Posts filed under 'Location'

The ‘gamification’ of news, and how it can be relevant

One of the somewhat-obnoxious buzzwords going around the South by Southwest Interactive Festival is the “gamification” of, well, everything, including the gamification of news. In a nutshell, that means taking video-game style processes and applying them to everything, from the way we educate our children to the way we keep up with what’s going on in the community. Location-based service game SCVNGR’s “Chief Ninja” Seth Priebatsch’s keynote address on Saturday afternoon was all about using game mechanics to interest people to do important but often-mundane tasks (such as succeeding at school).

Some news organizations, notably The Huffington Post, have been keen to figure out how to add game mechanics to online news in hopes of gaining reader loyalty and increasing clicks. Users can earn points by reading articles or play HuffPo’s “Predict the News” feature, which launched at the end of last year.

“Gamification” is a goofy made-up word, but its idea, I believe, has merits. The key, as Gowalla CEO Josh Williams put it during a SXSW panel on Monday, is to make the game useful and relevant to real people, not just the early adopter crowds that attend SXSW.

Foursquare has about 7.5 million users, and Gowalla has about 1 million. Both have been around for two years and have been pushing their services pretty hard. What will it take to push those numbers into nationwide acceptance? Relevance.

Williams, who says he dislikes the term “gamification,” said Monday that virtual “badges are bullshit.” He said to truly reach the masses, these services have to go beyond “checking in” to places or earning virtual badges. For his part, Williams says he wants Gowalla’s service to mean something to people’s lives. He said the goal of Gowalla is to help people explore the world around them and archive vacations, complete with pictures, comments and more — all put into a neat little box that you can review.

Williams makes a lot of sense. There’s some fun to becoming the “mayor” of a location on Foursquare. There’s also some fun to collecting virtual items for your passport on Gowalla. However, it takes earning good discounts, archiving  valuable memories or gaining valuable content — something — to make it worthwhile to the general population. Gowalla, for instance, worked with TOMS Shoes and AT&T to give Gowalla users a chance to earn a pair of shoes (which also means TOMS gives a pair to a needy child somewhere in the world). That’s value that will make people want to keep using your service.

That got me to thinking about what value a news organization could offer by making the news more of a game. There’s no question that mobile and location are going to be an even bigger part of the landscape in the years to come as more people get better smart phones (and as the smart phones continue to evolve at a blistering pace).

So, what if news organizations started adding location data to each URL? This idea came up while I was chatting with Gowalla developer Rob Mack at a party later Monday night. Imagine a reader using her smart phone to open your news app while she’s sitting at a coffee shop. Instead of just the latest, or even hand-picked top stories, appearing on the main page, what if it had a section that showed news that was relevant to the area around that coffee shop? What if the “game” were that users get points for reading the news about all sections of the city (as they travel and check your stories, a map fills in, showing they saw the latest news for that area)? The game mechanic added in could also just be to show which of their Facebook friends had read the same stories, at the same location. So when you log into the app at that coffee shop, it tells you that three of your friends read the news from your site from that same shop. Users could also leave comments on the story that are location-specific or just a tip about the coffee shop (which could be displayed next to your news organization’s review, which also could appear thanks to location tagging).

This wouldn’t be “gamification” just for the sake of having a game. Users would get value in return — relevant, targeted news content and a communal experience.

Other ideas I have for using location to “gamifiy” the news include a fun online mobile scavenger hunt or tagging user photos and news tips at locations, which could appear on a news organization’s website. Or what about giving users a virtual tour of your city, using your news content? That’s exactly what I did for the Statesman — I set up virtual “trips” on Gowalla using the Statesman’s content to get people to explore Austin.

It’s not just the newsroom that needs to be thinking about this. Priebatsch pointed out in his keynote that the reason Groupon is so successful is because it uses game mechanics effectively to hook users. It gives out a “free lunch” by giving steep discounts, it has a time element (clock is ticking on each deal), and it encourages team play by having a “tipping point” before the deal is active. And Groupon is moving into news organization’s advertising territory in a hurry. Why can’t news organizations, which already have the retailer relationships set up, and the news content to make the app worth using, fight to take it back?  Some are trying various Groupon-like services, including  my parent company CMGd, which created DealSwarm. What’s the next step, though? If I could guess, it would be adding that element of location to the mix. There’s huge potential for advertising when it comes to location-based information and gamification. News organizations are used to reaching local retailers, and location is a natural when it comes to shopping. Imagine that that same woman sitting in a coffee shop reading your news learns, thanks to a banner ad or some type of alert, that there’s a sale two blocks away.

