Tag Archives: mobile

How to turn every reader’s mobile phone into a newsroom of one

On the occasion of the second stop on the Carnival of Journalism revival tour, we’re provided with a wide open question:

Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?

So without much further ado, we’re going to have a little “NOW IT CAN BE TOLD” moment here at Invisible Inkling. I promise it’s not (too) salacious, just an outdated, stale sort of secret project that never came to fruition.

To be specific, it was a Knight News Challenge entry submitted late in 2009 in the “remarkably private considering how many people must have screened and discussed the idea” category. It made the final 50 entries that year, and was my backup plan for what to do for a job in 2010-11 if I needed a backup plan.

Interesting story, eh? Well, to maybe four or five of you, so let’s move on to the actual idea, shall we?

LOOK LOUDOUN

The short version:

Using a smartphone app, “readers” take photos with location-aware mobile phones, and the phone provides them with a list of nearby news organizations to send them to.

Here’s the pitch, in full, as it stood abandoned in early 2010:

Look Loudoun will be a resource for local news organizations of all shapes and sizes to connect with the community in Loudoun County, Virginia, largely via photos taken with mobile phones.

The first product from Look Loudoun will be an iPhone application, using the geolocation feature set to suggest local news organizations to send a photo to, giving the user the opportunity to route photos of news in their community directly to a wider audience via local newspapers, hyperlocal news sites, and their own social media profiles.

Additionally, the project will begin to generate revenue by charging local businesses to list themselves on the screen using the same geolocation feature set. If the Look Loudoun user takes a photo near their business, they’ll have the option to send it their way, as well, supplying the business with content for their own efforts to engage the local community.

The revenue generated by Look Loudoun will go toward building a sustainable business — the long-term goal will be to share any profits with the participating local news organizations.

Loudoun County, a suburban, exurban and rural area in Northern Virginia (yet a short drive from Washington D.C.) is fiercely local and at the same time, highly connected, as a radically diverse base of families speed from work to school to activities to community service.

The county is covered by dozens of news organizations, some as large as the Washington Post, but many on the smaller end of the continuum, hyperlocal blogs run by passionate community members in their spare time. Local blogs Dulles District and Viva Loudoun are among the best sources for neighborhood news online, complementing a range of print newspapers that include Leesburg Today, the Loudoun Times-Mirror, and the LoudounIndependent.

You’ll notice a couple key things there:

  1. Yes, it was a KNC pitch in 2009, so it starts in one local community — the always popular for hyperlocal experiments Loudoun County, where I happen to live.
  2. Loudoun’s always popular for hyperlocal experiments because it shows up often at or near the top of the list of “wealthiest” or “richest” or “most full of money to be taken from consumers” counties in the country. Keeping that in mind, there’s a revenue component to this pitch: Users of the app can send their photos to local businesses, too. The business pays for the content, and/or the service of being included in the app, and the news organizations get a cut. Maybe the users get a deal?

Mobile! Location! Revenue! Hyperlocal!

What could go wrong, right?

So to answer the Carnival question directly:

A smartphone app like the proposed Look Loudoun, but on a larger scale with local, regional, and national news organizations taking part, would connect individual news “sources” — call them “citizen journalists” if you must — with traditional one-to-many channel news organizations in an unprecedented way.

Sure, 100 news organizations might have 100 of their own vendors/platforms/apps for collecting mobile photos from readers, but what I’m proposing here is 100 news organizations in one app, instead. Make it simple for the user to send their photo to the relevant news organization based on their location, no pre-existing relationship necessary.

Oh, by the way, here’s a Posterous blog I used as a brief scrapbook of inspiration at the time. Keep in mind this was pre-Instagram, pre-Facebook Places, and pre-Foursquare adds photos to checkins.

Now, it would be pretty easy to imagine Foursquare adding some features along these lines. I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’ll add some more bits of the old KNC proposal to that Posterous. If you were a screener back then, I’d love to hear what you thought of the idea. Like I said, it made the top 50, and having learned from my experience with ReportingOn, I was asking for enough money to make Look Loudoun my day job for two years.

