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July 01 2011

18:26

Smartphone Sensors Could Revolutionize Digital Magazines

We've all done those personality and health quizzes in magazines. You know, the ones where you suspect that answer A will categorize you as the personality type you're trying to avoid, so you choose B instead.

Everyone does that, right?

These evasive strategies for magazine quizzes, though, could be a thing of the past as smartphones and tablet devices evolve to incorporate a variety of new sensors that will keep us honest. While they might not be able to assess your personality yet, sensors are rapidly becoming capable of detecting all kinds of information about you and your surroundings. These sensors will not only change digital magazines' editorial content and advertising, but also lead to entirely new ways of authoring content and serving readers.

Location Services Have Room to Grow

Many consumers already use location-sensing tools, such as GPS features on smartphones, to find nearby businesses. Some magazine and media applications have also integrated location-based features that display relevant content for a user's local area. But there's a lot more that can be done with location information as sensors improve, and as media companies take fuller advantage of what they will offer.

iphone-location.jpg

Location-based services still have space to evolve, said Wayne Chavez, an operations manager for the sensor division of Freescale, a semiconductor company that is developing a variety of sensors for mobile devices, among other products. Chavez said improved location sensors and related applications will combine both GPS data and magnetometer readings to determine the device's orientation and know which way the user is facing. That detail allows greater customization of information.

For example, imagine a tourist taking a picture of a notable building. The picture can easily be geo-tagged already with today's GPS sensors, but new sensors and related applications could gather more information, including "what direction you took the picture from. It can tell you based on your previous interests and queries what's around you near that building. You might be around the block from another historic building," Chavez said.

Software on the device -- such as, perhaps, a local magazine's app -- could then use the sensor's data to push to the user details of how to navigate to that next location of potential interest, as well as ways "to read more about a historical marker, at any length, with instant access to that media," Chavez said.

Magazines' editorial content could even dynamically change to reflect more detailed location information. Joseph J. Esposito, an independent media consultant, offered an example of how it might work.

"If you're reading a future edition of The New Yorker, maybe a story about a young couple that falls in love in New York, and you're walking along, then the story changes because you just walked in front of a Mexican restaurant," Esposito said. The story could update its content to harmonize with the reader's location and activity.

While some digital magazines have already experimented with contextual advertising based on location data, Esposito said the use of this sensor information eventually "will start to have an editorial direction as well."

google-earth-dot.jpg

There's room to improve contextual advertising based on location, too, for digital magazines and other media applications. Chavez suggests that location data could eventually be combined with information from "the cloud" -- online compilations of user information -- for more precise targeting.

"I see many providers saying, based on the location of your handset and your history, I can pre-filter and stream to you information that might be relevant to you," he said.

Sensor Publishing

Esposito's example of the dynamically updated New Yorker story, mentioned above, is just one way that sensor data might alter magazine content. As Esposito puts it, our phones are, in reality, sensors that we carry everywhere we go. Users of sensor-equipped mobile devices could serve as passive authors of projects that gather, analyze and present data from these sensors. Esposito calls this "sensor publishing" to distinguish it from crowdsourcing because it doesn't require participants' active involvement.

Digital magazines and other media applications could collect sensor data -- such as location, temperature, ambient light or other readings -- and find ways to incorporate the data into stories, or to make them stories in themselves.

"We become carriers or hosts, collecting data passively all the time," Esposito said. "It's different from how we like to think about our phones, but there's also passive use of the phone, when it picks up temperature or humidity. When you're collecting information from 350 million phones, now it's starting to get meaningful. Those little data aggregation points start to mean something."

Esposito noted that all types of sensors -- anything scientists use in laboratories, including spectroscopes or Geiger counters -- could eventually be incorporated into mobile devices, making all kinds of data-gathering opportunities possible for the creation or enhancement of digital magazine content and other media.

Sensing Health Information

Sensors might also mean the end of cheating on magazines' health quizzes, along with new ways of experiencing health-related content. A range of health sensors are already available and, as their cost falls, media companies could distribute them so that the data users gather about themselves as part of daily life could be integrated into various types of content.

Carré Technologies is a Montreal-based company developing health sensors that can be integrated into clothing. The sensors will interact with mobile devices to collect and analyze health information, and could have intriguing media-related uses.

"People in general are taking more responsibility for managing their own health," said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, president of Carré Technologies. "It's going to help preventive health [care] ... A lot of this monitoring can be done remotely now because of the Internet."

Fournier said health sensors like his company's are useful for a variety of fitness and health applications, such as games, biofeedback, and health observation.

"The sensors we make are meant to be worn 24/7, so there's a huge amount of data created by just one person," he said. "There are a lot of creative ways to show that data, to make it useful for the users."

One way to experience that data might be to have it integrated with media content. For example, a digital magazine application that collected health data from a reader using these sensors could then offer customized diet or exercise recommendations within the context of the magazine, as well as pool data from users anonymously to produce sensor publishing projects. Articles could describe the activity patterns of the publication's audience, contextualizing the individual reader's activity level within that broader picture, and then offering suggestions for improvement.

iphone-health-folder.jpg

This approach to providing personally relevant health information might be an opportunity for health-related magazines and other media seeking to capitalize on demographic trends in their mobile applications.

"One of the megatrends here is our aging population," Chavez said. "As our baby boomers reach their mid-60s now, many of them are very tech aware, and looking for telehealth solutions, whether that's out of personal interest or clinically driven."

Naturally, there are privacy concerns related to the collection of health and other personal data. "I'm not sure how much people want the media company to have access to their physical data," Fournier said. "Media companies already collect a lot of data on people. I'm not sure how far people will be able to go before they start to react."

It seems inevitable, though, that we'll see more integration of varied sensors into our mobile devices, and more creative applications for them in magazine and media applications, for both editorial content and advertising. What we've seen so far are just the earliest stages of sensors' uses in the media world.

"We [just passed] the fourth anniversary of the iPhone, and it's been transformative. The first app for reading books on a phone came in July 2008," Esposito said, offering a reminder of how recently these digital possibilities have evolved. "All this world we're talking about here is so preciously new. But it's difficult to imagine turning back the clock."


Maps and graphs image by Courtney Bolton on Flickr

Smartphone photo by Gesa Henselmans on Flickr.

