Location-Aware News

NPR is testing a new service on their site; embedded local news, delivered based on your current location. So if you’re in, say, Philly, you might see the following column embedded on the “regular”/national NPR site:

And when you hover over the “What’s this?” button you might see this:

It’s part of NPR’s broader effort to target its news to the reader/listener, an approach they’re also trying out on Facebook. As an earlier article from the Nieman Journalism Lab reported:

[NPR] found that geofocused posts to the Seattle region usually had a much higher engagement rate than links shared to the global NPR Facebook audience.

For example, the KPLU story “Is Seattle a great but lonely place to live?” was posted to NPR’s Facebook page on January 6 to a geofocused Seattle audience. This story achieved relatively high levels of engagement compared to other local posts.

I think this is an awesome way to use semi-creepy technology (“hey I know where you live,” is essentially what they’re saying), to serve up a genuinely better user experience. Imagine if NPR tracked user preferences and behaviors like an advertising company. But instead of using that information to sell targeted ads, they could present a tailored news experience, including stories that they know you probably wouldn’t want to read, but should. They could create an algorithm that would work against the filter bubble, making sure you’re consistently surprised by viewpoints you don’t agree with.

It’s hard to tell what kind of biases an algorithm like that would have. After all, who determines that an article should be read? And I don’t think NPR is headed toward implementing something like that. But it’s an idea worth entertaining… kudos to NPR for experimenting.