Our first experimental app explores what’s made possible by geotagging local news stories and delivering them when you’re nearby.

Local news readers: Have you ever walked by a place in your city or town and wondered what was going on there? “Was that building always there? How long has that new grocery store been open?”

Or have you ever wished someone told you something about a place you just visited? “Oh I didn’t know there was a new mural there, I would have walked over to see it.” Or, “I didn’t know that was a historic park, I would have stopped by to take a look!”

Journalists: Have you ever wished that people walking by a place you just wrote about — City Hall, an art opening, a modernist landmark — would have an easy way to read your story?

Oftentimes local news stories are written about the places we live, work or pass by — but we would never know it because there’s no front page in the physical world. Addressing this issue, and breathing geographic life into local coverage, was the inspiration for our first experimental local news app in the Lenfest Local Lab.

Here for Local Journalism is designed to make discovering location-based local news easy and automatic. The app sends news stories about where you are in real time, based on the assumption that where you are is meaningful to you.

When you get about 100m away from a place a story’s been written about, you get an alert.

Why this app?

We decided to build this app because we’re committed to testing new ways to make local news discoverable, and delivering news based on where you are is a relatively untested concept in journalism. It also seemed to be a natural fit for local news in particular. However geotagging every local news story and notifying people wherever they go is a big, sprawling and possibly chaotic idea. That’s why we’re starting small and measuring outcomes first before potentially expanding the concept.

This first version of the app only sends notifications for recent Philadelphia Inquirer articles about art, architecture and real estate in the city. These aren’t breaking news alerts — they’re “on this block” alerts.

Our unique permission requests (for a news app)

The app requires people to allow three types of permissions to work well: the ability to send notifications; the ability to know their real-time location; and the ability to detect motion.

The notifications permission simply allows us to send you alerts. Knowing your real-time location lets us send it when you get about a half block away from the place a story’s been written about. Being able to detect your movement lets us skip sending notifications when you’re driving.

Bottom line: we don’t want to distract you while you’re driving. These news alerts aren’t urgent, and you may enjoy them more if you engage with them in the place they matter most. For comparison, there are lots of popular apps that use location tracking and motion detection to provide a better experience — like the fitness app Nike+ Run Club and the audio-walking tour, Detour. Real estate and food apps, such as Yelp and Zillow, also send location aware alerts. The HERE app helps us test how this idea can translate to news.

Our collaborators

We’re proud to be working with The Philadelphia Inquirer on this experiment, and the app is powered by some of their best and most experienced journalists, among them Inga Saffron and Samantha Melamed as well as newcomers Ellie Silverman and Raishad Hardnett. Each of the Inquirer’s journalists has a deep sense of place and context for city spaces, making their coverage perfect for this app.

We picked news that is distinctly place-based: about a building, a mural, a new high rise or anything else a person walking through a neighborhood could easily stop and observe from nearby. We’re hoping that notifying to place-based stories will help this new experience be intuitive and useful for people. During our research for the app, some interviewees even told us this app could help them stay up to speed on what’s happening in their own backyard.

Here are more details about the types of stories people can expect to get from the HERE app:

  • Architecture: When you’re passing a park in Old City that’s slated for redevelopment, you’ll receive a story about how that plan will play out for neighbors and city residents.
  • Arts: If you walk past a new mural, we’ll send you a story about the artist and how their work adds to the cultural fabric of our city.
  • Real Estate: If a new apartment building or grocery store is coming to your neighborhood, you’ll know when you walk by that ground is being broken.

We hope people who live in the Philadelphia area download the app and give it a try. You can download it here. We’re eager to start collecting feedback from people about the experience, and you can reach out to us anytime in a few ways: in the app under Settings > Share Your Feedback, on Twitter @lenfestlab or email us at [email protected].

Also if you’re someone working for a local news organization that would like to launch a similar app in your area, let us know. We’d love to help this idea take root elsewhere.

The Lenfest Local Lab is a small, multidisciplinary product and user experience innovation team located in Philadelphia, PA supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest with the goal of helping transform the news industry in the digital age to ensure high-quality local journalism remains a cornerstone of democracy.

Thanks to Burt Herman. 

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