Why should news organizations care about location-based services?

Reference of this essay: Silva, Cláudia. “Why Should News Organizations Care about Location-Based Services?” Mapping Locative Media. April 16, 2012. Web. Date of Access.


Nowadays, innovation may be a product, which companies must be aware of and produce as any core product that the company offers (Briggs, 2012: p.126). As Mark Briggs states in his book “Entrepreneurial Journalism”, in the digital era every kind of business, including big and small news companies should innovate in order to survive in the competitive new digital scenario. In fact, news industries have embarked on a number of innovation projects, such as social networking, mobile media, games, multimedia feature and partnership with other media (Lowrey, W. 2011: p.65), even though this attempt to innovate is criticized by many scholars (Boczkowski, 2010; Domingo, 2008). For instance, Boczkowski argues that this attempt is “reactive” in a statement made that “quite often newspapers acted only after it seemed evident to key decision makers that relevant technical and social developments had reasonable chance of taking hold, rather than proactively trying to make advantage of them earlier in the game” (Boczkowski 2004, p. 48 quoted by Boczkowski, 2010, p.32). Regardless, innovation has become a crucial asset to the survival of the media industry (Domingo, D. & Schimtz, A. 2010). Much research has been done relating to technology as a source of innovation for news industries. (Boczkowski, P. 2010; Hollifield, C.Ann & Mierzjewska, Bozena I. 2006; Domingo& Schmitz, 2010.) In this sense, “technological innovation has always been a key aspect in the adaptation of journalism to new social and market trends, but it has seldom been the focus of research until the advent of online journalism” (Cottle and Ashton, 1999 quoted by Domigo& Schmitz, 2010. See also Paulussen et al. 2011). The idea of “innovation” has also been frequently surrounded by the concept of disruptive technologies. In the scope of journalism the word itself has been widely used in titles, headlines and articles. Dictionary.com defines the word “disruptive” as the cause of disruption, something that cause something to break into pieces. Not only is “disruptive” a word, it is also a concept that was developed by Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School (1997). Therefore, “disruptive technology” is a business concept which news industries and journalists must understand in order to be proactively innovative. Day & Shoemaker (2000, quoted by Mierzjewska, B., Hollifield, C.Ann, 2006) conceptualized technology as disruptive and non-disruptive arguing that organizations approach technology adoption and innovation management differently depending on the disruptive or non-disruptive potential of the technology or innovation in question. For Mierzjewska et al. (2006) “technology and innovation reflects the fact that the media are one of a handful of industries facing the emergence of potentially “disruptive technology”. Day&Shoemaker (2000, p.2 quoted by Mierzjewska et al. 2006) defines disruptive technologies as “science-based innovations that have the potential to create a new industry or transform and existing one”. “The Internet, HDTV, and interactive television devices are examples of types of communication technologies that, when they emerge have the potential to disrupt the underlying business models of existing sectors of media industry”. This illustrates the importance the term and how much the news industries should care about it. Unlike Day & Shoemaker, Christensen defines technologies as sustaining and disruptive. While sustaining technologies mean those technologies which “improve the performance of established products, along the dimensions of performance that mainstream customers in major markets have historically valued”, disruptive technologies “result in worse product performance, at least in the near-term”. (p. XV). Furthermore, the products based on disruptive technologies initially only satisfy a niche market segment, which have lower performance on dimensions relevant to the mainstream market segment but have higher performance on dimensions valued by remote or emerging markets. Besides, these products are “typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient to use” (Christensen, 1997: xv). Christensen argues that because a disruptive technology initially only serves a small, low, margin market, it is ignored by incumbents that are serving more attractive segments. For the purpose of this essay, I aim to present some of main characteristics, definitions and backgrounds of location-based services with the concept of disruptive technologies in mind, and some cases of how this innovation has been applied to journalism.

1.Location-based services (LBS)

The definition of location-based services is simply technological and functional, being focused only in the function of delivering information according to the location of the device and user (see Gartner et al., 2007). For this essay, I am using the following definition of Chen (2010, p.1): “a location-based service (LBS) is an information service that can be accessed by mobile devices through a mobile network, and which exploit the location of the mobile device”. Location-based services (LBS) have been widely studied since 2000 in the field of mobile business and wireless infrastructure. At that time many applications based on cell phones’ physical location were expected to be “the saviour of wireless data services, with research companies valuing the LBS market at tens of billions”. The expectation was so high that some analysts and industry pundits proclaimed it the next “Killer app”, which means that the industry was expecting the increasing of sales because of LBS. After two years, few experts would claim that LBS had this power (Sweeting, C. 2005. p. 87), due to its slow the rate of adoption. After all, only few countries, such as Japan, had a vast majority of mobile phones with built-in GPS. Since then, LBS have been a niche, considered by some scholars a disruptive technology (Sweeting, C. 2005. p. 87; Evans, 2003: p 126). As disruptive technology, LBS are now promoted as the “first time that peoples’ physical locations can be used as data for applications”, which has the potential to affect our daily lives and the way we receive and exchange information. In 2007, LBS were legitimate as a growing new and interdisciplinary field of research with the releasing of the first edition of a journal of location-based services concurrent with the start of the first symposium on LBS which took place in China. In this sense, one can say that 2007 was a key year for LBS, since the release of smartphones, such as iPhone, mobile high-speed Internet connectivity through 3G and WiFi also brought new possibilities to the industry. After all, these technologies enable users to continuously capture, create, upload and share geo-referenced content (Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011. p. 66). For instance, Gowalla, one of the first social networks based on location, was also launched in 2007.

