News apps may be making a comeback, and push notifications may be the reason why, but the challenges that come with them are stil there: publishers still have to convince people to download their app and use it regularly, while too many push alerts can send readers away.
But what if we could get the news and other relevant, contextual information to our audiences without asking them to clutter their homescreens with yet another app?
This is what Otherworld, an experimental storytelling service that launched on Tuesday (25 July) is trying to do, using beacon technology to give people access to relevant information based on their location – just by turning on the Bluetooth function on their mobile devices and walking by one of these beacons, they will receive news in the context of their location through silent push notifications that just appear on screen without any noise.
Otherworld, which is a trial project from a start-up called Like No Other, founded by writer and entrepreneur Stuart Goulden, received funding through Google's Digital News Initiative to "revolutionise local news discovery".
The pilot will run until the end of the year, and Goulden is working with more than 50 content partners in Manchester, from the Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council, to Co-Op, Trinity Mirror and other local businesses and charities.
"For a lot of [the partners], it fills a gap in their current marketing or communications channels they have with their customers," Goulden told Journalism.co.uk.
"They could all see the potential in reaching certain people in a certain area at a certain time, which they might struggle to do at the moment. And they know the importance of local news and want to see it thrive but feel that it needs to change, so they are happy to join the experiment."
Goulden has already placed ten beacons in different areas of the city, with ten more to come, choosing the locations based on a few considerations, such as whether there was a suitable content partner nearby, and how diverse the area was.
For example a beacon can be placed near the train station, to serve people useful information as they come into the city or board a train. Another could be found in a mixed use development which serves as office spaces during the day but is used for leisurely purposes in the evenings.
The pilot ran its first test earlier this month during the Manchester International Festival, and the learnings from it will shape the rest of the project. Content partners also help shape the experiment by providing feedback and spreading the news about the project to their audiences and communities.
"We learned that a lot of people find it really useful when they do acceess it, and that the concept intrigues them, while a few people had difficulties activating it," Goulden said. However, he pointed out that Bluetooth technology is more common now with wearable devices and mobile phones than before, when it was associated with draining people's batteries.
"Within the big experiment there are lots of smaller ones, like working with Trinity Mirror and Manchester Evening News on big events such as Pride Festival. We are collaborating when there is an opportunity where the whole city comes together," he added.
Once the pilot finishes, the aim is to see how the findings and people's needs could be replicated in other cities around the UK, potentially partnering with a bigger regional publisher to give readers location-based news, or looking into areas where mobile devices are widespread and could be used to reach people with other services.
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