I’ve been asked to do a few talks recently. Both inside and outside of Manchester and to people inside and outside of the news industry.
I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share the thinking behind OtherWorld and try to be as candid as possible with my experience of running the pilot. This openness tends to provoke more questions and discussion, which in turn challenges the decisions I make about the project. People’s interest in OtherWorld is normally a mixture of intrigue about the pilot – the who, what, how and why – and more far reaching musings about the potential applications and implications of a new storytelling tool for news organisations.
For this blog post, I thought I would post some of the common themes below and the gist of my responses...
Your relationship with partners is unusual for a news outlet. How does it work in practice?
It’s true. OtherWorld wouldn’t be what it is without its many content partners. They’re an incredibly valuable source of stories and new users.
Our relationship with partners varies enormously from partner to partner and as you can expect some are more active than others. At one end of the spectrum are those looking to share their news with passersby and reach new audiences. At the other are organisations more interested in placemaking and encouraging active citizenship. OtherWorld meets a previously unmet need for both.
Our fundamental promise to all partners is that OtherWorld doesn’t create any additional work for them. OtherWorld simply repurposes and repackages the stories they’re already sitting on, ready to be discovered by new audiences on the go.
How do you gather and publish stories?
As proof of concept for an entirely new type of local media our news gathering methods are a bit different. As a starting point, we're incredibly resourceful and realistic about our early editorial. OtherWorld is a one-person (@StuGoulden) pilot and we're not doing this to win any more journalism awards.
So, for now, you won’t find OtherWorld holding people to account or writing longform pieces about the issues of the day. Others do this better and that is unlikely to ever be our place in the news ecosystem. Instead, the stories we carry are a mixture of suggestions from content partners and some light touch original reporting. Our only condition is that stories are interesting, truthful and tied to a location. The latter is key promise to readers.
What was originally a constraint has actually turned into our biggest strength. Our beacons are strategically placed in locations of high footfall surrounded by clusters of partners, meaning we’re never short of stories to share and when we do they’re guaranteed to be more relevant and therefore easier to act upon than they would otherwise be.
Once a story is identified or accepted, it is automatically scheduled via Trello to be fact checked and written up. This eliminates the need for an email inbox for OtherWorld editorial.
Are you a publisher or a platform?
The short answer is we’re currently both but could pursue a future as either. For now though, OtherWorld is about innovating in storytelling and exploring the potential for a new discovery and distribution channel for news. It’s important we remain open minded about what future shape OtherWorld could take beyond the pilot and don’t rush down one path or the other.
What responsibility do you feel to users’ privacy and fake news?
The privacy issue is easily and quickly answered by the fact that OtherWorld issues a one-way signal to mobile phones. There’s no tracking of users or their movements.
The fake news question is answerable in two parts. In the short term, OtherWorld is manually curated by myself and will be throughout the duration of the pilot. That keeps editorial tightly under control and keeps innovation fast and nimble. Longer term, I recognise it is a potentially very powerful storytelling tool and this comes with a certain level of shared responsibility. As the prototype develops we’ll look to with our future partners, beacon manufacturers and Google (as owners of the underlying technology) to develop a consistent approach to keeping notifications relevant and truthful.
Why use beacons and not GPS or an app?
Beacons offer unrivalled speed and cost to market, bypassing the development and download drawbacks typically associated with an app. Activating OtherWorld is a single-step process and once complete all the user needs to do is switch 'on' Bluetooth. Compared to GPS solutions, beacons are also more reliable indoors, and kinder on the battery life of mobile phones and their owner’s data allowances.
How do you see the service developing beyond the pilot?
We’ve purposely kept the pilot relatively short to keep iterating with feedback and learnings. There are lots of opportunities to enhance the user experience and the technical backbone of the service beyond the pilot. Ultimately, it would make sense to do this with an international news partner, who can roll it out to multiple cities and respects the trust that comes with beaming location-based stories to people’s mobile phones. A few conversations are happening and I’m keeping an open mind as to where they take me.
If you’d like to find out about more about OtherWorld, I’ll be speaking at the upcoming News Impact Summit in Manchester.
Taking place on Thursday 2 November 2017, the one-day summit brings together innovators in news to discuss the topic discuss the topic "The Future of News is Community".
Organised by the European Journalism Centre and powered by the Google News Lab, the free-to-attend event will focus on how newsrooms understand and engage with their communities and how local journalists are trying to innovate with technology and workflows to serve them better. Hope to see you there!