Are location apps useful for journalists?

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, tools, web | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

foursquare buttons

Foursquare. Gowalla. And now Facebook Places (although at the moment this is only available if you’re an American). Location apps for mobile phones seem to be the ‘in-thing’ on the web at the moment but is there any use to journalists in them?

Twitter clearly has a use as it can help us to find out where news is breaking, connect with contacts and promote our content. The same goes for Facebook, although that seems most useful for building communities around your fan pages of your media brand.

I recently tried out Foursquare for two months and could find absolutely no use for it. It was buggy and didn’t seem to get on with my laptop. I checked in at a few places and became the mayor of my local swimming pool (yay!) and synced up my account with my Twitter. However, I found it annoying. I often forgot to check in at places or when I checked in I had absolutely nothing interesting to say. Likewise I tried out the screen where my friends were checking-in. Cool. But again no use.

I did put in it where I was reporting from, so I could say ‘Checked In at County Hall’ and then put the message ‘Covering an environmental scrutiny meeting’. But I could just post that on Twitter without bothering with Foursquare? I suppose it might reassure people that as a journalist I’m out of the office scrutinising democratic functions but how many people would really care? Although I never managed to achieve my goal of becoming the ‘Mayor of Cardiff City Hall’.

I could see tabloid journos using it if they ever befriended a celebrity who was using the service. Ordering the papparazi to the Pizza Hut where Charlotte Church was tucking into a vegetable supreme – but how many of us are going to befriend celebrities?

Location services seem more for building on your existing friendship networks rather than finding stories and seem a waste of time from a professional viewpoint for journalists.

The only use I can see for journalists is if they make a personal contact and add them. This allows them to see where the contact is and if the journalist knows where they are they could ask that contact to contribute something to a story – if, and only if, there’s something happening at that location at that exact moment. For example, if I saw a contact of mine was at the Cardiff City Stadium I could ask them to shoot some video of the fans outside the game cheering on Craig Bellamy after his winning goal. This could then turn into user-generated content for the website.

Image credit to nan palmero

So, I’ve left my Foursquare account to stagnate and I’m hoping I’m wrong. Is there a way these location-based services can be useful for journalists? Have you been using them for journalistic purposes? Let me know your views in the comments below.

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6 Comments on “Are location apps useful for journalists?”

  1. 1 Daniel Bentley said at 11:54 am on August 23rd, 2010:

    Foursquare is pushing the “Tips” section of check-ins and will increasingly so as they revise their platform in the next few months.

    In this blogpost…

    I detail some of the ways the tips section can be used to tell a story and add context to it. It’s not so much about the people you follow, but the useful information you can leave behind.

  2. 2 Ed Walker said at 11:57 am on August 23rd, 2010:

    Thanks for the comment Dan and for providing the link, interesting reading.

    So would you have to setup an account for your media organisation to do that or could you integrate all the reporters feeds?

    Surely just geo-tagging the stories and pushing a feed onto a Google Map would be simpler than Foursquare integration?

  3. 3 Rachael Phillips said at 12:03 pm on August 23rd, 2010:

    i find all these apps pointless, time consuming and actually dangerous. However, I never really thought about the upside of the applications for example like you’ve stated for journalists to find out about what’s going on, but like you’ve already said this can be done without the use of foursquare/gowalla etc In fact probably more effective without the applications as I know a lot of people now filter out foursquare from their timelines.
    The big problem I have with them is the constant update of where you are all the time; twitter in particular the ubertwitter client on the blackberry is awful for automatically adding your location to tweets. Fair point it can help you connect with locals but do you really want people knowing where you’re having that after work beer or in fact where you live?? You’d never walk up to a random stranger in the street and say “Oh hi, I’m going to the Prince of Wales after work…” would you? So why do people insist on using these applications to tell random strangers all across the world.
    If apps like this are going to be useful to journalists I think they have to be made FOR journalists. Otherwise…in my opinion a waste of time.

  4. 4 Joseph Stashko said at 12:20 pm on August 23rd, 2010:

    I think the problem with a lot of peoples gripes is that it assumes the service should have universal appeal.

    Fact is, the take up is far more niche oriented. I’ve been thinking of Gowalla recently as almost as user generated tourist guide with trips and photos. Likewise I haven’t ever got any great boon from foursquare apart from the odd person checking in which led to a meetup. The other week I was meeting someone in a coffee shop and the area had really bad signal for mobiles. We met up in the end because they saw where I’d checked in and followed the map link.

    These services have no mass appeal, and its less obvious than a service like Facebook, but were they ever meant to be?

  5. 5 Tweets that mention » Blog Archive » Are location apps useful for journalists? -- said at 9:01 pm on August 23rd, 2010:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rachael and Ed Walker, Ed Walker. Ed Walker said: New blog post: Are location apps (foursquare, gowalla) useful for journalists?: […]

  6. 6 Using Foursquare with #hyperlocal said at 10:45 am on February 14th, 2011:

    […] by Joseph Stashko on Feb 14, 2011 in Media, Social Media | 0 comments TweetBack in August, Ed Walker wrote a post asking whether location apps were useful for journalists. He rightly pointed out the lack of […]

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