(And yes, of course, I’m extremely pleased at the moment with the way things have worked out since the KNC entry was rejected, but it seemed like the right time to share the idea.)

Be a silobuster

Remember the great print vs. online war of 1995-2005?

Well, some of you are probably still fighting this war, eh? Not everyone got the news yet, but the war is over, and the silobusters won.

Anyway, you’re going to think this is crazy, but lately I’ve spotted a new silo developing, over there in the corner office.

It’s the mobile silo.

Wait, wait, before you go, I’m not the crazy one here; I know how important mobile delivery of information is, and I know you need to pay special attention to it, and I know that people like me have been telling folks at newspapers and media companies for years that they should be paying special attention, too.

But I see a funny thing happening, in large media companies and in job listings — I see mobile as a full department being split off from the Web or “online” silo. Yes, yes, some of you are doing a great job at calling the whole department “digital,” and if it works for you, go for it.

Now, I’m not here to tell you how to run your silos, and I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to do it, if only to make sure there’s someone responsible for iPad app development and WAP sites and a text alert strategy and heck, let’s throw Android into this sentence, too, just to make sure we don’t offend anyone.

What I wanted to say was this:

As always, there’s a huge job opportunity for individuals who make a habit of busting silos. If you’re the person who can get mobile, Web, and print teams on the same (ahem) page, make sure each knows what the others are up to, and help them not repeat work or work at cross-purposes, you might be a silobuster.

Let’s make a short list out of this.

You might be a silobuster if:

  1. At summer camp, you were friends with kids from at least four different cliques. (This was a harder trick to pull in school, just as it’s a harder trick to pull at a large corporation.)
  2. You’re equally at home talking about CSS, CS5, and CB4.
  3. Your idea of “playing politics” is walking into someone’s office and asking them a straightforward question.

What else should be on this list? Jump on in anytime here, folks…

Conclusion: You should expect media companies and news organizations to continue to find reasons (some of them good ones) to segment off different types of development and delivery of news, but if you can see the big picture of how it all fits together – or even better, build the tools that make it all fit together – there’s work for you in this business.

Street by street, block by block

Back in the early days of grad school, when questions about the future of online advertising came up, I was bullish about the future of location-based mobile advertising that would by contextually relevant to the content you were viewing and the place you were sitting.

I was wrong about a big piece of how this would work: I envisioned free wireless access blanketing the world, so that you could be sitting on a bench in downtown Santa Cruz with your laptop and find out, while reading a story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s food section, that Lulu Carpenter’s had a deal on day-old pastries right now.

This was pre-iPhone, and the most “super” mobile device I had at hand was a bottom of the line half-sausage sized thing from Verizon.

Now, that next step for local advertisers looking to capture walk-in business from real live human beings in their neighborhood is becoming far more clear.

Foursquare and Gowalla, location-based services you should be well aware of by now, are already getting into this business, opening up the market.

Here’s the “anatomy of a Foursquare special” as broken down by Cory Bergman at Lost Remote:

“Clicking over to the special reveals a useful offer for a free drink with a $20 purchase — if you show that you’ve checked in from the restaurant.”

Keep in mind, a note about a “nearby special” shows up in Foursquare next to the name of the business when you’re casually browsing nearby places, or checking in at the competition across the street.

Over at VentureBeat, a look at iPromote, a company building a mobile ad network to allow local businesses to advertise to anyone who happens to walk by:

“For a minimum of $5 per day, iPromote will serve ads to mobile phones near an advertiser’s place of business. The company serves both display ads, for which clicks aren’t counted, and cost-per-click ads where the advertiser only pays when a user clicks through an ad to their site.”

Sounds like a healthy model.

Of course, there’s a disruptive elephant-sized gorilla in the room named Google.