Google Earth image by Miki Yoshihito on Flickr.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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May 20 2011

14:30

This Week in Review: What Twitter does to us, Google News gets more local, and making links routine

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Twitter on the brain: Last week, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller got a rise out of a lot of folks online with one of the shortest of his 21 career tweets: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” Keller revealed the purpose of his social experiment this week in a column arguing, in so many words, that Twitter may be dulling your humanity, and probably making you stupid, too. Here’s the money quote: “But my inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.”

This, as you might imagine, did not go over particularly well online. There were a couple strains of reaction: Business Insider’s Henry Blodget and All Twitter’s Lauren Dugan argued that Twitter may indeed be changing us, but for the good, by helping make previously impossible connections.

Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch and Mike Masnick of Techdirt countered Keller by saying that while Twitter isn’t built for deep conversations, it is quite good at providing an entry point for such discussion: “What you see publicly posted on Twitter and Facebook is just the tip of the conversation iceberg,” Tsotsis said. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, meanwhile, defended Twitter’s true social nature, and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci gave a fantastic breakdown of what Twitter does and doesn’t do culturally and socially.

Two of the most eloquent responses were provided by Nick Bilton, one of Keller’s own employees, and by Gizmodo’s Mat Honan. Bilton pointed out that our brains have shown a remarkable ability to adapt quickly to new technologies without sacrificing old capacities. (Be sure to check out Keller’s response afterward.)

Honan made a similar argument: Keller, he said, is confusing the medium with the message, and Twitter, like any technology, is what you make it. “If you choose to do superficial things there, you will have superficial experiences. If you use it to communicate with others on a deeper level, you can have more meaningful experiences that make you smarter, build lasting relationships, and generally enhance your life,” Honan wrote.

Google gets more local with news: Google News unveiled a few interesting changes in the past week, starting with the launch of “News near you.” Google has sorted news by location for a while now, but this feature will allow smartphone users to automatically get local news wherever they are. ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Rowinski explained why newspapers should be worried about Google moving further onto their local-news turf, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram criticized newspapers for not coming up with like this themselves.

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman, on the other hand, said Google’s feature is still in need of some human curation to go with its algorithmic aggregation. That’s an area in which local newspapers can still dominate, he said, but it’ll require some technological catchup, as well as a willingness to get over fears about linking to competitors.

Another change, not publicized by Google News but spotted by the folks at Search Engine Land, was the addition of an option to allow users to filter out blogs and press releases from their results. This raised the question, what exactly does Google consider a blog? Google told Search Engine Land it relies on a variety of factors to make that decision, especially self-identification. Mathew Ingram ripped this classification, and urged Google to put everything that contains news together in Google News and let readers sort it out. (Former Lab writer Zach Seward wrote about the problems with Google News’ blog label back in 2009.)

Fitting linking into news’ workflow: A discussion about linking has been simmering on Twitter on and off over the past few weeks, and it began to come together into something useful this week. This round of the conversation started with a post by web thinker and scholar Doc Searls, who wondered why news organizations don’t link out more often. In the comments, the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Boyer suggested that one reason is that many newspapers’ CMS’s and workflows are print-centric, making linking logistically difficult.

CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson responded that the workflow issue isn’t much of an excuse, saying, as he put it on Twitter: “At this point ‘linking’ has been around for twenty years. The fact that this is STILL a workflow issue is almost worse than not caring.” This kicked off a sprawling debate on Twitter, aptly chronicled via Storify by Mathew Ingram and Alex Byers. Ingram also wrote a post responding to a few of the themes of resistance of links, particularly the notion that information on the web is inferior to information gained by old-fashioned reporting.

British journalist Kevin Anderson took on the workflow issue in particular, noting how outdated many newspaper CMS’s are and challenging them to catch up technologically: “It’s an industrial workflow operating in a digital age. It’s really only down to ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ thinking that allows such a patently inefficient process to persist.” Publish2′s Scott Karp gave an idea for a solution to the CMS mess.

AOL’s continued makeover: Another week, another slew of personnel moves at AOL. PaidContent’s David Kaplan reported that AOL is hiring “a bunch” of new (paid) editors and shuffling some current employees around after its layoff of hundreds this spring. Overall, Kaplan wrote, this is part of the continued effort to put the Huffington Post’s stamp on AOL’s editorial products.

One of the AOL entities most affected by the shifts is Seed, which had been a freelance network, but will now fall under AOL’s advertising area as a business-to-business product. Saul Hansell, who was hired in 2009 to run Seed, is moving to HuffPo to edit its new “Big News” features. In a blog post, Hansell talked about what this means for HuffPo and for Seed.

Meanwhile, the company is also rolling out AOL Industry, a set of B2B sites covering energy, defense, and government. But wait, that’s not all: AOL’s Patch is launching 33 new sites in states targeting the 2012 election. The hyperlocal news site Street Fight also reported that Patch is urging its editors to post more often, and a group of independent local news sites is banding together to tell the world that they are not Patch, nor anything like it.

Reading roundup: As always, plenty of other stuff to get to this week.

— We mentioned a Pew report’s reference to the Drudge Report’s influence in last week’s review, and this week The New York Times’ David Carr marveled at Drudge’s continued success without many new-media bells and whistles. Poynter’s Julie Moos looked at Drudge’s traffic over the years, while the Washington Post disputed Pew’s numbers. ZDNet’s David Gewirtz had five lessons Drudge can teach the rest of the media world.

— A few paid-content items: A Nielsen survey on what people are willing to pay for various mobile services, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds on The New York Times’ events marketing for its pay plan, and the Lab’s Justin Ellis on paid-content lessons from small newspapers.

— A couple of tablet-related items: Next Issue Media, a joint effort of five publishers to sell magazines on tablets, released its first set of magazines on Google Android-powered Samsung Galaxy. And here at the Lab, Ken Doctor expounded on the iPad as the “missing link” in news’ digital evolution.

— Columbia University announced it will launch a local news site this summer focusing on accountability journalism, and the Lab’s Megan Garber gave some more details about what Columbia’s doing with it.

— The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner had an interesting conversation with Slate’s David Plotz about Slate’s aggregation efforts, and in response, Reuters’ Felix Salmon made the case for valuing aggregation skills in journalists.

