An example of Outside.in’s API being utilized by an NBC affiliate in Ohio.
This shows on a map where stories originated.
Screengrab from Citizen Publishing.
Outside.in, the hyperlocal site that pulls news, blogs and other content for just about any given address, is doing what all papers should be doing. It’s made itself a platform.
Last year, Outside.in came out with an API that allowed developers to use the site’s hyperlocal news content in pretty much any way conceivable. As an example of what could be done with the API, Outside.in developers created near.ly, which allows users to get hyperlocal news delivered as direct messages via Twitter.
Why aren’t local papers taking advantage of this idea? Outside.in has a partnership site for news outlets that want to display hyperlocal results. A recent piece from Citizen Publishing makes it sound like Outside.in is really pushing for newspapers to start creating neighborhood pages with local content powered, of course, by the API. But that aggregated local news could just be the beginning of a community page. The page could also display local pictures using Flickr’s API, local restaurants and businesses with Yelp’s API, and local Twitter updates with Twitter’s API (while Outside.in pulls from Twitter, it seems messy to have tweets displayed with blog posts and news articles). And that’s just the automatically generated content, which by itself is not enough to create an engaging community portal. To do that, it needs to let the user take control of manipulating the data: It needs to become a platform. It needs to offer ways to connect with other users, to connect with reporters, and to share what they know. Citizen journalism should be encouraged, but the reality that most people don’t actually care about being citizen journalists should also be considered. In my admittedly limited experience, most people just want to be taken seriously when they do participate. I don’t think reporter-audience engagement can be overrated. Neither can the value of “soft” information like the Yelp rating of a nearby local dive you’ve been meaning to check out.
All of that combined can start making your audience take notice.
It starts with hyperlocal news.
That said, my personal feeling is that Outside.in’s API’s functionality is somewhat hindered by old-journalism thinking. Just because something is happening in someone’s general area does not mean that the news will be of interest. (Though obviously enough people are finding it interesting to keep Outside.in afloat.) For stories, the API does utilize titles. I haven’t figured out precisely how, but it seems there would be a way to limit your results by keyword, thus producing stories about a specific subject — as long as the keyword occurred in a headline.
In other words, hyperlocal news is a great place to start, but it’s not enough.
Come to think of it, that’s true of programming, too.