Push a button on your phone and Google tells you what’s nearby. As in, local businesses, restaurants, etc. How long before they start selling featured listings based on geography? Want to be the featured one-dollar-sign, four-star restaurant within a fixed square mile? That’ll cost ya…

Here’s the short list of location-based mobile apps on my iPhone right now:

  • Foursquare – Mostly using this these days when I’m at a restaurant or otherwise non-routine location. Especially useful when I was in New York City over New Year’s.
  • Gowalla – Trying it out. It’s cuter than Foursquare, but I don’t see how it’s any more or less useful yet.
  • Yelp – I still use Yelp on my phone whenever I’m in a strange city and just want to know where the nearest Thai, Vegetarian, or Burrito  joint can be found.
  • UrbanSpoon – Cute slot machine interface, but nothing special.
  • Brightkite – I used to check in here socially, as I way to declare when I arrived in a new town for a conference. More for social check-ins than local business action, and I haven’t checked it in months.
  • EveryBlock – Might be fun to check the restaurant inspections, Flickr photos, or crime reports here while walking down a block, but I haven’t.
  • Honorable mentions on my phone for Redfin and Zillow — both real estate apps extremely useful when househunting, especially when you just want to know what’s for sale near your current location, while you’re cruising around checking out neighborhoods.

Have any favorite location apps that I’m missing? Are any local news organizations selling their own location-based mobile ads, or just buying into larger networks?

The A Word: Information and Activism – MediaShift Idea Lab

Christopher Csikszentmihályi from MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media talks about co-teaching a class on building mobile tools for social change. (The applications mentioned in this post are probably the most innovative work going on in the field today. If want to get a good solid idea of what the future of journalism and activism could be at their best, read his post and watch the videos embedded in it.)

The A Word: Information and Activism – MediaShift Idea Lab

Carnival of Journalism: Five positive predictions for new media in 2009

For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, Dave Cohn is asking for positive (if possible) predictions for the new media world of 2009.

How about 5?

  1. Mobile video streaming goes mainstream: Probably tied to disaster/breaking news reporting from non-professionals, a la 9/11 blogs, the YouTube tsunami of 2004, Flickr bombings of 2005, and the livetweeted siege of #Mumbai in 2008.  Whether it’s the expansion of a startup like Qik or Flixwagon or a wildcard like an improved iPhone with a real video camera, something is going to change in 2009 that’s going to put live mobile video at our fingertips.
  2. Fewer newspaper jobs means more local news startups:  As major metro news organizations continue to contract, consolidate, and implode, more journalists will walk away from the press, but not walk away from reporting.  Right now, most of this is happening at the national level (think: Politico) or in local blogs, but as more entrepreneurial journalists leave the “industry,” more of them will start small businesses of their own, reporting on their neighborhoods.
  3. Local news organizations will continue to improve at being “of” the Web and not just “on” it:  Yep, that means more newspapers (and local TV stations) on Twitter, blogging, livechatting, streaming video, participating in comment threads, and generally getting in gear — though still perhaps far behind the pace of Internet time.  This seems obvious enough, although as a media critic, if all you’re looking at is a selection of major metro papers, you’re not going to see the changes as clearly as readers — or participants in the news site’s social web — will see them.
  4. Alternative business models for monetizing journalism will flourish: There are plenty of ideas kicking around already on this front, although few of them are coming from traditional news organizations.  That won’t matter, because people with ideas for solving the riddle of funding quality journalism without the revenue of a standard daily print product are already having success.
  5. Crowdsourcing tools will evolve on the backs on existing platforms: I’m thinking DocumentCloud plus Twitter or Facebook, or some similar combination that lets a large news organization with a large social network power through large documents (think: US Attorney firings data dump analysis at Talking Points Memo, but with a much bigger crowd and structured data instead of a comment thread.)

And of course, a bonus prediction:

  • Major newspapers and huge newspaper companies will continue to consolidate, sputter, fail, and close — but it won’t matter.  The people formerly known as readers will be too busy informing each other about their world to notice.

So, got any predictions of your own for 2009? (Remember, we’re trying to keep it positive…)