— This weekend’s think piece is a musing by Maria Bustillos at The Awl on Wikipedia, Marshall McLuhan, communal knowledge-making, and the fate of the expert. Enjoy.

April 14 2011

18:00

What works for news orgs on Foursquare? Opinion, reviews, evergreens, but maybe not the news

Editor’s Note: At the International Symposium on Online Journalism earlier this month, one of the most interesting papers presented was from Tim Currie, an assistant journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Canada. His subject was newspapers’ use of the tips function in Foursquare to spread their content — what works and what doesn’t? And what does “works” even mean? I asked Tim to write a summary of his findings for the Lab; you can download the full paper here. I’ve also embedded his slide deck below.

Many news organizations, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Canada’s Metro chain of free dailies, began experimenting with the location-based social network Foursquare in 2010. They were adding editorial content — mainly restaurant reviews — as tips at locations that people could check into using the Foursquare app on their smartphone.

The newspapers were trying to explore what some social media editors have called a promising tool for news organizations. These journalists say Foursquare offers the possibility of targeted news distribution and finding on-the-scene human sources during breaking news events.

Online editors at these outlets were putting only a fraction of their paper’s editorial content into Foursquare; the number of tips left by each of these newspapers in early 2011 numbered, at most, in the low hundreds. So I was interested in determining what it was about the articles they did choose that editors thought worked well in this location-based service. I also wanted to know how editors were crafting the tips and what their goals were.

I chose Canada’s Postmedia Network as a case study subject because its member newspapers were among the most active in North America for placing editorial content into Foursquare. As of early March, Postmedia newspapers had 1,901 tips cumulatively in Foursquare. I studied three newspapers — the National Post, the Edmonton Journal and the Vancouver Sun — through in-depth interviews with the online editors that were responsible for putting content into this social network.

Asked to characterize the articles they placed into Foursquare, the editors used phrases such as “feature-y”, “evergreen”, “opinion”, “not hard-core news” and “useful to people over a longer period of time.” They cited successful efforts in using editorial content such as a film festival guide, a commentary on transit users and reviews of hip urban restaurants.

In general, the newspaper content they placed into Foursquare had at least one of these five characteristics:

An opinion, review, guide, or first-person account: The articles had a strong narrative voice and usually offered recommendations. The editors said they were using lots of restaurant reviews — but also travelogues and commentaries.

Described with the goal of inspiring action: The articles contained opinions selected specifically to inspire interaction. The editors chose editorial content likely to spark an emotional response in readers. They hoped this response would lead users to click the “I’ve Done This” or “Add This To My To-Do List” buttons in Foursquare — or begin a conversation in other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. The editors said they crafted their tips to highlight these opinions. One or two worked specifically to link editorial content with Foursquare’s interactive buttons. Some editors cited relatively weak functionality within Foursquare for discussion and traffic measurement. Consequently, they looked to push conversation to social services that had more robust support for interaction — and analytics.

Timeless — or about an event lasting more than 2 days: The editorial content had an “evergreen” quality” about it that made it relevant for a long period of time. Foursquare users value immediacy, the editors said, and articles about long-past events have little appeal. The editors said they rarely placed articles into Foursquare concerning events that took place on a single day. Some said they had initially placed profiles of single-day concerts at clubs or concert halls but ultimately found the workload demanding in light of low user response. One editor had also come to worry about “clogging up” entertainment venues with multiple tips. A majority of editors said they used articles about music festivals or sporting events — as long as the events ran for at least three days. One editor said that’s enough time to attract adequate attention within Foursquare and to use other social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to Foursquare.

About a specific location or an activity typically done at a location: Articles left as tips were about locations with a street address, such as a restaurant or a school offering a cooking class. However, they were also about activities typically done by people at a specific kind of location. For example, they were about things people do at light rapid transit stations or about issues of interest to people who shop at an Apple Store.

Placed at a location where people gather socially: Editors rarely placed articles at venues such as homes or small businesses. Instead they placed tips at venues where people gather in groups: at music and theater festivals, sports events, transportation hubs, educational classes — and restaurants. These are places where people interact in the real world and where the editors guessed people are likely to interact online as well.

News content rarely used

While most participants said they were open to the idea of putting news stories into Foursquare, few cited instances of doing it. One said it would be “jarring” to know someone had been robbed or beaten recently near where they were. This editor added that Foursquare’s nature as a tool for exploration (“unlock your city” is its slogan) was at odds with violent news content: “I think indicating where there have been shootings and where there are robberies would be indicating why you should stay in.”

The editors drew almost all of their articles from the newspaper or the website. They frequently used the headline or deck of a published article as their 200-character tip in Foursquare. Some, however, said they searched an article for vivid descriptions of physical surroundings or distinct flavours in a restaurant dish. They subsequently used these descriptions to craft a custom tip aimed at attracting a user who might be holding a menu or gazing around them.

A small number of editors said they were working with reporters to create content specifically for Foursquare — such as a guide to Christmas light displays in town or a list of travel tips integrated with Foursquare’s To-Do List. The aim was to prompt users to click Foursquare’s “Add This To My To-Do List” button or “I’ve Done This” button on each tip screen. However, some of the editors described these button-clicks as weak measurements of engagement. As one put it, “It’s an inaccurate term for what we have [published] because it isn’t really a ‘to do.’”

Here at the Lab, there’s been discussion about news organizations’ discomfort with the awkward nomenclature of social media sharing buttons, such as Facebook’s Like button. Buttons that signal agreement can be a tough fit with content from news organizations, which have been “traditional bringers of bad news.” There’s also been some emerging research, conducted by my colleagues at Dalhousie University and others, suggesting a link between positive emotion and online sharing.

The results of this study suggest editors have acknowledged this association. Their goal of promoting engagement seems to have influenced their selection of articles for use in Foursquare. They chose a narrow range of content that supported the mood of people out on the town, having a good time and looking to explore. In general, they indicated they looked for light-hearted recommendations users could mull over, not weighty, impartial reporting to digest.

This choice reflected an observation made by former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller at the conference at which this paper was delivered. She called the notion of platform agnosticism “misguided.” News organizations need to tailor their content to specific platforms, she said. In this study, there was indeed a certain type of newspaper content that Postmedia editors thought was suited to this particular social platform.

