10 locations, 6,000 users, 4 beacon thefts, 12 press articles, 4 new partners, 5 new pilot requests. So far, so good!
It’s fair to say trialing anything new is always a bit of a leap in the dark. We’re the first people to try app-less, on-the-go news so the pilot came with the knowledge to expect the unexpected. How would potential readers respond? Would they trust a new source of local news? Would they find location-based stories more relevant? Would their mobile phones let them discover the stories at all?
Whatever the first week showed us I was confident we could adapt. Issues could be fixed and positive findings could be replicated and amplified across the fleet of beacons. This confidence came from the many hours spent testing the service with potential users and listening to their suggestions for improvements. The constraints of the pilot (predominantly keeping within a small budget) have also kept the technology stack simple and nimble.
So, what has the pilot taught us so far?
There’s reader appetite for change.
Many people love local stories but feel their local newspaper needs to evolve. Could serendipitous news stories based on your current location be the answer? The first test would be getting people to activate their phone settings in order to receive and see the notifications. These steps only need be undertaken once but it’s still a potential barrier. Thankfully many people have done so, as evidenced by uptick in our signal impressions. In theory these impressions should then convert to clicks – a figure that has doubled every two days from a standing start as awareness of OtherWorld has grown. There’s still some way to go to change an entire city’s media habits but we have our early adopters to learn from.
Beyond the figures, anecdotal feedback has been incredibly positive with people sending us screengrabs of the stories they’ve discovered and telling us about the events or actions the stories have helped them make.
Surprisingly nobody has commented on that fact that you can only access the stories in the locations they happen. Maybe a newspaper homepage isn’t that important after all.
The weather is the biggest outside influence.
Thinking about it now this seems obvious. Anything more than drizzle and people keep their phone in their pocket as they’re walking. The impressions stay the same but as a silent notification an OtherWorld story doesn’t vibrate or make a noise, meaning an alert won't translate to a new reader if they're not looking at their screen. It’s fascinating to see the service come alive again once heavy rain clears up. Perhaps roll-out of the service could include key indoor locations in order to provide continuous service. Something to think about.
Different areas of the city act differently.
It’s too early to draw any meaningful conclusions but it’s interesting to observe how activity changes throughout the day and throughout the city. News stories are most popular in the mornings and next to train stations or on commuter routes. Suggestions for things to do gather pace from lunchtime and are boosted when linked to increased dwell time, as you might expect in areas such as Spinningfields and the Northern Quarter. On the messaging front, using a carefully-considered emoji in a notification increases click through rate. Don’t ask me why.
It’s had unwanted attention too.
Theft has been an issue (we’re not the only ones). However, I take full blame for this having naively put a few beacons out in the open. It’s easily fixed – we just need to make sure they're out of reach in the future. We’re working with partners to make sure they are positioned higher up on buildings once permission has been secured. The units are extremely cheap to replace and worthless to their new owners so no real harm done.
All eyes are on Manchester.
We’ve been really lucky with media coverage of the pilot, being featured in publications such as The Next Web, Manchester Evening News, The Times, Journalism.co.uk and more. We’ve also taken calls from lots of news organisations around the world – from fellow independent publishers through to one of the world’s biggest newspaper groups - keen to replicate OtherWorld on their own patches. Like us, they sense a shift towards more meaningful reader experiences that bring together digital-physical worlds but without the friction or expense of yet another app.
The second week of the pilot is an opportunity to experiment with different storytelling formats and publishing rhythms, and now that we know it works we’ll be upping our marketing to make sure more people aware of the service.