Last week I saw someone wearing a shirt that said “Think Globally. Act Locally. Eat Noodles.” The noodles part still confuses me, but I think the rest of the message does a really good job of summarizing what I want digital media to facilitate. It seems that the key to bringing local into the inherently non-physical Internet is Geotagging and geographic interfaces. These technologies open up some innovative ways to present stories, but before looking at this idea more closely I’m going to describe the current situation from the perspective of one 21 year old media consumer in the hopes that it will illustrate the need that I’m trying to address.
How I currently approach the News
When I enter “look at the news” mode I have two main desires. The first is to find out what is going on that I might care about. The second is to do this as efficiently as possible so I can get on with my life. There are some other more minor goals – entertainment, knowledge of about a specific topic – but I’ll ignore those for now. So what do I do?
I can visit an aggregation system like Digg or Google News. This saves me a lot of trouble by bringing information to me under one roof. I can also visit a large media organization site which offers a similar service in a different way. The problem with these sites, as you might expect, is that they are tailored to a global audience and don’t do a good job of handling niche interests like a specific physical community. I go to them anyway though, since I have been hearing about the “Global Community” all my life and I feel that I need to be at least somewhat aware of these wider issues. Plus it is easy enough to browse a few headlines.
If I want to read local news, I can visit a local paper’s website or a hyper-local blog. This will tell me plenty about my back yard and fill some of the informational gaps from the existing aggregation and mainstream sites. Unfortunately, finding that kind of content takes time and prior knowledge about where to look. I’m sure some people have a list of sites they check for updates on local news or they are simply willing to spend time looking, but these sources are too spread out for my liking and local aggregation systems leave a lot to be desired. This means that I end up living with my global/partial picture and assume that someone will let me know if anything interesting happens nearby.
With this setup the global usually wins out while the local is underutilized, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s just that that caring isn’t all that counts. Even if I did decide to take the time to sniff out and read about the latest Pittsburgh news, what about my home town of Cheltenham where my family lives, or the cities of my friends from high school? Heck, I wouldn’t have a chance at finding everything that matters even if I had all day; information overload at its best.
A solution in sight
The situation I described above is far from ideal, so how can we give our readers quick access to all the news they care about, including physically relevant news? Earlier I mentioned Geotagging, and I feel this is a big piece of the puzzle. Articles that are systematically linked to relevant physical locations can be displayed and filtered in new ways, adding a whole new dynamic to the user experience. That is a great starting point, but it isn’t an end-all-be-all solution. To see what I mean by this, spend a few minutes checking out YourStreet. If you are like me at all you will soon be frustrated at the fact that you can only find things by physical location. Similar to Wii News, it’s a nice tech demo, but it isn’t exactly a killer app.
What is missing? How can Geotagging be used to counter my lazy consumer tendencies? It will take more than a slick Google Map mash-up. In fact, it may well take more than what Google Maps has to offer right now. If only there was a well defined – oh wait, I just found a list!
For Geotagging functionality to be anything more than a cool widget, it must also…
- Let users to define and save multiple areas of interest.
- Support physically defined regions.
- Account for more than just the hyper-local or the global scope.
- Incorporate proven organization schemes like topical categorization.
- Include news that is tagged to multiple locations, irrelevant locations, or no location at all.
- Feature a truly great interface that supports everything on this list.
I plan on dedicating at least one post to each of these points. I also assume the list will grow over time. Can you think of anything else?