In other findings:

— Some editors said they formatted key points with bullet lists to help users view recommendations on small screens.

— None of the participants used Foursquare to find sources for stories.

— A majority said they regularly removed tips from Foursquare to avoid presenting users with out-of-date articles.

Goal is engagement, not monetization

None of the editors I spoke with had made any attempt to monetize Foursquare content. They all cited engagement as their primary goal, with one saying, “The ROI on this stuff is going to be five or 10 years. It’s getting people reading your stuff [now] who would never normally read it in any way, shape, or form.”

This study did not investigate audience numbers. All of the editors suggested their Foursquare audience was relatively small — in keeping with a study that pegged the number of Americans who use a location-based service with their mobile phone at 4 percent of online adults.

In general, the editors said their main goal was simply to be present where people interact with each other. They framed this presence in geographic terms: at venues where people use their phones while eating, playing, shopping, and travelling. They also said it was simply important to be present in the social media spaces populated by young, connected adults — such as Tumblr or Foursquare — even if those spaces aren’t yet crowded with users.

This study used a very small sample size — five editors at three news organizations controlled by a single company. One can’t extend these results to other location-based social networks or to the use of editorial content in location-based services generally. Much more research is needed.

February 28 2011

13:30

How to Remove Location Information from Mobile Photos

Prabhas Pokharel contributed research and writing to this post.

In a previous Idea Lab post, we described how to add location information to mobile content, including images and stories. For some reports, location information adds value, context, and interest to venue-specific reports. But today, we talk about how to remove that same location information. This is also detailed, step by step, in the screencast below.

There are many reasons why one would not want to include location information on content or images, but at the top of the list is the need for security and privacy. For journalists, citizen reporters, and activists to be secure in insecure regions -- especially when reporting in repressive media environments -- careful planning and strategic considerations are required.

How does location information get added to smartphone photos? All cell phones have a small amount of storage space on the SIM card. This is where contact information, call history, SMS messages, and, of course, mobile photos are saved. Most smartphones also store the time photos are taken and may include location information, such as the photos' latitude and longitude coordinates.

Step One: Check to see if location information is being captured.

The first step is to see if location information is, indeed, being captured and stored with your images. Most pictures from smartphones today have location information stored in the metadata.

To see whether there is location data stored in your photo, you will need to use a tool that reads location-based EXIF data. On most smartphones, you can check this via the photo gallery. From the gallery, press Menu to get details. If you can't tell from your camera or smartphone alone, you can also check on your computer.

On a Mac, open the image in Preview, click Tools, select the Inspector tab, and go to the GPS section where the latitude and longitude of the image are (potentially) shown.

In Windows, right click on the image, click Properties, select the Details tab, and scroll down to the GPS section, where location may be shown.

If neither of these options work, you can also use an EXIF viewer. Just upload the image in question, and the viewer can determine what, if any, location information is available. Again, if specific latitude and longitude information is available, it will be shown here.

Step Two: Remove the location data.

Once you know whether your image has location information attached to it, you can now go about removing it. The safest way to remove EXIF data is to upload your photo to the computer and remove the data using software.

This can be done with free or trial tools. For example, you can download a tool called PhotoLinker, which is designed to let you edit and remove location information.

To remove EXIF data in PhotoLinker, use the program to open the image and view its location information. You will also see a detailed map and a list of all other tagged data, including a timestamp. Using this software, you can remove or change the information under Photos/Remove GPS information, and re-save the image before sharing or publishing it. (Watch this in action in the screencast above.)

In addition to the location it comes from, EXIF data may also reveal other information about your phone such as its make and model. There may be instances where you want to retain certain information, while removing other data. For example, you may want to leave in the make and model of the phone as well as the date and time of the photo, but remove the location information.

Such selective editing of this EXIF data can be done. There are some apps available on iPhone and Android that offer EXIF manipulation on a device, such as EXIF Wizard and others.

Step Three: Check your defaults.

Another way to remove location data is to have your photo sharing site scrub the location information for you. The two most popular sites in the U.S., Facebook and Flickr, both do this. As of last year, it was the default policy on each service.

The Flickr policy can be accessed here. Under "Defaults for New Uploads," make sure that "Import EXIF location data" says "No." This will ensure that the default for new photos is to not import any location information that may be on the metadata for the image.

However, do note that for sensitive photographs, importing to Flickr still contains risks. The location data removal is done at Flickr's servers and anyone able to access your photograph while it is being uploaded to Flickr will be able to access its embedded location information.

The same is true of Facebook, which -- for now, at least -- strips location data off all images.

Do you have any additional experience using EXIF data? Do you have any stories about when removing location data came in handy -- or would have? Please leave your insights in the comments below.

January 28 2011

18:37

Net Tuesday Vancouver March 1: Location-Based Services

RSVP on Facebook or Meetup.com

Have you recently “checked-in” or fought for “mayorship” at your favourite restaurant or retail location? With Facebook recently launching its Facebook Places and Foursquare partnering with (RED), location-based services are definitely one of the trending topics in social media right now.

The topic for March is location-based services and how organizations can leverage the technology for social-change. We’re still in the process of curating speakers, so if you know anyone who is knowledgeable about these topics, please let us know at melody.yy.ma@gmail.com

Date: Tuesday, March 1
Doors: 5:30pm
Duration: 6:00 – 7:30pm
Venue: W2 Storyeum, 151 W Cordova. Vancouver, BC

Special thanks to Melody Ma for volunteering to be this month’s event producer

December 22 2010

16:05

How to Add Location Information to Mobile Content

Prabhas Pokharel contributed research and writing to this post.

If you're a journalist or blogger, adding location information to your content can add value to your work. This kind of data can be of particular help to journalists who report on specific communities, reporters who create venue-specific multimedia, or citizen journalists who cover events in which location is relevant.

Adding location information has many advantages. It provides more context. It also helps journalists and publishers find an interested audience because makes content more accessible for users searching for information regarding specific locations. Location information lends itself to aggregation, and content with location information can be put on maps and other visualizations, which makes it more appealing for audiences to examine. Through this, it can be used in pattern-finding. Finally, location information can leverage social media.

