Broadcastr’s Lindenbaum on ‘Putting the Web Back Into the World’

Location is everywhere today, from geo-targeted and coupons to locating people and businesses around your mobile device. But location is also starting to influence how content is distributed. Broadcastr, an app that matched audio content to locations in cities, is undergoing a major redesign. The company has a new app coming out at the end of this month, which will be available in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, and it promises to up the ante where it comes to making content more location-relevant.

The company’s co-founder and president, Scott Lindenbaum (who will give a presentation on day two of the upcoming Street Fight Summit in New York)  talked to us recently about the interplay of content and location on mobile, and how publishers need to rethink what location means for media. 

What do you think the value is in tying multimedia content to a location? How does this change the way people think about location?
For 20 years, we’ve had a number of content providers digitize their content. All these blogs and publications, basically they have all this expert content that has been discoverable in two ways: One, of course, by SEO and keyword discovery, and then you’ve got social recommendations.

These days, around 35 percent of online media is consumed on mobile devices which are location-aware. So the way that we see it is: there are already thousands of publishers in every major metropolitan city in America that know how to write about location, but they don’t index their content by location. Our idea is that you’ve got all this great stuff already, and what you’ve got to do is find a way to put the web back into the world, instead of what we’ve done for 20 years which is take the world for inspiration and create content and put it up on the web.

Now, if you can index content by place, and you can take into consideration theme, user history, social metrics and all these other things, you can deliver it in a way that surfaces it just by opening an app on your phone. We believe that as more and more computing becomes location-aware, and this need persists to read about place and read about local color, there’s a natural progression to say there must be an easier way for people to get better content about their city.

So when people are looking for content, they’re incorporating the context of where they into that are as well?
Yeah. It may be conscious or it may be unconscious, but what we know is that the expectation for discovery of content is one that continues to rise. At a certain point people are expecting content that is perfect for them to just already be there for them. So, the more factors we can take into consideration in order to deliver on those expectations, the better we’re going to be.

Location is one of those things and we know people are inherently interested in where they are.  Now, that doesn’t just mean your block — we found only about 7 percent of people were standing in a place and then said “let me access and consume content about the place I’m standing in right now.” So even though everyone we talked to said “oh it would be so amazing to stand on the Brooklyn Bridge and read about the Brooklyn Bridge,” it was a great concept but it didn’t actually happen in practice. We realized all these ideas about location are a little bit backwards. In that, indexing by place is a little bit more general right now, you have to start at a city level. Taking location to heavily into consideration, what you end up getting is a very small pool of content to draw from and a very negative user experience.

The expectation for discovery of content is one that continues to rise. At a certain point people are expecting content that is perfect for them to just already be there for them. — Scott Lindenbaum

So people and companies need to start thinking about location a bit more broadly?
Absolutely. I think that location has been a very particular idea, but it’s not so much an idea as it is a tool. We still do the same thing we’ve done for hundreds of years. We either communicate, we discover, or consume. We express ourselves and we look for other people’s opinions. These are still the same things we do nowadays. The question is how we do them. So the idea of location as a new thing we do, I think it’s thought of that way because it’s a very fresh variable. But ultimately its not a new thing we do it’s just a tool that can help us do the things we already do a little bit better.

Broadcastr is in the middle of a big shift and change in product. What are the changes you’re making and where did they come from?
We learned a couple of things beyond “everyone says they’ll listen to or consume content about the Chrysler building when they’re at it, and no one actually does that.” That was a big big learning moment for us. We learned two other things that were really important in changing the direction of the company.

One: I went out to California and studied with a Stanford Professor who has different theories about how behavioral psychology and positive reinforcement training factor into the user experience, particularly on mobile devices. The general idea here is that on mobile devices, the apps that are on these devices are courting specific behaviors from you. You think about it as something you interact with and get something back from. All the successful applications that are in the marketplace today create behaviors and at a certain point those behaviors become habits and then those users are retained.  So no matter how interesting your concept is, like Broadcastr, which is a totally interesting concept — unless you can turn accessing that content into a habit, it does not matter.

When we looked at Broadcastr, we had this huge problem. Listening to audio content the way that you would sort of tap into the spirit or nature of a location was not a behavior that people by and large were already doing. So no one needed that to be easier for them to do.  We had to pivot and ask ourselves questions more like: “We already know that a huge number of people are already motivated to find local content. How do we make finding it easier? And what does local content mean to them?”

What is the future of location and content?
Whatever happens today around location is going to 100 percent power the next evolution in computing. If you look at the trajectory we’re on, right now we’re tapping on screens and we’re carrying them around with us. Google Glass and other projects like it, are kind of suggesting that the next evolution is wearable computing. Whatever it may be, you’re wearing it and your computing is literally happening out in the world in front of you, not in the palm of your hand. It’s because looking through the content out into the world is a much safer and more intuitive way to consume it then taking your eyes off of what you’re doing to look at a screen.

The thing is, there’s going to be no content in the world for you to see when this happens until the content we have is indexed in that way. So, even though people may think, “What’s this location stuff really about?” At the end of the day, when it’s indexed, it can be part of that new wave of computing.

Isa Jones is an assistant editor at Street Fight.

Meet Scott Lindenbaum and hundreds of other top-tier hyperlocal industry executives at Street Fight Summit 2012 on October 30th and 31st in New York. Tickets are selling fast — reserve your place today!