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Social app-maker harnesses Pennsylvania college students as beta testers

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 11:26 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Parthena Moisiadis, 20, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, studying English writing and communications, sits by her iPhone with an app she is beta testing at the William Pitt Student Union in Oakland on Friday, October 11, 2013.

Email is yesterday, Facebook is clunky and GroupMe caps membership in groups.

So, what's a student looking for a cutting-edge communication platform to do?

If Matt Murphy has his way, college students — there were 21 million nationwide last year — will turn to QUAD, a new smartphone app.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur is counting on student beta testers at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and 48 other universities to sell students on QUAD, a free app that combines social networking and instant messaging to put groups of as many as 200 students in communication in real time.

The founder of Appsurdity Inc. knows every new app has heavy competition in the post-PC era.

“There are over 800 million apps in the market today. How do you build an app that gets on the phone and is used every single day?” Murphy said.

In a bid to make a dent in the market, which experts estimate will top $25 billion this year, Murphy hired 100 students as QUAD ambassadors to proselytize for QUAD. They've tapped into sorority rushes, classroom work groups and even Penn State's storied THON dance marathon.

Pitt junior Parthena Moisiadis, said QUAD was an easy sale among her classmates and sorority sisters.

Moisiadis, 20, a writing communications major from West Chester, signed on as a Quad ambassador about two weeks ago, eager to learn more about marketing.

She competed with other ambassadors to see who could “convert” the most users to the new app.

“It's exciting getting to set a trend,” she said.

Moisiadis said the 40 students in her organizational communications class happily signed on for group discussions. Networks are closed, and members don't have to sort through email or provide personal information.

“It's easy and allows for more interactions,” Moisiadis said.

Lauren Christiansen, a Penn State senior from Delaware majoring in Spanish and international politics, worked at Appsurdity last summer. She is one of three QUAD ambassadors in State College.

She said State College is poised to become one of the new app's major hot spots now that Appsurdity is sponsoring a contest around THON.

THON, a yearlong fundraising effort by 15,000 Penn State students, is the nation's largest student-run philanthropy. Students compete all year to raise money for pediatric cancer treatment and research in a campaign that culminates in a 46-hour dance marathon in February.

Appsurdity is offering three top prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000 to add to THON fundraising totals for students who rack up the most points for QUAD use.

Murphy said the app will remain free and said he has no plans to sell advertising. Rather, he's counting on micropayments from “enhancements” such as packages of custom emjoi, the popular online characters used to emphasize emotion.

“In mid-November, we'll have an app with a lot of changes,” Murphy said. “We've had amazing feedback.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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