Location! Location! Location! How journalists can use location-based services

With the advent of location-based social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla, mainstream media newsrooms have been searching for ways to harness these networks. The results have ranged from brilliant to questionably outlandish, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible. Here are a few ideas and examples of ways to take location-based social media to the next level:

We, the people

To celebrate their 2010 graduation ceremony, the students of St. Edward’s University in Texas submitted photos, tweets, and Facebook posts with their mobile phones and aggregated them using the social, location-based service Whrrl. The result is a multimedia experience that showcases the ceremony from the viewpoint of those who lived it.

Mass aggregation of first-person media isn’t new and since the launch of projects like CNN’s The Moment, they have proved to have major newsworthiness. Using a site like Whrrl to make it easy for a large group to share a variety of media is something media organizations should explore and gravitate toward.

Movie reviews

The mobile application Flixster has many awesome features, one of which is its ability to find movie theaters near the smartphone user and instantly provide showtimes and sometimes ways to order tickets.

Newsrooms, especially entertainment publications, can capitalize on this idea by creating apps or check-in alerts that provide movie reviews from newsroom critics when the mobile user is near a movie theater. With a little extra tinkering, an app can also aggregate reviews from other locals or like-minded movie viewers.

Real estate listings

In the same vein, newsrooms can make better use of their real estate listings by creating an app that lists available housing near the mobile user, using the phone’s built in GPS. Imagine walking in a neighborhood and seeing a listing of apartments for rent, sortable by price and with comments from others. There are a couple of real estate apps already, including ZipRealty and Zillow that newsrooms can learn from.

Of course, there are several media organizations who are already making the most of their content — and their audience — to provide a valuable, location-based service. The Independent Film Channel recently solicited its membership for tips on quirky locales around America. Foursquare members can opt to receive these user-submitted alerts when they check in to select locations. Wall Street Journal readers who check in to specific restaurants can read restaurants the site has reviewed.

Sports fans should check out ESPN Passport which allows mobile users to check-in to sports venues and keep track of games they’ve attended. You can also use the app to take photos of a match in progress and share with others in the arena. The Scoop, The New York Times’ mobile guide to New York, is also a pioneer in marrying existing content with mobile and GPS capabilities.

Location-based services can do anything from report the location of local crimes to point out road hazards submitted by other users. So far though, the majority of those companies that are exploring and taking advantage of the technology fall outside of the journalism realm. Hopefully, as these services and social media applications become more mainstream, newsrooms will be more likely to adopt them for their own uses.

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