Location Uses

To help you get a handle on adding location information, I've identified some recent uses of location information:

  • The Online Journalism Blog showcased possibilities of using location reporting through Google latitude to present a geographic chronology of a parade.
  • Al Jazeera reporters traveled into the heart of the Sahara desert, and used location tagging to tell a photo story.
  • The Wall Street Journal has used location-based social media Foursquare in some experiments, using the platform for sharing news about Times Square bombings as well as restaurant reviews.
  • Neighborhood narratives invites students to share stories using cell phones, GPS devices, and social network games.
  • Locast is a location-based storytelling platform in which reporters and tourists tell their stories about a location using video and other tools.
  • SMS incident mapping has been used in various scenarios ranging from reports from natural disasters to tracking violent crime, citizen reporting in elections.

Geo-coding Addresses

mapmarker.jpgThe simplest way to tag content with location is to use a physical address.

Accessing location-based services on a mobile phone usually requires a smartphone that is programmable and has GPS and a data connection. For those without a smartphone, the simplest way of adding location information to content is to just use addresses and other geospatial information.

Street addresses, zip codes, and other geographical data can be converted to geographic coordinates using a process called geocoding. There are many services that will let you geocode addresses worldwide (better resources are available for the U.S.), although I'm unaware of any that you can use on a mobile without data access. GeoNames works well on a mobile web browser. There are several other geocoding APIs available that allow web and SMS applications to be built on top of them.

Automatic Location

Another option is to let software on your mobile phone automatically find your location. Doing this requires a phone that has GPS hardware, or one that can run software that can access your network setting.

Publishing this content to a blogging platform is the easiest way to include location. Some publishing platforms offer support through the mobile web, while others have location support when you use their apps. Besides blogging and microblogging tools, there are also specifically location-based social networking tools like Brightkite, Google Latitude, Gypsii, Foursquare, Gowalla, and many more. While these may not be designed for publishing significant content beyond location, they can often be used for journalistic purposes.

Another more tech-savvy approach is to develop an application that can access your mobile's location. This can either be done by accessing the handset's GPS directly, or by using a web application that interfaces with a location-aware API. One particularly useful starting point is the open source gReporter tool. Another useful starting point is a location-based platform with an open API, like Google Latitude. By building an application using Google Latitude API, you can use the apps and features Latitude users already use for reporting location, and do something interesting with the location data. Yahoo offers a similar location-based API with Fireeagle.

Platform Considerations

In order to produce interesting location-based reports, journalists need to think about the online platform where the information is aggregated and displayed, in addition to the mobile phone that is uploading location information. This parade, for example, uses Google Latitude very creatively. Many tools will not be built for journalism or for publishing; but with a bit of creativity, you can use them to publish interesting and effective location-based stories.

Of course, there are limitations to adding location information to mobile content. Most importantly are security and privacy issues -- especially when reporting in repressive media environments.

Photo by Mooi via Flickr.

October 27 2010

13:15

Discovering Co-location Communities – Tweets Near Wherever…

As privacy erodes further and further, and more and more people start to reveal where they using location services, how easy is it to identify communities based on location, say, rather than hashtag? That is, how easy is it to find people who are colocated in space, rather than topic, as in the hashtag communities? VEry easy, it turns out…

One of the things I’ve been playing with lately is “community detection”, particularly in the context of people who are using a particular hashtag on Twitter. The recipe in that case runs something along the lines of: find a list of twitter user names for people using a particular hashtag, then grab their Twitter friends lists and look to see what community structures result (e.g. look for clusters within the different twitterers). The first part of that recipe is key, and generalisable: find a list of twitter user names

So, can we create a list of names based on co-location? Yep – easy: Twitter search offers a “near:” search limit that lets you search in the vicinity of a location.

Here’s a Yahoo Pipe to demonstrate the concept – Twitter hyperlocal search with map output:

Pipework for twitter hyperlocal search with map output

And here’s the result:

Twitter local trend

It’s easy enough to generate a widget of the result – just click on the Get as Badge link to get the embeddable widget code, or add the widget direct to a dashboard such as iGoogle:

Yahoo pipes map badge

(Note that this pipe also sets the scene for a possible demo of a “live pipe”, e.g. one that subscribes to searches via pubsubhubbub, so that whenever a new tweet appears it’s pushed to the pipe, and that makes the output live, for example by using a webhook.)

Something else that could be useful for community detection is to search through the localised tweets for popular hashtags. Whilst we could probably do this in a separate pipe (left as an exercise for the reader), maybe by using a regular expression to extract hashtags and then the unique block filtering on hashtags to count the reoccurrences, here’s a Python recipe:

import simplejson, urllib

def getYahooAppID():
  appid='YOUR_YAHOO_APP_ID_HERE'
  return appid

def placemakerGeocodeLatLon(address):
  encaddress=urllib.quote_plus(address)
  appid=getYahooAppID()
  url='http://where.yahooapis.com/geocode?location='+encaddress+'&flags=J&appid='+appid
  data = simplejson.load(urllib.urlopen(url))
  if data['ResultSet']['Found']>0:
    for details in data['ResultSet']['Results']:
      return details['latitude'],details['longitude']
  else:
    return False,False

def twSearchNear(tweeters,tags,num,place='mk7 6aa,uk',term='',dist=1):
  t=int(num/100)
  page=1
  lat,lon=placemakerGeocodeLatLon(place)
  while page<=t:
    url='http://search.twitter.com/search.json?geocode='+str(lat)+'%2C'+str(lon)+'%2C'+str(1.0*dist)+'km&rpp=100&page='+str(page)+'&q=+within%3A'+str(dist)+'km'
    if term!='':
      url+='+'+urllib.quote_plus(term)

    page+=1
    data = simplejson.load(urllib.urlopen(url))
    for i in data['results']:
      u=i['from_user'].strip()
      if u in tweeters:
        tweeters[u]['count']+=1
      else:
        tweeters[u]={}
        tweeters[u]['count']=1
      ttags=re.findall("#([a-z0-9]+)", i['text'], re.I)
      for tag in ttags:
        if tag not in tags:
    	  tags[tag]=1
    	else:
    	  tags[tag]+=1

  return tweeters,tags

''' Usage:
tweeters={}
tags={}
num=100 #number of search results, best as a multiple of 100 up to max 1500
location='PLACE YOU WANT TO SEARCH AROUND'
term='OPTIONAL SEARCH TERM TO NARROW DOWN SEARCH RESULTS'
tweeters,tags=twSearchNear(tweeters,tags,num,location,searchTerm)
'''

What this code does is:
- use Yahoo placemaker to geocode the address provided;
- search in the vicinity of that area (note to self: allow additional distance parameter to be set; currently 1.0 km)
- identify the unique twitterers, as well as counting the number of times they tweeted in the search results;
- identify the unique tags, as well as counting the number of times they appeared in the search results.