These might sound like far-down-the-road ideas, but more and more people are using smart phones in lieu of computers (or newsprint or TV stations, for that matter). It’s time to start thinking about how news organizations can add value in this space. Williams said that a new location-based service starts up “every week” but we forget about them almost as fast. The reason they go away — they don’t focus on value. News organizations have something they don’t — good content. They just need to think about how to use it in new ways … and make it, dare I say, a game.

- Robert Quigley

21 comments March 15th, 2011

Newspapers and location: Going out with Gowalla

This morning, the Austin American-Statesman began a collaboration with Gowalla, the social media startup that uses GPS-enabled phones to help people explore their cities.

A few larger media outlets have taken a similar plunge, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal with rival service Foursquare, and the Washington Post and National Geographic with Gowalla. It was an easy match for the Statesman because Gowalla is based in Austin, and the Statesman has been pushing the envelope on social media for years.


Users who follow the Statesman and its entertainment site, Austin360, on Gowalla can complete trips that give virtual pins as rewards.

If you haven’t tried Gowalla or Foursquare, the whole idea of “checking in” to a location seems rather absurd – much the way Twitter likely sounded absurd when you first heard about it. However, we now know that Twitter can be used as an effective tool during breaking news events. That point was driven home in Austin during the plane crash into the IRS building. It’s way too early to tell whether Gowalla, Foursquare or any other location-based network will truly hit the mainstream – or be an effective tool for journalists beyond fun marketing.

So what does the Statesman expect to gain from this deal with Gowalla?

* It is very good for marketing. Gowalla is entertaining and addictive to use, so it’s great to have our brand associated with something fun.

* It’s another way to get into mobile devices. The news industry has been trying hard for the past couple of years to go mobile, building iPhone apps, better mobile sites and using Twitter and text messages. This is yet another way to seamlessly put our content and news into smart phones, which weaves our news into the fabric of our city.

* It is a way to get our foot in the door. If this does take off, we’ll be in a good position to do much more with it.

For its part, Gowalla gets exposure and content, two things it needs as it pushes back against not only Foursquare, but Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and others who are jumping into or are already in the location-based field.

We’re starting out with eight Gowalla trips, but plan to expand with more trips and eventually other creative ways of melding our content into Gowalla’s application. It’s a good start – and it’s fun.

- Robert Quigley

14 comments June 3rd, 2010

New Tricks: 3 Ways News Organizations Can Leverage Location-Based Social Networks

2010 really looks like the year of location-based social networks, and the news industry seems to agree. The Metro publishing group recently announced a partnership with Foursquare; once a site user says where they are (done via GPS), relevant articles from Metro’s Canadian papers will be pulled into the program, providing site users additional information about the neighborhoods, restaurants and stores near them.

While this move may make some waves for Metro, and may drive some incremental traffic to the Metro group of sites, some may question the move’s overall value for the news company.

Here are three additional ways news organizations — and the business units that support them — can leverage location-based social networks such as Foursquare to make money and drive some incremental traffic:

  • Highlight local landmarks, must-dos and other activities in a multimedia tour. Location-based services such as GoWalla and Foursquare were created, essentially, for social urban explorers: people who like to go to new places and tell others about their travels. Local news organizations can encourage their writers to create content about landmarks and partner with advertisers to create promotions and deals for tour goers along the way.
  • Drive SEO by encouraging local lifestyle writers to post links to reviews/articles on location pages. While not a location-based social network, Urbanspoon allows bloggers to link their restaurant reviews to restaurant pages through a special embed code. (Example here.) Social media leads at news organizations can encourage restaurant reviewers to post restaurant reviews as “tips” on venue pages, feature writers to link to pieces on local landmarks on those pages, and so on. Then, when site users check in to a certain location, they may click through to the newspaper article pages from the network venue pages.
  • Partner with location-based networks to become their sales force. If a local news organization were to show interest in Foursquare, it could become its local sales division, helping draw in new users, new deals and new locations. The quicker Foursquare, GoWalla or MyTown grow, the more likely that site is to become the location-based social network of the future.

- Daniel B. Honigman

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How else can mainstream media organizations leverage location-based social networks in a way that makes them money? Please share your thoughts as a comment on this post!

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Addendum: Foursquare has announced partnerships with Zagat, Warner Bros., HBO and ExploreChicago. No other news organizations have signed on with the service, but the partnerships, as reported by Mashable, are quite interesting.

25 comments February 8th, 2010


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