Why Google Now add-on could be an ideal hyperlocal news solution

Google is beta testing a hyperlocal news card for its Now app, according to an exclusive report by Quartz. This add-on could build on the ruins of hyperlocal news sites, including EveryBlock, Guardian Local, Village Soup, TBD, Bayosphere, and, by the end of 2013, possibly Patch, to revive hyperlocal news. Other outlets’ failures only demonstrate how Google is perfect for this niche.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | August 2, 2013

Google Now is the ”creepy” yet extraordinarily useful Android, iPhone and iPad app that draws on data collected from your calendar, Gmail and search history to anticipate information you might need and present it to you at the appropriate time. For instance, it alerts you when traffic to work is unusually dense, and suggests you leave early. It also provides updates on news stories you’ve read, sports teams you follow and relevant travel information, such as delays in flight plans. Google produced the technology last June and released it for iOS in late April.

The previously undisclosed experiment is notable because it targets news not just based on location but also on “you and your interests,” Johanna Wright, vice president of search and assist at Google, told Quartz’s Christopher Mims. She provided the examples of the add-on alerting her that Miss Mexico visited her son’s school and that Chipotle was running a free burrito promotion. Because Google Now builds a profile based on the locations you frequent, the new card could go beyond presenting just location-based “news near you,” as Google already does, and push alerts based on, for instance, Wright’s travels to her son’s school.

In this way, Google has the opportunity to personalize news in a way we previously suggested might be wise. Other news outlets such as the Guardian are working to personalize user experiences with features like user homepages, but Google’s integration would be seamless, using the mounds of data it collects. Unlike at the Guardian, users wouldn’t have to input preferences for Google to understand the information they value.

Of course, a Chipotle promotion is hardly news in the traditional sense. Much of this content may not come from news outlets and instead, for instance, Chipotle’s website or a press release by Miss Mexico or a local school. “This isn’t something that most traditional media outlets are used to thinking of as important, but they are going to have to start doing so,” Mathew Ingram commented on Google Now will allow news organizations to share the burden of hyperlocal coverage without taking the risk of relying on it as a profit center, as Quartz pointed out. And if they don’t? “Google will fill the data gap itself and they will be left on the outside looking in,” Ingram wrote.

One of the reasons Google could triumph where so many other hyperlocal news sites floundered is it need not participate in the expensive content creation process. Each Patch site costs between USD$140,000 and $180,000 per year to operate, but Google will rely on algorithms rather than salary-dependent editors for curation. We previously suggested that robot reporters, such as those created by Narrative Sciencemay play a great role in hyperlocal news. Google is using that same principle by automating many of the processes of curation.

The failures of hyperlocal sites have suggested that while people find such information interesting and relevant to them, they might not find it interesting or relevant enough to justify logging onto sites to check for updates. But Google Now’s push alerts will remove this effort and hesitation, Mims reported, and thus likely increase traffic to news sites.

While Wright emphasized that the add-on is still in an “experimental version,” if tests continue positively this local news card could soon become part of Google Now’s arsenal.

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