Here’s an example output for a search around “Bath University, UK”:

Having got the list of Twitterers (as discovered by a location based search), we can then look at their social connections as in the hashtag community visualisations:

Community detected around Bath U.. Hmm,,, people there who shouldnlt be?!

And wondering why the likes @pstainthorp and @martin_hamilton appear to be in Bath? Is the location search broken, picking up stale data, or some other error….? Or is there maybe a UKOLN event on today I wonder..?

PS Looking at a search near “University of Bath” in the web based Twitter search, it seems that: a) there arenlt many recent hits; b) the search results pull up tweets going back in time…

Which suggests to me:
1) the code really should have a time window to filter the tweets by time, e.g. excluding tweets that are more than a day or even an hour old; (it would be so nice if Twitter search API offered a since_time: limit, although I guess it does offer since_id, and the web search does offer since: and until: limits that work on date, and that could be included in the pipe…)
2) where there aren’t a lot of current tweets at a location, we can get a profile of that location based on people who passed through it over a period of time?


May 12 2010

15:00

Location, location, etc: What does the WSJ’s Foursquare check-in say about the future of location in news?

It was the Foursquare check-in heard ’round the world. Or, at least, ’round the future-of-news Twitterverse. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal checked in to the platform’s Times Square venue with some breaking news:

The headline that screenshot-taker dpstyles appended to the image is correct: the real-time, geo-targeted news update was, really, a pretty amazing use of the Foursquare platform.

It wasn’t the first time that the Journal, via its Greater New York section, has leveraged Foursquare’s location-based infrastructure for news delivery purposes. The outlet has done more with Foursquare than the much-discussed implementation of its branded badges; it has also been making regular use of the Tips function of Foursquare, which allows users to send short, location based updates — including links — to their followers. The posts range from the food-recommendation stuff that’s a common component of Tips (“@Tournesol: The distinctively French brunches here feature croques madames and monsieurs and steak frites. After dining, check out the Manhattan skyline in Gantry State Park”) to more serious, newsy fare:

@ The middle of the Hudson River: Remember the Miracle on the Hudson? Well, investigators aren’t saying that Captain “Sully” shouldn’t have landed in the river, but he probably didn’t need to. [Link])

@ George Washington Bridge: Police were told to stop and search would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi’s car in Sept. 2009 as he drove up to the bridge — but waved him across without finding two pounds of explosives hidden inside. [Link]

@ Old Homestead Steakhouse: Kobe beef, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, was pulled from the menu after Japanese cows tested positive for foot-and-mouth disease. [Link]

The general idea is, essentially, curation by way of location: geo-targeting, news dissemination edition. “You get these tips because you’re nearby,” Zach Seward, the WSJ’s outreach editor (and, of course, the late, great Lab-er) told me. “So at least in theory, that’s when you’re most interested in knowing about them.”

The Journal’s use of the check-in feature for a breaking-news story, however, suggests a shift in the platform/content relationship implied in the info-pegged-to-places structure. “Times Square evacuated” is a legitimate news item, of course, in most any context; but it’s particularly legitimate to people who happen to be in Times Square at the moment the news breaks. The Journal’s check-in acknowledged and then leveraged that fact — and, in that, changed the value proposition of location in the context of news delivery. In its previous tips, the location had been pretty much incidental to the information — a clever excuse, basically, to share a piece of news about a particular place (see, again: “The middle of the Hudson river“). In the Times Square check-in, though, the information shared was vitally connected to the physical space it referred to. Location wasn’t merely a conduit for information; it was the information. Proximity’s previously weak tie to content became a strong one.

In other words, as Seward explains of the Times Square check-in: “If you’re following the Journal, and you’re in New York, you’re going to see this at the top of your timeline on your Foursquare app. And if you’re not in New York, you’re not going to see it — or you’re not going to see it at the top. And that makes perfect sense.” Because, again: “That idea that you want to be informed about what’s around you is the fundamental principle that Foursquare is operating on.”

Whether Foursquare itself is an effective venue for a news outlet’s realization of that principle is a different issue. There are certainly advantages to Foursquare for location-aware news — its built-in user base, for one. Its curatorial power, for another. (“One really specific way in which it’s ideal,” Seward says, “is that the whole platform is designed around only telling you what’s in your vicinity.” It focuses, myopically and straightforwardly, on the near — filtering out the far.) For users, then, Foursquare-as-news-platform suggests a river whose width is narrow, whose content is familiar — and whose current is as such readily navigable.

And for news organizations, it offers a relatively organic approach to the problem of content presentation. “Generally, whether it’s in print or online, or any platform for a news organization, you have one opportunity to decide how important a story is — and give it a huge, assassinations-sized banner headline, or a small little bullet, or whatever in between,” Seward points out. “But with local news in particular, the relevancy, and the importance, varies widely, often based on where you are, and/or where you live.” A location-based infrastructure for news delivery provides, among other things, “an opportunity to make that adjustment.”

Which is not to say that Foursquare itself is ideal for those purposes. The Journal’s use of tips and, now, check-ins, Seward says, “is a bit of a hack of a system that wasn’t created for brands.” The Journal is still, according to Foursquare, located in Times Square — via a check-in clarifying that Friday’s bomb scare had been a false alarm — and until the outlet’s editors decide that there’s another story worth checking in to, it will remain that way. “Because that’s just how Foursquare works.”

There’s also the “how Foursquare works” in the more ephemeral sense. Whether you’re a badge-laden multi-mayor or find the platform to be an unholy union of the mobile web and Troop Beverly Hills, Foursquare has defined its identity, at least in its early existence, by a feature that has been both its key limitation and its key asset: the purity of its socialness. Foursquare is fun. It’s peer-to-peer. Even more importantly, it’s pal-to-pal.

