The Future of Mobile News: Location Aware Apps & Beyond



Location aware applications for mobile phones have revolutionized professional and citizen journalism.  The proliferation of smart phones, tablets, and hands-free devices with GPS technology makes it possible to message users about news that is timely and relevant to their location, not only on the local level, but at a hyper-local level.

“Imagine being alerted about an emergency that is happening 3 blocks from you,” said Randy Abramson, Director of Products and Operations for Office of Digital and Design Innovation (ODDI), “a geo-aware mobile application can deliver an immediate alert and allow you to not only learn about what is going on, but you can quickly share this vital information with others in your social networks that may be nearby.  Those who are close to the scene could contribute audio, video or text based updates, responding much quicker than a traditional news organization could.”

According to an article on The Realtime Report, “Among the key findings from this year’s just-released TNS annual Mobile Life study, which explores mobile use among 48,000 people in 58 countries:  the majority of people around the world now recognize the value of sharing their location to benefit from a range of services.  Access to location-based services is the mobile feature projected to grow the most on a global basis: 62% of those who don’t yet use the location-based services want them.”

There are a lot of companies looking to produce such technology for the hungry mobile-friendly market.  For example, Project Glass (by Google)—a wearable technology similar to augmented reality glasses—looks to help users transmit local news quickly through video capture, photo upload, and first person audio accounts.  Other users that they are connected will be able to immediately access and re-share the information through their own social networks.  “By alerting others in the area that there is an event occurring, additional users can upload video, audio, and images from different perspectives in order to give a full ‘360’ degree view of the event,” explains Abramson.

“All of these scenarios make for a more engaged citizen journalist,” says Abramson, “and the technology also stresses the importance of having news organizations curate and verify news.”

Will Sullivan, Mobile Products Manager for ODDI pointed out that there’s “a bunch of interesting location-aware apps duking it out right now that use common social networks—such as Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter” who are encouraging users to digitally share their perspectives based on location.  Off the top of his head, Sullivan named several apps that can filter and geo-locate who’s around: Banjo, Highlight, and Sonar.

Not only can location aware apps be used for breaking news, but news organizations can also prepare ‘utility’ content to share with users in specific geo-locations.  “Imagine a disease ridden area that triggers a VOA branded package about the disease,” clarifies Abramson, “a geo-aware application could instruct those in an infected area about how to prevent the spread of the disease, treatments, and care center locations.”

ODDI is currently experimenting with delivering news that is relevant to a users’ location.  In addition to developing geo-aware apps, they are also architecting a backend tool that will allow producers to assign text, audio, video, and photos to specific geographic coordinates.  The goal is to deliver breaking news and other relevant information to users based on their location.  One can only imagine how such mobile news apps will revolutionize the power of real-time journalism.

(Thank you to Randy Abramson and Will Sullivan for their contributions to this post.)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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