We know about the power and popularity of geolocation in commercial hyperlocal platforms like Foursquare and Waze. Now it’s coming to community news, and it promises to make the consumption of news much more engaging. Geolocation technology not only offers publishers opportunities to guide walking users to the places where news has happened, or is still happening, but also to nearby businesses whose ads can show up right next to the articles.
Bloom for Publishers is the plugin that allows any community news site to bring the immediacy of geolocation to accidents, fires, crime and anything else that’s happening in the community. It was developed by brothers Stephen and Matthew Jefferson, coders by training who have made journalistic geolocation their project as Tow-Knight Enterpreneurial Journalism Fellows in 2016.
In this Q & A, Stephen Jefferson shows how Bloom for Publishers give readers a “personal, local experience” without leaving the publisher’s website:
Neighborhood and other local news generally isn’t always as exciting as national and international news can be. How does what you’re doing change that?
If community publishers focus on showing how their local news is important to residents, then I think that will naturally increase excitement and loyalty to their content.
Bloom for Publishers is a website plugin for community publishers that helps highlight the importance of local news by comparing the story’s location with the reader’s location. The plugin provides an easy way for publishers to geotag and target stories to specific locations in the neighborhood and customize local search for readers. Bloom then makes it convenient for readers to keep up with news happening in real places they care about. The plugin adds this local search directly into the publisher’s website where the user can find events happening within walking distance on the weekend and get alerted about crime happening in their own neighborhood or even on their block. Now that’s exciting!
When users can see the actual location of a new event, what can that contribute that a text article (with perhaps a map and photograph) can’t?
It contributes familiarity. In addition to the street address of an event or average news story, Bloom also shows the proximity from the reader’s location. This makes the reader more familiar and attracted to the writing, which increases their chances of sharing it with friends and coming back to that source.
Imagine reading an article about a film premiere, for example. What will catch your attention is what’s familiar; maybe a film title and celebrity name. If the author uses Bloom to label the location of this story, it’s likely the reader will recognize that neighborhood or street. Bloom’s search is then able prioritize and present these stories for them based on their current location or location they’re interested in, acting as a personal butler for any page on the publisher’s website.
Can geolocation work with a variety of news stories?
A study conducted by Bloom reveals 85% of news is dependent on geographic information. It also found that 98% of all articles published by city-focused newspapers were location dependent and 86% of dependent articles from city-focused newspapers discussed a specific address.
What does Bloom for Publishers offer that Google Maps can’t?
We set out to make local reporting a more targeted and real-time experience beyond what current mapping plugins, like Google Maps, aim to provide. Bloom for Publishers empowers the user to pinpoint where they are and then the stories are brought to them. It’s like Pokémon Go for journalism. Users can now walk around to different locations and see what events, what news or crime stories have been reported around them.
Your brother Matt says in a news release “We’ve…built our plugins to read directly from the meta tags rather than blindly interpreting keywords or querying a database.” For non-techies, why is that significant for community news publishers?
Meta tags are website metadata that are significant for SEO and multi-site collaboration (i.e. sharing links online). An example that really shows the purpose of meta tags is Open Graph, a schema defined by Facebook. When you share a link on Facebook, you see that it immediately pulls the title, image, date, content and more from that web page. It’s reading meta tags to easily decipher exactly what that page is about. And, as a result, websites can communicate with each other and deliver better user experiences.
Matt was talking about how Bloom automatically adds the story’s location to meta tags on the publisher’s website. It’s an extra feature that makes it easy for the location to be read as it’s shared on social networks and in search results. This saves time that it would take to run a complex process of finding an address in a paragraph or looking in a database for the location.
You’re doing a live test with BK Reader, which covers a number of communities in Brooklyn. Have you and BK Reader discovered that editors or reporters can do things with Bloom for Publishers that you didn’t realize at the start?
We have discovered a lot since the Bloom for Publishers launched in Brooklyn last month. We know this tool creates many new opportunities and we’ve already had conversations with BK Reader about new features we could experiment with.
There are a few things that have surprised us along the way that we didn’t expect. It was a challenge for BK Reader to create the habit of specifying each story’s location. We made this process easy for WordPress, but it took a little while for them to get the hang of it.
We’re also learning how analytics can be derived from these tools. So far, BK Reader has been able to follow where their reporting coverage falls short in the community based on the behavior and interests of their local readers. This insight is extremely useful. The tool introduces new ways to understand their local readership and we have both realized that it will be an ongoing learning process.
Can this be a game-changer for community sites?
It’s a game-changer in that it makes local news more engaging and relevant to readers. For local businesses, we can use proximity to integrate advertisements into the equation at some point in the future. With a story and business that reside on the same block or neighborhood, they could be matched together respectively. I think readers will appreciate that convenience and businesses will feel more confident in the placement of their advertisements.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.