A start-up which aims to help news outlets offer more locally-relevant stories to each user has now been launched. Near You Now, which is located at the Sussex Innovation Centre in Falmer, will let news sites present content to readers based on their locations.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, founder Anthony Sheehan said the content can be presented in a range of ways, such as via a mobile app, live stream or just a series of links on a news site.
"As a user hits that page they place a call to our service and we return them the 10 most appropriate, most relevant, local stories for that user and that place at that time," he explained.
Sheehan said the company's research "suggests people are deeply interested in local news", but he said audeinces can "struggle to find it online and when they do find it, it's not relevant to them".
The platform can return stories on different levels of locality, from neighbourhood to city level, depending on the story itself and a measure of how far interest in that story would spread.
And while the service can work with a news outlet's own content, it can also help curate material from across the web.
Sheehan used the example of news outlets with daily liveblogs curating content of local interest. He said in those cases the service can "automate a lot of that", meaning the news outlet's journalists would only need to "maintain a list of local people that they trust and are interested to hear from".
"We would automatically grab anything relevant that they tweet about the location or a story in the news that day, we can ignore the ones about their breakfast, and just bring in interesting links.
"So it will work both on owned and aggregated content, but also third-party content, social feeds, transport feeds all that kind of thing. Depending on what the site wants to do."
He added that there may be the challenge when there is no news about a reader's location from a single news outlet. In such cases "there are a number of things we can do to help populate the links better", Sheehan said. As well as bringing in content from outside, the service can "get quite smart about georgaphy", he explained.
"We may, for example, know where someone lives and someone works, if they shared that information, and we can look at how we might blend or give them the opportunity to toggle between those two places. We may be able to infer a journey between the two as well, so if there was travel issues between home and a current location, we can surface those as well." But he added, "for now we're trying to keep it quite simple with typically just home and current location".
Last year Near You Now, although it had a different name at the time, secured seed funding from the Technology Strategy Board, which Sheehan said will run from August 2012 to July this year. It has been used "up until now for research and product development" as well as feasibility studies and piloting.
Currently Sheehan is in conversations with a number of regional publishers. "The plan would be to talk to them all," he added.
The plan is to work with both regional news outlets as well as nationals, providing they are keen to offer "a local experience to their users".
He added that newspapers dedicated to coverage of a particular town, for example, "don't really need that level of optimisation".
However, he said, there could still be "some level of freemium service we could make to them", bringing local news on a district level, for example.
Looking ahead and the business model in mind is an "API platform-based model where people would pay for calls to the platform", Sheehan said. Although the business may start out more on a "services or consulting basis first" while they iron out any issues for news outlets looking to implement this sort of technology.
But while Sheehan admits there is "no hard data yet" when it comes to understanding the impact of this approach on click-through rates and digital revenue opportunities, he said there is "a sense that we're on to something".
- Anthony Sheehan will deliver a lightning round talk introducing Near You Now at our digital journalism conference news:rewired next week, on Friday 19 April. Tickets to the event are still available.
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