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Summary:

Google said Friday it has added location-based news to its mobile version of Google News — not a huge development for the web giant, but another step towards offering news that is personally relevant to readers, something newspapers and other media outlets continue to struggle with.

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An announcement from Google on Friday that it has added a feature called “News Near You” to the mobile version of its news platform isn’t that surprising; the regular web version of Google News has had a similar feature since 2008. But the move is another step toward offering news that is personally relevant to readers, something newspapers and other media outlets continue to struggle with. As more people consume news and other content on mobile devices, location is becoming a bigger part of the picture, but most traditional news entities are stuck on the desktop.

The idea behind the new Google News mobile feature is pretty simple. You allow the service to use your location — which your iPhone or Android device already knows, thanks to GPS and cellular network triangulation — and then Google selects from stories of interest that are close to you geographically. You can also do the same kind of selection by topic you would with the regular desktop interface, but the location aspect adds another dimension to the news.

From the descriptions I’ve seen, it works fairly well (I haven’t been able to try it because I live in Canada and the feature isn’t available here yet), although in some cases there may be no real news from the locations closest to you — and, of course, you have to be comfortable sharing your location, which some people may not be for privacy reasons.

Not everyone is going to want to filter their news by location, but I can see this being a pretty compelling service in some cases, such as when you happen to arrive in a new city or town and are looking for news about wherever you find yourself. There is no easy way to do this currently. It’s true you can go to the website of the local newspaper or other media outlet (if you can think of one), but then you’ll see only their news. Google’s feature gives you news from all kinds of different sources, including blogs.

Theoretically at least, AOL’s hyper-local Patch project could become a powerful source of local news for Google and any other platform that wants to focus on location. All that is really required is to have stories or blog posts geo-tagged properly.

This is one largely technical reason why some newspapers haven’t been able to take advantage of location so far. Most “content management systems” of the kind that news entities use — for publishing both their web content and their printed content — simply don’t make it easy to tag things with a location, or to do so in a format that works well with location-based services such as Foursquare (which did a small joint venture with the Toronto-based version of the Metro International free paper last year).

But even more than that, while some larger news entities may have gotten accustomed to dealing with specific locations, in terms of having “neighborhood” editions or regional pages (or web editions such as the New York Times experiment The Local , or the failed Loudoun Extra project launched by the Washington Post), most newspapers and other outlets have never really thought about their readers moving around much, or how that would affect their use of the news or interest in specific topics. News outlets have typically thought of their readers as being rooted in the ground, and thereby captive audiences.

As anyone with a smartphone or an iPad knows, that’s no longer the case for many people. Thanks to ubiquitous connectivity and smart digital devices, they can consume news and content wherever they might be, and in some cases that is going to be locally-specific content. Google is prepared for that future, but are other news outlets?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user William Hook

  1. It appears that they are actually presenting news sources to you based on how close you are to where the news agency is based. Which is somewhat of a good idea and something I think local newsco’s could implement rather easily. The big one two punch would have been if they were actually geo tagging the news stories themselves based on where they happened.

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    1. It’s not just the location of the news outlet though — the algorithm also looks at the meaning of the story and shows you news that relates to where you are, even if it was produced elsewhere.

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  2. Hypocrisy at its best! You guys swallow up any story from the biggies & write about it as an innovation. Yet when a startup has been doing this for years reaches out you ignore them.

    A lot of startups have been doing this for years – no mention of outside.in or fwix either. So much for a well researched story.

    Mathew, would have expected a whole lot more from you given that you have been a journalist at a major newspaper. Disappointing coming from you.

    BTW the algorithm doesnt look at the meaning of the story.

    Jeremiah, they are indeed geotagging the news stories based on the key words (aka nouns/pronouns) and hence are able to surface them up based on geolocation coming from the smartphone browser.

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    1. Thanks for mentioning Outside.in (which was bought by AOL recently) and Fwix, which is interesting but doesn’t seem to have gotten much traction. Happy to hear about anyone else doing interesting things in this area.

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  3. We’ve seen this coming for some time now, which is why our free and open source content management system, Newscoop, has some very powerful geotagging features. Now it’s just a matter of getting it into the hands of media organizations willing to take advantage of the power geotagging provides. Or maybe they’ll just cede it to Google without even a fight.

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  4. Don’t count us out, yet. We’re experimenting with this idea at the Guardian with a mobile project called n0tice (still very much alpha software but publicly accessible now).

    We tried imagining what kind of platform would be good for both finding and reporting news where you are right now and a business model that made sense with it. If we got that right, then we knew we could make something fun with it, something more open and human as opposed to automated and machine-driven.

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  5. Clearly you’ve never read a local newspaper! Just because news is local it doesn’t mean it is relevant or interesting to people nearby. But hey, never miss an opportunity to bash old media and puff new media!

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  6. Gerald Buckley Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Om – How does one “tag for GeoLocation properly” in say a hand-rolled RSS feed? Also, if you put in 74114 for your Local News zip code you’ll see The Tulsa World (a newspaper) IS represented in the local news view of Google News. Surely they’re not THAT advanced! ;)

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    1. Gerald Buckley Saturday, May 14, 2011

      http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8025 describes precisely how to go about properly geotagging not only web pages (via meta tags) but also RSS and gives consideration to blogging platform methods as well. Couple all this with content that has plenty of relevant place names in it… And, I’ll bet Om a nickel he could get a story in the Tulsa “News Near You” section.

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      1. Hi Thanks for the inputs i think this would help us as web development company, who do at times get demands of Geo targeting clients locations, their distributors etc. Good to read both this and your article. Thanks.

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  7. Most likely to get the Newspapers on board with this concept, they may introduce geo-location advertising served up using Augmented Viewing.

    Just look though your smartphone’s camera lens and when you click on News Near You” it pull up not only news specific to the exact location e.g. a bar where a murder occurred, but may serve up ads related to the restaurtant!

    Possibly to, if you could annotate or create your own news, you could even pin it in the air, like the Color App does!!!!

    Looks Like Google may have the makings of a Mobile Social Network hit on their hands to rival FourSquare, especially as 50% of Americans now have smartphones according to NPD stats!!

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