The Journal’s presence on Foursquare — and, further, its leveraging of the platform for purposes of news dissemination and (oof!) branded information — adds some tension to that freewheeling spirit. (As Adam Clark Estes, The Huffington Post’s citizen journalism editor, put it: “Does @WSJ sending news alerts via @foursquare clog the utility/fun? Or challenge Twitter?”) News content, almost by inertia, has a way of infiltrating nearly every major social media platform; there’s an is nothing sacred? aspect to the criticisms of outlets’ imposition of themselves on the board-game-writ-real that is Foursquare.

That’s something Seward is well aware of. “Perhaps more than Twitter, people use Foursquare in a really personal way,” he says. “They limit who they’re following to people they actually know, and they’re expecting to see their friends there.” So it might well be jarring to find a news organization’s tips and check-ins mixed into a timeline with the personal ones. (Then again, he points out, users “can choose or not choose to have those updates pushed to them.” So that mixture, like the updates themselves, is an opt-in scenario.) And then there’s the issue of a check-in suggesting a reporter’s physical presence on the scene of a news story: How should news outlets navigate that implication? They’re “good questions,” Seward says — even as he downplays the check-in’s significance in the greater scheme of things. (“Foursquare just announced that it now has over 40 million check-ins,” Seward notes, making the Times Square update “just one of 40 million check-ins in its history.”) Still, one little check-in can suggest a lot. Location-based news — its potential and its pitfalls — is something that the Journal and, now, other outlets will likely continue to grapple with as they find their own place in the new media landscape.

March 12 2010

21:53

4-Minute Roundup: The Rising Buzz of Location Services at SXSW

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the growing interest in geo-location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, especially as the South by Southwest conference begins in Austin, Texas. Now, Twitter and Facebook are both preparing to add geo-location to their services as well, and Google already has Latitude and Buzz that can show your location. But will this become a mainstream phenomenon or just a pastime for the tech-savvy in-crowd? I talk to analyst Greg Sterling to find out more.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio31210.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Facebook's Coming Location Service - Feature for Users, Platform for Apps at Inside Facebook

Just In Time For The Location Wars, Twitter Turns On Geolocation On Its Website at TechCrunch

Facebook Will Allow Users to Share Location at NY Times Bits blog

Vicarious.ly - SimpleGeo's One Location-Based Stream To Visualize Them All at TechCrunch

Facebook, Twitter Ready Location-Based Features at PC World

Facebook Isn't For Real Life Friends Anymore, Says Foursquare's Dennis Crowley at Business Insider

Foursquare, Gowalla and the future of geo-location at the Telegraph

In geolocation wars, SXSWi is mere skirmish at CNET

6 Thoughts About Location Madness at ReadWriteWeb

What Are the Legal Implications of PleaseRobMe? at MediaShift

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think geo-location services:




What do you think of geo-location services like Foursquare?surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

15:00

This Week in Review: Plagiarism and the link, location and context at SXSW, and advice for newspapers

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

The Times, plagiarism and the link: A few weeks ago, the resignations of two journalists from The Daily Beast and The New York Times accused of plagiarism had us talking about how the culture of the web affects that age-old journalistic sin. That discussion was revived this week by the Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, whose postmortem on the Zachery Kouwe scandal appeared Sunday. Hoyt concluded that the Times “owes readers a full accounting” of how Kouwe’s plagiarism occurred, and he also called out DealBook, the Times’ business blog for which Kouwe wrote, questioning its hyper-competitive nature and saying it needs more oversight. (In an accompanying blog post, Hoyt also said the Times needs to look closer at implementing plagiarism prevention software.)

Reuters’ Felix Salmon challenged Hoyt’s assertion, saying that the Times’ problem was not that its ethics were too steeped in the ethos of the blogosphere, but that they aren’t bloggy enough. Channeling CUNY prof Jeff Jarvis’ catchphrase “Do what you do best and link to the rest,” Salmon chastised Kouwe and other Times bloggers for rewriting stories that other online news organizations beat them to, rather than simply linking to them. “The problem, here, is that the bloggers at places like the NYT and the WSJ are print reporters, and aren’t really bloggers at heart,” Salmon wrote.

Michael Roston made a similar argument at True/Slant the first time this came up, and ex-newspaperman Mathew Ingram strode to Salmon’s defense this time with an eloquent defense of the link. It’s not just a practice for geeky insiders, he argues; it’s “a fundamental aspect of writing for the web.” (Also at True/Slant, Paul Smalera made a similar Jarvis-esque argument.) In a lengthy Twitter exchange with Salmon, Times editor Patrick LaForge countered that the Times does link more than most newspapers, and Kouwe was an exception.

Jason Fry, a former blogger for the Wall Street Journal, agreed with Ingram and Smalera, but theorizes that the Times’ linking problem is not so much a refusal to play by the web’s rules as “an unthinking perpetuation of print values that are past their sell-by date.” Those values, he says, are scoops, which, as he argued further in a more sports-centric column, readers on the web just don’t care about as much as they used to.

Location prepares for liftoff: The massive music/tech gathering South By Southwest (or, in webspeak, SXSW) starts today in Austin, Texas, so I’m sure you’ll see a lot of ideas making their way from Austin to next week’s review. If early predictions are any indication, one of the ideas we’ll be talking about is geolocation — services like Foursquare and Gowalla that use your mobile device to give and broadcast location-specific information to and about you. In anticipation of this geolocation hype, CNET has given us a pre-SXSW primer on location-based services.

Facebook jump-started the location buzz by apparently leaking word to The New York Times that it’s going to unveil a new location-based feature next month. Silicon Alley Insider does a quick pro-and-con rundown of the major location platforms, and ReadWriteWeb wonders whether Facebook’s typically privacy-guarding users will go for this.

The major implication of this development for news organizations, I think, is the fact that Facebook’s jump onto the location train is going to send it hurtling forward far, far faster than it’s been going. Within as little as a year, location could go from the domain of early-adopting smartphone addicts to being a mainstream staple of social media, similar to the boom that Facebook itself saw once it was opened beyond college campuses. That means news organizations have to be there, too, developing location-based methods of delivering news and information. We’ve known for a while that this was coming; now we know it’s close.

