I wrote only a few days ago that my 5 year dream to make Fitzroyalty a location aware site was still unrealised. This initiated a Twitter conversation with fellow blogger and WordPress enthusiast Phil Lees, author of The Last Appetite, and he quickly created one of the missing links I had described – software to allow location aware devices to dynamically interact with geotagged content.
Thanks to Phil, Fitzroyalty’s readers can now click a single button to view content about places nearest to them. I invite you to try it. It is located at the top of the sidebar to the right of this post (large screens) or immediately below the posts (small screens). It will obviously work best in or near Fitzroy.
This new feature allows for dynamic content delivery that is unique for each reader, and it is something that I am extremely excited to have realised. I’ve been preparing for this by geotagging posts for years, with only individual post maps and larger aggregate maps to show for it. Now I have something far more sophisticated and interactive to offer based on all this data.
The standard interface offered by the Geo Mashup plugin location search widget is a form that requires the user to enter text, such as a city name or postcode, to input a location to trigger a search for relevant content. While this may be adequate for content about a large city, it is not suitable for content based on the much smaller scale of a single suburb, where identifying a user’s precise location is required to deliver relevant content. Other plugins, like the now depreciated Geoposty, used IP queries to determine a user’s location, which are also too imprecise for my purposes.
Phil’s solution uses the GPS or wifi base station location awareness capacity of mobile devices (or the wifi base station location awareness capacity of HTML5 compliant browsers on desktop computers) to trigger the search for relevant content. The location data is far more accurate and the usability is far greater as the process requires less effort from the user. The hardware and software do all the work. Read the instructions for how to implement this on your own WordPress site with geotagged content.
Further developments are planned. I want to display the located posts on a map and I want to show the location of the user in the map along with the post flags so that the map can provide directions to guide people to the places they are interested in.
While my focus is primarily on content, I remain extremely interested in the technology that facilitates content consumption and shapes user experiences around content. I am also interested in how people use information in specific contexts and environments, such as travellers who are unfamiliar with a location and who need information to guide their experiences.
The potential of geotagged content and location awareness remains to be realised. While ownership of location aware devices like smartphones and tablets is now commonplace, innovative software that delivers content and services to users in a geographically relevant context is mostly lacking, but this is beginning to change.
Within the last 6 months there have been some significant developments in location aware content delivery that I have found inspiring. A free Google app for Android and iOS phones and tablets, called Field Trip, provides users with links to content about places in their immediate vicinity. Read a detailed review for more information. It is now available in Australia.
Google’s Now, also for Android and iOS phones and tablets, is an extension of its search and other services that incorporates location aware information. Wikipedia has also embraced location awareness with a feature like Field Trip’s that delivers links to content about nearby places based on dynamic queries.
Screen shots of Field Trip (left) and Wikipedia (right) of the content available based on a location aware search from Fitzroy
In the US, entrepreneurial hyperlocal startups like Outside.In and Patch faltered and merged while others, like Everyblock, failed and closed. A viable business model has not emerged but newcomers keep emerging, like BlockAvenue.
In the UK, hyperlocal news is now possibly more popular than in the US and it appears to be booming. The list of hyperlocal sites is extensive, the UK hyperlocal publishing community is becoming more organised and the concept is becoming increasingly well known.
While there are some commercial hyperlocal initiatives, there many hobbyist or community based sites, and governments are beginning to appreciate the potential of hyperlocal content. In 2012, 10 hyperlocal news projects were awarded funding of up to £50,000 to develop mobile phone platforms. Talk About Local is a UK business specialising in mentoring hyperlocal sites. A detailed report about hyperlocal media in the UK was published earlier this year.
I want what they’ve got, but unfortunately hyperlocal sites are rare in Australia. At Australia’s 2013 GovHack even the team presenting a location aware hyperlocal app called ‘Visualisation by location‘ are from the UK.
I think there are two main reasons for this. First, few locations support the kind of population density that engenders sufficient content to make a hyperlocal site viable. Second, our internet culture is well behind that of the US and the UK, partially because of the population deficit, and even in those places there is no business model to support investment in hyperlocal online publishing.
While I’m envious of the possibility of applying for such significant funding to develop mobile hyperlocal sites, the practice of developing separate websites (for desktop computers) and apps (for mobile devices) is over. It’s already antiquated. The most user friendly (and developer efficient) model of web development is to build a responsive site that renders an attractive and engaging interface on any device, regardless of its operating system, browser or screen size.
I have been publishing Fitzroyalty for 7 years now, but it is is not the oldest hyperlocal site in Australia. The RiotACT probably has that honour (Fitzroyalty was inspired by the Abbotsford blog, which preceded it by about 3 months and is still live, although it ceased publishing new content in 2008).
Fitzroyalty is well ahead of most sites in this regard. It has used a responsive theme for over a year now that delivers a highly usable device and screen size independent interface, I’ve been busy reshaping the site to meet the future needs of my audience and have been geotagging content for 5 years.
This means that Fitzroyalty is uniquely positioned to deliver locative content to audiences that are increasing using location aware mobile devices. This may be particularly the case if it is syndicated through platforms like Field Trip, which is inviting expressions of interest from publishers with geotagged content to contribute.
Hyperlocal and location awareness are a natural fit for each other, with each supporting and enhancing the other. I have found no other Australian examples of sites that are location aware and hyperlocal (if you know of any, please post links in the comments below). Given the recent developments outlined above, I am optimistic that content optimised for location based discovery will soon begin to become popular.