Using data and augmented reality to help define local news

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

There is no longer denying the use of what we currently call “smartphones” will only continue to increase their capacity as technology becomes cheaper.

The way that we use our phones will also continue to change as more phones utilize what is known as Location Based Services or LBS which uses various methods of A-GPS.

This is a pretty new area for newspapers to start exploring and I would like to see more attention paid to local advertising using LBS.

I recently saw an article that described the idea of using an Augmented Reality app that runs on the Android Phone that showed nearby tweets and various other types of information. Wikitude: (Android) TwitAround: (iPhone)

The basic idea of TwitAround is that by using the phone’s accelerometer you can see real-time tweets happening around you.

We also know that data needs relationships and newspapers are historically good about gathering data. What they are not good at is how the record and distribute that information.

My idea is the build an application that harnesses all of this data and makes it available on your phone.


Example 1: You are a first time home buyer looking in the Rosewood area on Maple for a home. By simply pointing your phone at a home, you are instantly able to see MLS listings, tax parcel service look ups and average utility usage charges. You are also able to see local related stories, photos, tweets, video, crime stats and so forth.

Example 2: You are the same home buyer and you travel to the intersection of Wheat and Rosewood and come upon Hand Middle School where you children may attend. By pointing your phone at the school, you are able to see publicly accessible data such as SAT scores, teachers salaries, crime reports, stories about the school, historical context and more.

Example 3: You are at a high school football game where Hammond is playing Heathwood Hall. By pointing your phone at a jersey on the field, you would be able to see team roster, individual stats, results in various weather conditions, past games, photos, videos and tweets.

Example 4: You are are at the museum of art and want to know more about the painting you are looking at. By pointing your phone, you are able to see historical context, painters bio, similar paintings and more.

A business model

In a virtual interview that I did with Dan Conover, I found this quote to be interesting

"The issue with augmented reality, then, isn't the technology. You need a platform that communicates it, a system that structures and creates it, a business model that understands its value and how to communicate it, and user devices and software agents that accurately interpret and negotiate it. The issue is content and how to pay for it. " The problem is that we need a business model that rewards someone for adding value (i.e., meaningful content that people actually want). Until that happens, then every business that approaches augmented reality is going to treat it as just another way of delivering no-cost crap. It's going to be mass-media executives trying to figure out how to use Facebook all over again. Business people tend to look at networked media as a way to make free money off of somebody else's content, but there's not going to be a sustainable business here until we work out the connections and expectations and exchanges..

While what Dan is saying is correct, I don’t think that it will be an entire ‘crap in, crap out’ model either. Just as Twitter has become popular, so will it’s ability to filter tweets through geolocation.

What we need is a better way to rate and log information through various algorithms that will sort the good from the bad. Part of the connections that we need to work out will be taking and filtering raw data as Berner Lee suggested, but also pulling content from our own archives and making that available through various API’s.

Mindy McAdams also raises an interesting point in here post ‘Augmented Reality: a business model.’

Each view of a node can be tracked. Each visit to the node can be tabulated. I think the opportunities for selling would be fantastic — the whole process could be automated. The advertiser pays a small fee to have the privilege of viewing all visits to a node. This is like micro-metrics for local businesses. The fee is necessary because you want it to be monthly or yearly, and you want it tied to a true identity. The account can be modified to allow advertisers to input and update their own coupons, etc. Then they pay per ad, per length of time, per update, etc. But it’s all hands-free for the entity that owns the app.

Not only would this tie in well with local advertisers, it would also open an entirely new stream of revenue we haven’t previously seen. It’s hard to answer the question of “how are we going to make money off of this?” because we’ve never done it before. The closest thing we’ve ever had to this would be a ‘bar database.’


There are some drawbacks to LBS:

Results indicate that A-GPS locations obtained using the 3G iPhone are much less accurate than those from regular autonomous GPS units (average median error of 8 m for ten 20-minute field tests) but appear sufficient for most Location Based Services (LBS). WiFi locations using the 3G iPhone are much less accurate (median error of 74 m for 58 observations) and fail to meet the published accuracy specifications.

but that’s something we’ll have to address in another post.

Steps to getting started

  1. You data will have to be available in a raw format. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use the COPE method, or the more controversial hnews for your information.
  2. Your data will have to be given relationships and linked to other data.
  3. Your data will have to be given a specific longitude, latitude for future reference.
  4. You’ll can build your own publish platform or you can use openly available API’s like Layar.
  5. All of your photos and stories will require stronger semantic data. No more incomplete information.
  6. You’ll have to actually have a team who can code all of this for you.


Where we go from here really depends on how much news organizations want to invest in this type of technology. At the very least, we can take small steps by adding value to our stories through our Content Management System by using keywords and physical locations if they support it. (Hint: MNI does!)