1.1. Locative Media

Location-based services has been appropriated and explored in creative ways by artists, journalists, photographers and news organizations. In this sense, in 2003, Karlis Kalnis proposed the term locative media to differentiate the creative usage of location-based services from the institutional use of it (Lemos, 2007, p.2). Kalnis and Tuters in 2003 selected “locative media” as a title for an international workshop of artists and researches (International Workshop ‘Locative Media’, “aiming to explore how wireless and location-based networking affects peoples’s notions of space and social organisation within space” (Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011). After this workshop, the term defines “media that blurred the barrier between the physical and the virtual world, in particular mobile media that augments people’s experiences in real places through relevant geo-tagged information from the Internet (Espinoza et al., 2001; Kjelskov and Paay, 2005; Lancaster University, 1999; Proboscis, 2003 quoted by Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011). Lemos (2011) defines Locative Media as a set of technologies and process of info-communication which content is tied to a specific location. The advent of GPS enable phones is also referred as the base of this term (Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. 2011).

2.LBS and Social Media

The most successful use of LBS has been in the field of social media. Researchers have been referring to this new use of social media as location-sharing systems/applications. Cranshaw et al. (2011) categorizes location sharing applications as purpose-driven, where people explicitly request another person’s current location” and “social –driven, where people broadcast their location to ‘friends’ in their social networks. In this sense, it is important to note that LBS have been categorized also as a service enabled by mobile computing (see Evans, 2003; Canali et al., 2009; Hansen et al, 2011). Goggin (2011) defines location sharing applications as “mobile social software”. For this author, those services represent two important shifts – from desktop to mobile computing, and from individual to social software. These applications make possible informal contact among people in the same proximity, whether friends, friends of friends, strangers or colleagues capitalizing on serendipity (Eagle 2004; Eagle & Pentland 2005 quoted by Goggin 2011, p. 118). One of the first mobile social software programs was the Japanese Lovegety, released in 1998, as an oval device with three buttons which the user sets according to the kind of activity she or he has in mind: “talk”, “Karaoke” and “get2”. When the holder selected a mode, the device searched for Lovegety holders of the opposite sex in a five meter radius (Goggin, 2011, p. 118). In addition, according to Goggin (2011) the first mobile social software in the US was Dodgeball, released in 2000, which allowed a user to broadcast her or his information to others in their location, trough an early WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) application. Even before the launch of smartphones, these applications represented a trend. “Dodgeball was but one of many mobile social social software applications that were to follow (ibid: p.119). However, at this stage many of the enterprises and applications spearheading mobile social software have not survived. Dodgeball was the predecessor to Foursquare, the location-sharing system that was launched in 2009 and currently has 15 million of users in the US and abroad (Scarafile, 2012).

