Is TapIn the Future of Hyperlocal?

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To be honest, I hate writing about this startup because it was an idea I wanted to pursue myself. But over the past week I’ve been playing with TapIn, a hyperlocal news application created by Silicon Valley software startup Tackable. TapIn launched as a test bed powered by the Bay Area News Group. Available in the iTunes store, TapIn allows users to overlay a variety of pieces of information (deals, news, events) over a local interface. Tap on a news item and you see breaking news from that day. Filter for deals and you’ll see deals that apply to a specific portion of the Bay Area. This is pretty neat but what I was really interested in, more than anything, was the photo assignment engine behind Tackable.

Here’s how they describe themselves.

“Tackable is a mobile photojournalism platform launching in early July 2011 across 34 newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reporters and editors create photo assignments, which readers complete using their smartphones. Readers also send in live, breaking news photos, helping reporters write better articles, faster. “

The basic idea is totally intuitive. With more and more people walking around with advanced cameras in their smartphones, there is no reason their images shouldn’t be used for media coverage. More to the point, there is no reason that editors should not tap into this ad hoc corps of citizen photogs for images of breaking news or unexpected events. Remember the crash landing of the plane in the Hudson River last year in New York City? The cruddy image captured with a cell phone of people emerging from the downed airliner flashed around the world.

Tackable aims to be a platform that allows people to take those sorts of images and post them to the Internet easily and with small nuggets of information attached. What’s particularly interesting is that Tackable allows anyone to post a “Gig.” They haven’t set up a compensation system yet, but one can see the potential for editors that, say, want an image of a certain street corner or an item in a particular shop, can send out a missive asking for the shot. Interestingly, another mobile photojournalism application focused on sports pix, Hitpost, is picking up steam.

I admit, I was initially very skeptical of citizen journalism — and I think my skepticism was well founded. You won’t find a lot of examples of citizens doing soup-to-nuts coverage and production. No one has the time or the energy. Heck, plenty of journalists don’t have the time or the energy to leave their own buildings. And that’s where Tackable is beautiful. It’s the targeting mechanism for the slimmed down professional journalist cadre, a streamlined newsfinding machine that can point folks on the desk to where coverage should be allocated at that instant.

The ability to parcel out gigs hopefully will not gut the freelance photography business. But with more and more smartphones packing 8-gigabyte cameras and HD video, it’s hard to see how image quality will not improve, and ultimately challenge traditional photogs in much the same way that any ink-stained wretch clutching a DSLR and shooting 500 shots can get something serviceable for the Web or print. I see this going towards a more visual journalism that works better on the Web and fuels Flipboard-like discovery. I also see a future where the journalists can sift through reams and reams of images to find the best items to feature— something akin to the photo contests that until now have only worked for vacation destinations and pet photos. Rather than send us your pet shots, it will be: Send us pics of your favorite ice cream in San Francisco.

All of this is already possible in less organized ways. But Tackable (and the inevitable rush of like-minded applications) creates a two-way interface between the Fourth Estate and Hoi Polloi — an interface that will make for more interesting imagery, more timely information and media coverage more appropriate for our time and technological age.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday on Street Fight.