The number of daily Google searches from mobile devices is set to surpass searches from PCs and laptops by next year according the Guardian. This is a colossal change – suddenly place becomes a crucial context to what people are looking for. What does that mean for a local blogger with loads of great local content? I’ve run a local blog since 2006 – there are about 1,500 posts on an area a mile long by half a mile wide, the vast majority about a specific place within that patch.
I can order my posts by title, by date, by tag, by category, but not by place. It seems weirdly hard to get a sense of where we have written about. Indeed the place names and address to which the posts relate often aren’t in the posts themselves – it’s assumed from local context that people will know where something is. So even the mighty Google would be hard pressed to work out through computational force where I was talking about. Local blogs are rarely like Yelp. Geo-tagging involves adding simple information to your blog post so that computers can see where it relates to.
Geotagging has been bubbling under for some time – here’s a post from 2008 – but the rise of mobile consumption suddenly makes it important for internet services to know what content is near you when you surf from a phone or tablet. You want to find a coffee or restaurant or something to do near you, not in Aberdeen.
Geo tagging is now quick and easy in wordpress.com and wordpress.org, Drupal and Blogger. Broadly, you turn on geotagging in the settings somewhere or install a plugin and then click on a map before publishing. This inserts some html you can’t see into the page
that tells a computer looking at it where the page is about. Drop the RSS feed into Google maps and you get something like the map on the left
Or try one of the new native geo-tagging services like n0tice – my colleague Sarah Hartley writes about this over at Journalism.co.uk
In the last year we’ve seen some interesting moves in geolocation:
Instagram had a big push on geotagging
NESTA in the UK (declaration – a client) is running the Destination Local programme to explore geotagging of news content.
Things have sped up in the past few weeks:
Google has announced ‘enhanced campaigns‘ for adwords with a place sensitive component, it’s explained a little better in this Guardian piece. This is an important shift as they make it much easier to run place based campaigns.
Facebook is up to something if you believe the rumours, but it will be in Facebook-land only I suppose not exposed to the wider web. Whilst friend finder apps always spark controversy I would find it really useful to know which cafes near me my friends have used, for instance. When discussing this sort of thing I always fall into a Fawlty Towers-like ‘don’t mention Grindr’ scenario.
Trinity Mirror the huge British local newspaper group is featuring geo tagged content on its new Manchester and Birmingham sites. On the Manchester site scroll down and down for a ‘news map’. This seems to be an extension of pilot the group ran in Merseyside. Curiously I can find clear geotags in the older Merseyside site in its HTML but not in the Manchester one – let me know if you spot any.
The BBC is also talking about experiments in geo-tagging its output in the BBC news labs. I can’t find any geo tagged pages in the wild – if you have spotted some please let me know
For both the BBC and Trinity Mirror it would be interesting to learn about their editorial process they worked through to decide ‘where a story is’ and where in the workflow it is tagged. Given the BBC’s public service role it would be good to see them publish this.
So if the above is the supply side, making geo-tagged content, where does the demand side come from? Google is a big provider mobile eyeballs. If you use Google maps on your phone to search for things it’s very good at giving you results nearby, but from quite a limited and to be honest banal range of results. Google draws on broadly speaking business directory content, Zagats, which it owns and physical ‘things’ that are on its remarkable map product. Google doesn’t yet recognise ‘third party’ geotags such as those in local blogs or even local newspapers as I’ve discussed before. So you could be a couple fo hundred metres from a restaurant that Jay Raynor thinks is great, but Google mobile search relies on the Zagats reviews.
But the Adwords developments seem to be a signal that Google is starting to rearrange its extensive geospatial furniture. If Google is pushing geo-targetted ads, then they will soon need some more exciting geo-spatially tagged content to sell them against. It’s surely only a matter of time before we see Google extending its recognition of third party geotags in their search results. Local bloggers with their superb engaging local content have a lot to gain – start geotagging now.
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