3.LBS and Journalism

With the increasing diffusion of GPS and Internet-enabled smartphones, many location-based services are being implemented by entrepreneurs. In the field of journalism, mainstream news organizations have been keeping an eye on location-based experiments. Location has been seen as a trend and evokes the classical idea of the five W’s, in which “where” from the fourth position becomes the first W (Briggs, 2012). The New York Times, The Financial Times and The wall Street Journal and Canada’s Postmedia Network are among the early adopters of this service (Currie, 2011. p.1) experimenting with Foursquare by distributing news and seeking to engage readers. According to Currie, these newspapers have been part of a growing number of news outlets trying to crack the triumvirate of journalism, location, and social media. For this author, these three elements should be a natural fit: News organizations produce a stream of content filled with geographic addresses. Mobile phone users are increasingly buying smartphones and using them to access news and furthermore, news consumption is increasingly becoming a shared social experience. On this direction, research in location-based news services also has emerged (see Chen, Chih-Ming. 2010). Chen (2010) states the location- based services (LBS) on mobile devices can convey location related information to individual users, thus helping users to obtain helpful and adaptative information, which can facilitate individual decision-making. There are three ways of experimenting with location-based news. The first is through social networks based on location, such as Foursquare. Journalists have noted that Foursquare can be an important tool for news organizations in many different ways: 1)Promise of targeting news distribution; 2) Finding on-the-scene human sources to interview during breaking news events; 3) Finding story ideas and building social capital with users (Snow & Lavrusik, 2010; Jenkins, 2010; Bradshaw, 2010 quoted by Currie, 2011). Second, by through native mobile apps which are focusing on location-based news. Some examples of location-based news apps are (1) Meporter, (2) Tap in Bay Area and (3) hereMe!. (1) Meporter describes their service as a location-based news app that enables the user to write, photography, and videotape his/her local news as it breaks. Readers can share location, comment on stories and check in as eyewitnesses. To validate the contributions, Meporter allows posting local news and readers to post comments, only if they are on location. Meporter has news categories: Announcements, Business, Classifieds, Crime, Events, Health, LifeStyle, NightLife, News, Op-Ed, News, Politics, Estate, Science, Sports, Tech, Traffic, Travel, and Weather. The app allows you to create a Meporter profile that others can view. While anyone online can follow your stories, only people in your neighbourhood can comment on your breaking news. The app was released in May 2011 . (2) Tap in Bay Area is an app iPad of hyperlocal journalism in the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides having multimedia producers, users can contribute reviews, recommendations and share. The app is not free but has a free trial version. Applying gamification to its business model, users can earn points for writing comments, sharing content, clicking on Ads or taking actions that help improve the community. Users who earn enough points could redeem them for free access or other rewards. The app was released in July 2011 . 3) hereMe! also describes its service as location-based, story-telling, grassroots reporter’s tool, designed for local micro-reporting that complements an increasingly social media landscape. Their aim is making the consumer a news producer. In this sense, the user/reporter can produce location-based stories by adding reports with attached video, audio, picture, URLs and #tags. The users can manage their account through a profile. It is possible to sign in through Facebook. Another way of engaging with this service is using location-based feeds to view and filter reports and receive alerts when new reports or replies are filed. A feed, in this sense, is defined by this service as regions of interest by individual users (personal feeds) or by the community (featured, public feeds). Feed management is intuitive and map-based. By pinching to zoom in or out the users can adjust the size of their interest. Finally, the last is through filtering, as GoogleNews is doing with “News near your”. According to the official blog of GoogleNews, the service was released in May 2011. “News near your” is a local section of Google News for mobile devices, which allows the users to find local news on their smartphones, according to their location.

4. Discussion

At the beginning of this essay, innovation and its importance to news organizations and how disruptive technologies are related to that was discussed. Location-based services have become a pervasive technology and have a high potential of disruption, because as our form of exchanging information in public spaces and in urban places changes, demand will increase for information “in loco”, to a specific location. In the US, location-based social networks are still a niche, since only 5% of Americans use location-based apps. On the other hand, GPS, the technology which has been enabling LBS so far, is built into, almost everyone nowadays. However, another technology which enables location-based service is NFC (Near Field Communication) which is built into some Android phones. NFC is as emerging technology for mobile interaction with everyday objects. It is a wireless technology for exchanging data over short distances, similar to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) but targeted at mobile devices. The technology can store digital data on passive tags that can be attached to almost arbitrary objects. Users can retrieve data from a tag by touching it with a reading device, e.g. a mobile phone, or by holding them closely together. The simple, touch-like interaction between NFC-enabled mobile devices, tags readers or smartcards and can facilitate mobile interaction with tagged objects, associated digital information and services in different ways: NFC-tags can be used as physical hyperlinks that reduce complex interactions to touching a single tag, e.g. to open a website in a mobile browser (Broll et al., 2011. p 205). NFC has been used to enhance mobile payment, ticketing or information retrieval (ibid). NFC has been used also to enhance and validate location-sharing applications, such as Foursquare (Kim, 2012; see Broll et al., 2010). Turning our eyes to the horizon and thinking about journalism, there are more ways to think about how news organizations could use NFC to enhance news consumption or newsgathering, for instance: 1) If used by location-sharing applications, news organizations can take advantage of it and can tag information about specific locations or events, using the tags also to ads. 2) It can be used to tag others’ information about places and events; 3) News organizations can embed tags to physical newspapers, sending readers additional information or ads. 4) Newspapers can provide the possibility of buying tickets to cultural events, producing revenue through partnership with credit card companies. It is important to note that NFC is still emerging and has some drawbacks, including the fact that only few Android phones support the technology, illustrating the slow spread of this technology, at least in the U.S. The ABI Research Company forecasts that by this year that the technology will be used not only for payments but also to access information in smart devices. It is clear that this forecast is not happening rapidly yet. This year, a digital wallet enabled by NFC phones will be launched in Austin. It will be good opportunity to see how the technology works and how people will use it.

Reference of this essay: Silva, Cláudia. “Why Should News Organizations Care about Location-Based Services?” Mapping Locative Media. April 16, 2012. Web. Date of Access.



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