be a showcase and a bridge to outside businesses that will apply innovations developed at the school.
The Annenberg Innovation Lab has won support from four major new partners on the front lines of technological change in communication: IBM, Verizon, Levi's and Mattel. Each company has made a major investment toward the project, which aims to resolve marketplace dilemmas and at the same time broaden and deepen the interaction between students and the business world.
"We'll continue to expand the research agenda and bring in other companies, so they can share their concerns -- what keeps them up at night -- and take advantage of an ongoing engagement with thousands of USC students, who are both consumers and creators on the digital frontier," said communication professor Jonathan Taplin (pictured right), director of the lab.
The Annenberg Lab is at the center of USC Annenberg's drive to reimagine the future of communication and journalism. Currently, lab scholars Henry Jenkins, François Bar and Dmitri Williams are involved in projects ranging from the evolution of the e-Book to the creation of semantic search capabilities for investigative reporters.
Through intensive design contests and other outreach, the lab is recruiting students and professors across the USC campus -- including from the Marshall School of Business, Viterbi School of Engineering and School of Cinematic Arts -- to collaborate and develop their innovations. The lab will offer spaces both virtual and physical, where USC Annenberg innovators can collaborate and develop ideas.
Beyond building dialogue with the business community and giving students an applied focus that is crucial for their post-academic work lives, the lab will offer students the chance to get their best ideas funded for development through the prototype stage.
IBM's collaboration with the lab is a tremendous opportunity to chart a new course for students by providing 21st century tools for 21st century journalism, said Steve Canepa, general manager of IBM's Global Media and Entertainment Industry division. "IBM is working with media firms around the globe on innovative solutions that transform the production and distribution of news, information and entertainment," Canepa said. "We are delighted to work with the Innovation Lab on how to apply new technologies and ‘smarter' approaches that respond to the rapidly changing media marketplace."
Chuck Scothon, senior vice president and general manager of Mattel Digital Network, said his company looks forward to the new connections the partnership will bring. "Mattel has always been at the forefront of innovation in the toy industry," he said. "Partnering with a leading academic institution such as USC and its Annenberg Innovation Lab gives us added perspective on digital initiatives and emerging technologies, as well as the opportunity to connect with other forward thinking companies across a sector of industries."
The lab's initial areas of focus include:
- The development of new tools for journalists and communication scholars, including the use of semantic web technologies and geolocation applications.
- Interactive television applications and widgets for the next generation of fiber-optic-delivered high definition TV.
- The evolution of social networking as a platform for commerce, entertainment and journalism.
- The advancement of e-books into the multimedia realm, using video, music and graphics in addition to text.
- The development of 3D transmedia storytelling tools for education and entertainment.
- The use of portable digital devices of all sorts in the production, distribution and monetization of news and entertainment content.
The key to the lab's success will be collaboration, said journalism professor Roberto Suro, managing director of the lab. "The lab is a meeting place, a hub, where a lot of different kinds of people are coming together to think over the horizon but in practical terms about new kinds of digital tools for creating and disseminating information."
The creative director of the Innovation Lab is Erin Reilly, who was formerly a visiting lecturer at MIT's Comparative Media Studies Department and Harvard University's Project Zero Summer Institute. She is most notably known for co-creating one of the first social media and learning communities, Zoey's Room, a national program for 10- 14-year-old girls that encouraged their creativity through science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Shadman Zafar, Verizon's senior vice president of product design and development, said the lab will intensify the school's and the partners' focus on the digital media revolution. "As a company on the front lines in transforming the communication industry, Verizon is proud to be a founding sponsor of the Annenberg Innovation Lab," he said. "The blending of networks, software and devices is enabling a whole new world of interactivity for our customers. We are confident that the lab's research on this revolution will foster increased creativity and innovation, and infuse high-IQ thinking into the high-IQ networks of the future."
Partners of the lab will have the opportunity to work not just with the next generation of consumer, but also with renowned USC Annenberg scholars as well as key thought leaders at the Viterbi School of Engineering and the School of Cinematic Arts, Taplin said. "The faculty members collaborating with the Annenberg Lab are breaking ground in the areas of geolocation, social networking, digital entertainment, gaming behavior and transmedia," he said.
It was Annenberg's unique talent that drew Levi's to the project, said Robert Hanson, president, global Levi's brand. "The Annenberg Innovation Lab presents a rare opportunity to collaborate with some of the most visionary minds in the social media field. As the inventor of jeans, the Levi's brand has always been at the forefront of innovation, and we're constantly exploring pioneering ways to engage with our consumers. We're thrilled to be a founding partner of the lab and together create the next social media revolution."
"USC Annenberg is a leader in the digital media revolution, pioneering research in social networks and online communities," said Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. "With the addition of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, our students and faculty can exchange knowledge and develop projects with public institutions and private sector firms, ultimately bringing products to market that have both practical applications and social impact."