Dispatchorama: a distributed approach to covering a distributed news event

We’ve had a sort of Hack Week at the Guardian, or “Discovery Week“. So, I took the opportunity to mess around with the n0tice API to test out some ideas about distributed reporting.

This is what it became (best if opened in a mobile web browser):


It’s a little web app that looks at your location and then helps you to quickly get to the scene of whatever nearby news events are happening right now.

The content is primarily coming from n0tice at the moment, but I’ve added some tweets with location data. I’ve looked at some geoRSS feeds, but I haven’t tackled that, yet. It should also include only things from the last 24 hours. Adding more feeds and tuning the timing will help it feel more ‘live’.

The concept here is another way of thinking about the impact of the binding effect of the digital and physical worlds. Being able to understand the signals coming out of networked media is increasingly important. By using the context that travels with bits of information to inform your physical reality you can be quicker to respond, more insightful about what’s going on and proactive in your participation, as a result.

I’m applying that idea to distributed news events here, things that might be happening in many places at once or a news event that is moving around.

In many ways, this little experiment is a response to the amazing effort of the Guardian’s Paul Lewis and several other brave reporters covering last year’s UK riots.

There were 2 surprises in doing this:

  1. The twitter location-based tweets are really all over the place and not helpful. You really have to narrow your source list to known twitter accounts to get anything good, but that kind of defeats the purpose.
  2. I haven’t done a ton of research, yet, but there seems to be a real lack of useful geoRSS feeds out there. What happened? Did the failure of RSS readers kill the geoRSS movement? What a shame. That needs to change.

The app uses the n0tice API, JQuery Mobile, and Google’s location APIs and a few snippets picked off StackOverflow. It’s on GitHub here:

One thought on “Dispatchorama: a distributed approach to covering a distributed news event”

  1. Great job, but in answer to your second point at the end about geoRSS, in my view there was a shift in attitudes towards developing and developing games seems a far more attractive proposition then developing services reliant on rss feeds, as the developer may think that:

    1. Gaming has a long ‘work’ lifespan.
    2. Creating characters and story-lines may seem to be easier than facts.
    3. Its just seen to be cool

    Damian Radcliffe had a slide produced on #slideshare from his research into ‘hyperlocal’, which shows that the audience are becoming unconcerned of location based services or ‘geo-tools’ than the previous year, around which time (I do believe in my Uk world view, which I do believe is lagging behind the US) Zynga was making head way in shifting focus away from location based services due to a very large price tag 😉

    The hardest thing in the world is to innovate, and I am sure that you will hit that killer app with n0tice that will make us all stand to attention and say ‘wow’!

    or at least a small ‘oh yeah! now why didn’t I think of that’


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