The future of context: South By Southwest also includes bunches of fascinating tech/media/journalism panels, and one of them that’s given us a sneak preview is Monday’s panel called “The Future of Context.” Two of the panelists, former web reporter and editor Matt Thompson and NYU professor Jay Rosen, have published versions of their opening statements online, and both pieces are great food for thought. Thompson’s is a must-read: He describes the difference between day-to-day headline- and development-oriented information about news stories that he calls “episodic” and the “systemic knowledge” that forms our fundamental framework for understanding an issue. Thompson notes how broken the traditional news system’s way of intertwining those two forms of knowledge are, and he asks us how we can do it better online.

Rosen’s post is in less of a finished format, but it has a number of interesting thoughts, including a quick rundown of reasons that newsrooms don’t do explanatory journalism better. Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls ties together both Rosen’s and Thompson’s thoughts and talks a bit more about the centrality of stories in pulling all that information together.

Tech execs’ advice for newspapers: Traditional news organizations got a couple of pieces of advice this week from two relatively big-time folks in the tech world. First, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen gave an interview with TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld in which he told newspaper execs to “burn the boats” and commit wholeheartedly to the web, rather than finding way to prop up modified print models. He used the iPad as a litmus test for this philosophy, noting that “All the new [web] companies are not spending a nanosecond on the iPad or thinking of ways to charge for content. The older companies, that is all they are thinking about.”

Not everyone agreed: Newspaper Death Watch’s Paul Gillin said publishers’ current strategy, which includes keeping the print model around, is an intelligent one: They’re milking the print-based profits they have while trying to manage their business down to a level where they can transfer it over to a web-based model. News business expert Alan Mutter offered a more pointed counterargument: “It doesn’t take a certifiable Silicon Valley genius to see that no business can walk away from some 90% of its revenue base without imploding.”

Second, Google chief economist Hal Varian spoke at a Federal Trade Commission hearing about the economics of newspapers, advising newspapers that rather than charging for online content, they should be experimenting like crazy. (Varian’s summary and audio are at Google’s Public Policy Blog, and the full text, slides and Martin Langeveld’s summary are here at the Lab. Sync ‘em up and you can pretty much recreate the presentation yourself.) After briefly outlining the status of newspaper circulation and its print and online advertising, Varian also suggests that newspapers make better use of the demographic information they have of their online readers. Over at GigaOM, Mathew Ingram seconds Varian’s comments on engagement, imploring newspapers to actually use the interactive tools that they already have at their sites.

Reading roundup: We’ll start with our now-weekly summary of iPad stuff: Apple announced last week that you can preorder iPads as of today, and they’ll be released April 3. That could be only the beginning — an exec with the semiconductor IP company ARM told ComputerWorld we could see 50 similar tablet devices out this year. Multimedia journalist Mark Luckie urged media outlets to develop iPad apps, and Mac and iPhone developer Matt Gemmell delved into the finer points of iPad app design. (It’s not “like an iPhone, only bigger,” he says.)

I have two long, thought-provoking pieces on journalism, both courtesy of the Columbia Journalism Review. First, Megan Garber (now with the Lab) has a sharp essay on the public’s growing fixation on authorship that’s led to so much mistrust in journalism — and how journalists helped bring that fixation on. It’s a long, deep-thinking piece, but it’s well worth reading all the way through Garber’s cogent argument. Her concluding suggestions for news orgs regarding authority and identity are particularly interesting, with nuggets like “Transparency may be the new objectivity; but we need to shift our definition of ‘transparency’: from ‘the revelation of potential biases,’ and toward ‘the revelation of the journalistic process.’”

Second, CJR has the text of Illinois professor Robert McChesney’s speech this week to the FTC, in which he makes the case for a government subsidy of news organizations. McChesney and The Nation’s John Nichols have made this case in several places with a new book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” on the shelves, but it’s helpful to have a comprehensive version of it in one spot online.

Finally, the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles has a simple tip for newspaper publishers looking to stave off their organizations’ decline: Learn to understand technology from the consumer’s perspective. That means, well, consuming technology. Niles provides a to-do list you can hand to your bosses to help get them started.

January 30 2010

12:54

January 29 2010

15:00

December 14 2009

17:26

Lessons Learned From Launch of CityCircles Beta Site

In the journey to launch our CityCircles beta site, we encountered many bumps in the road that turned out to be valuable lessons, and important opportunities. Below is some of what we've learned.

And for those not familiar with our project, here's a description of what we're building:

CityCircles is a collaborative platform where users and journalists work together to create and share information around each light-rail stop in the Phoenix metro area. That includes news, events, promotions, classifieds and social networking. There's even a community improvement tool that helps our users create, join and accomplish projects that make the city a better place for everyone. Think of us as the context that makes your urban experience more meaningful, your digital sidekick in the city.

Listen More Than You Talk

In order to start building awareness and spread the word about CityCircles, we hosted a few "community preview" events in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. Needless to say, we were humbled by the turnout at these events. These events gave us the chance to discuss our project with people and potential users in a more intimate setting. We gathered meaningful feedback that helped us prioritize and develop the features and functions we would soon roll out on the site.

It was very interesting to observe how different target groups got excited about different features and functions. For example, Arizona State University students were most interested in the events and promotions going on around each light rail stop. Citizens living around the rail were very intrigued by our "Fix It" function, which allows users to post community improvement projects and organize groups around those projects.

We also began to realize how crucial it is to develop a mobile version of CityCircles. We are now focusing our efforts on making that happen. A smartphone app is definitely in our plans as well. However, we're not as concerned with that right now because our market research showed that nearly 80 percent of our target audience does not yet have a smartphone!

Learn From the Competition

When we first started out, over a year ago, we didn't notice anyone else doing what we were setting out to do: deliver geographically-based information and build communities around that information.

Now it seems that competitors and substitutes are popping up everywhere. From FourSquare, to the smartphone app Where and CityVantage, we started to get intimidated! However, we are doing things differently from what's currently out there. We need to focus on what makes us different -- such as our team -- and continue to foster the relationships we've been building with our constituents. We also need to learn from what these sites are doing right and follow their example.

Ours is still very much a work in progress, and we are constantly learning -- that's the exciting thing about starting a new venture! We welcome any advice and feedback from anyone else who has gone through the process.

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