Shifting local news from maximisation to optimisation

Two weeks in and OtherWorld is starting to take shape.

From more or a less a standing start we’re building a healthy readership, a more stable fleet of beacons and an editorial flow that surfaces and shares a good dose of engaging stories. Being able to set our own rules and not feeling constrained by the old conventions of news gathering and distribution has been incredibly fun and liberating too.

Nearly all of our decisions are guided by being the most relevant source of news for a particular location - when you lead with that everything else suddenly becomes less important. That’s not to say we're not encountering our fair share of issues (read our earlier update) but fortunately all have either been quick to fix or easy to work around.

With the support of 60+ content partners and a lot of behind-the-scenes trickery OtherWorld is turning into a mini-media company that can be managed by a single person.

I’ve always thought that for any digital innovation to really be considered innovative it has to be accessible to all users and replicable at low cost. With no app to download or newspapers to print, and integrating most of the traditional news functions into a single role and device, OtherWorld hopefully ticks both of those boxes.

Here’s what the first 14 days have taught me…

 

Location, location, location.

● Our busiest beacon is 8 times more popular than the least. A combination of available footfall, dwell times and active partners appear to be the main drivers of this.

● Repositioning the beacons by only a few metres can make or break its signal. Metal or electrical obstacles can reduce their range by up to 70% so there’s work to do to optimise the entire fleet.

● We’ve replaced our missing beacons in all locations bar Piccadilly Gardens. Thank you to all our partners who aided prompt negotiations with landlords allowing us to put them higher up on buildings.

● We’re not done yet. Early next week we hope to announce our final pilot locations in Manchester (just awaiting partner sign-off).

 

A new record.

● Being the first people to trial app-less, on-to-go local news, there's not any benchmarks out there to compare ourselves to. Our (very early) record for a single story, running for a single day on a single beacon, is just under 500 reads.

● If you consider roll-out could see a city have 100+ beacons with each carrying many more stories a day, this gives an indication of the surge of readers an OtherWorld-style news ecosystem could generate.

● 500 reads for a city the size of Manchester might not sound a lot, however it's important to remember that: a) overall penetration of the service is still incredibly low and OtherWorld is both a new concept and newsbrand, and b) the only way people can access our stories is via the notification delivered to their phone whilst in that location. Individual stories can't be read on a desktop and we don't promote them on social media or need to rely on traffic from search engines.

● Of course not every story get these numbers, however it shows what is possible when highly relevant content is met with the right conditions.

 

Inspiring reader action.

● I’ve always believed that local stories are more powerful when linked to action. We’ve helped residents to have their say in public consultations and surveys, volunteer and donate to local good causes, and to attend nearby events they’ve discovered via OtherWorld.

● It’s good to challenge the longstanding notion that the natural end point for an article is the comment box, particularly on mobile. The beacons are able to provoke dialogue and action in many other ways. For example, I’ll be exploring the beacons’ potential to source stories from the community.

 

New content partners.

● Welcome Network Rail, The University of Manchester and MadLab in the Northern Quarter. There’s still room for others in these locations.

● Our most active content partners get the most out of OtherWorld. Jump into our editorial community to share what you’ve got coming up.

● We’re partnering with Manchester Evening News at Pride. Our shared live coverage will be discoverable by the crowd at various points in the parade.

 

What users have to say.

● Some feedback from on-the-street conversations with our promotional helpers:

People seemed really interested in it, got a good reaction from the usual Northern Quarter trendy crowd, those in their 20s and 30s. Around lunchtime a lot of people actually stopped and were asking a lot of questions about it, and sounded quite positive. Lots of interest in the bluetooth aspect of it, though a few mentioned battery life concerns.”

"Pretty much your average office crowd during, with the addition of some young teenagers and the elderly. The oldest in the crowd didn’t have smartphones in general, although some mentioned passing on the flyer/info to their grandchildren. Most people were rushing around, but I managed to get a good hit rate and stop people for a chat. People seemed genuinely interested, though a few people I spoke to asked if there would be an issue with bluetooth/battery life, but would be interested in using the service."

● The biggest drawbacks at this stage are technical (unpredictable notifications on iOS) and perceptual (about Bluetooth’s demands on battery life, which is no longer the case). Both are addressable with time and as the Google Eddystone beacon protocol becomes mainstream. Remember OtherWorld is a prototype of next generation mobile news and the pilot exists to prove its potential to one-day replace the printed newspaper and standard news website format.

● We’re still only scratching the surface of our potential readership, with OtherWorld still out of sight and out of mind for many. So…

 

Time to boost promotion.

● With optimisation getting closer, our most important job for the coming weeks is telling people about OtherWorld and helping them to activate it on their mobile phones.

● We’re working with Jack agency to run an outdoor campaign on their poster sites near our beacons. This should go live early next week and run for an initial two weeks.

● Local promotional company BagThing have been helping us with leaflet drops. Spot the below in a café or shop near you.

If you’d like to help use spread the news, please share this Tweet or our YouTube video showcasing OtherWorld.

 

 

Follow the pilot on Twitter at @OtherWorldMCR for more frequent updates and insights. You can also find me at @StuGoulden.