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Andrew Barber

“It's time to start thinking like a journalist."

There’s something happening in Manchester (isn't there always?) which could have great potential for two of my favourite types - property people and journalists.

On the back of funding received through Google's Digital News Initiative, an experimental ‘location-based storytelling’ service called Otherworld has been launched that is now “helping people to explore the world around them like never before.”

Limited (for now) to parts of central Manchester, Otherworld utilises beacon technology to give people access to “relevant information based on their location”.

While the use of beacons has been used in locations such as shopping centres before, the Otherworld project doesn’t require a downloaded App (although it does require the device to have some Google software) and will work for anyone wanting to receive local news and information simply by having the Bluetooth function of their mobile devices switched on.

Otherworld claims that, once set-up, “stories you walk by appear as a silent notification on your phone. When you walk out of range they fall away.”

The range of the beacons can be up to about 400 metres, so the technology does offer huge potential for very localised news and information. Stories can be submitted via traditional news releases or links to webpages and blogs can also be sent for consideration.

In addition to informing passers-by about promotional offers in shops and restaurants (as seen in some shopping centres) the Otherworld project offers potential for companies in Manchester to inform those nearby about their businesses - maybe broadcasting news about a new contract win or staff vacancies? For those in the property game, such news could be about the sale of an investment property or the availability of some office space “in the building you are walking past right now”.

The opportunity to broadcast hyper-local news is certainly attracting interest from the media and the involvement of the BBC in the Otherworld project is significant. One of the challenges will be to ensure a degree of quality of news and “stories” - the temptation will be to produce a lot of promotional material that risks being seen simply as advertising spam.

If such technology is to become widespread, those submitting content will need to consider start thinking about the challenges to ensuring that it appeals to the target audience. This will need businesses (and individuals) to be very clear about whether what they want to broadcast is genuinely newsworthy. They will need to think about their writing style. They will need to understand the expectations of those they are writing for (Otherworld’s own guidelines are worth a read here). In short, they will need to understand how news media works and, dare I say it, start thinking like a journalist.

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