11 July 2008


Following on from last fortnight’s look at the use of maps in online journalism, today’s SPOTLIGHT post examines the rise of geotagging.

We’ll be looking at current applications of geotagging technologies by journalists in the US and the UK and will supply the usual list of resources for further information and practical guidance.

This post will also consider location-based media and the potential future uses of geographic information systems (GIS) in online journalism and will cast its eye around its present popularity in the social media world.

What On Earth Is Geotagging?

As usual, Poynter Online provides a useful working definition of geotagging or geocoding as it is also known:

“Geocoding is the process of assigning geographic coordinates (the latitude and longitude of a location) to street addresses and other geographic features so that they can be displayed in online maps.

“This enables websites to show the location of news events or display data such as crimes and real estate transactions.”

Wikipedia’s definition expands on this and states that such geographic metadata can also come in the shape of place names and altitude as well as coordinates.

This metadata can be tagged manually (see the Wikipedia entry for more technical details on this) or it can be auto-tagged by use of a mobile phone or other device which has integrated Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities.

Meanwhile, location-based media require the end user to have a GPS-enabled device which means content and data can be sent and received with geographical positions automatically included as metadata.

What Does It Mean For Journalism?

Geotagging technologies present exciting new opportunities for journalism as well as for a whole host of other information and communications industries.

This slideshow from venture capitalist firm Venrock provides a useful introduction to some of these opportunities.

Emerging Opportunities on the GeoWeb by Dev Khare, Venrock.

So far, all this has led to two main innovations of interest to online journalists:

1:- The creation of map-based interfaces and databases where users can search for information (articles, reviews, photos, films etc) by location.

2:- The creation of GPS-based interfaces where access to content is triggered by physical location.

We now turn to see how news websites are getting to grips with these new developments.


International & National Maps

A great example of a simple but effective use of geotagging can be seen on this national news map for the USA created by Michael Young.

The stories come from national news feeds from the Associated Press while the mapping software comes from Google and the geocoding API is from Yahoo!

Articles are plotted on the map as the city or state mentioned in each story is coded to a point of latitude and longitude.

On a grander scale is the MetaCarta GeoSearch News service which was launched in April this year and maps international news stories.

The site uses a Google map interface alongside articles from the Associated Press and Reuters.

[MetaCarta World News Map Goes Live - April 2008]

And at the very forefront of these developments is the latest partnership from Google Earth and the New York Times.

The cutting-edge project uses the latest version of the Google Earth 3D browser as a platform to display geocoded NYT articles which are updated in real time.

USA - Local Landscapes - Mainstream Media

Regional publishers in the mainstream media are also getting in on the geotagging act and one of the most innovative examples is the CinciNavigator search tool from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Microsoft Virtual Earth map interface displays geotagged data on a range of themes – from police callouts to crimes and latest petrol prices.

Similarly, the Salt Lake Tribune’s TribTowns map (using a Yahoo! API) has six different views, one for each of its themes such as Dining, Things To Do and Sports.

USA - Local Landscapes - Independent Media

Embracing the hyperlocal potential of geotagging is the news, views and reviews website Outside.in.

Covering thousands of cities and neighbourhoods across the US, the site enables users to search its databases for the latest news and information about their street, village, town or postcode area.

Outside.in allows local bloggers to geotag their blogs so they can then be included among its content search results.

Local issues are also the central focus of EveryBlock, which offers crime news by neighbourhood in five US cities.

Launched as ChicagoCrime.org, EveryBlock has evolved to provide geocoded content on news stories from New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Charlotte.

It has also expanded its remit from covering crime stories to incorporating many acts of officialdom from restaurant inspections to business reviews and building permits.

Users can search its databases for news by type and by location - from street to council districts and postcode areas.

UK - Local Landscapes - Mainstream Media

This year has seen several publishing groups introduce geotagging metadata into their online systems.

Regional publisher Northcliffe Media recently relaunched its “next generation” of websites for its local news titles featuring search options made possible via geotagging actions.

[Northcliffe Ushers In Geocoding Era – 23 June 2008]

Trinity Mirror’s revamped websites are also starting to experiment with the possibilities of geotagging services.

For example, the Teesside Gazette includes a Gazette Communities channel where users can search for hyperlocal content by postcode.

Meanwhile, the Archant publishing group has been labelled by blogger Paul Bradshaw as the one to watch when it comes to geotagging innovations in 2008.

Archant web editor James Goffin writes on Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog about his company’s plans for the introduction of geotagging and revealed that they are experimenting with interactive maps.

The initiative was hit by a delay late last year but it is expected that the geocoding plans will go live before the end of this year.

Geotagging and location-based services are also likely to form one of the key foundations of the BBC’s proposed hyperlocal video news network.

This post from Andrew Williams provides an outline of the shape of things to come if the corporation’s plans to enter the online hyperlocal news market are approved.



The use of GPS services to trigger the display of data on mobiles is very much in the experimental stage in the journalism industry.

These GPS interfaces use satellite technology to work on the same principle as audio tour devices used in museums - providing information to the end user based on their physical location.

However, unlike tour guide tools, these digital platforms also allow two-way communications using GIS.

A Poynter Online blog post recently outlined the strengths and weakness of so-called “locative journalism” as the writer participated in a GPS storytelling experiment in Chicago.

While last year the BBC undertook a citizen reporting trial project using GPS technologies to both gather and distribute multimedia stories.

Social Media

While journalists may be just starting out on their locative storytelling journey, social media and gaming websites are streaking ahead.

Jot You is a location-based text messaging service through which users can send to their friends messages which are received when they arrive at a specified geographical location.

Social networking site Loopt claims to turn a mobile phone into a social compass as it sends users alerts when their friends are in nearby locations and helps members share recommendations on places and events.

In a similar way, content-sharing website JuiceCaster also enables friends to “bump into” each other thanks to its location-based functionalities.

While Yahoo!’s Fire Eagle website deploys GPS services so users can post their location to their profiles on blog sites, as well as multimedia-sharing and social networking websites.

It’s currently invitation-only but here’s a review of its offerings from BBC technology blogger Rory Cellan-Jones.

Finally, Hewlett-Packard’s Mediascapes project allows mobile users to engage in “location-based experiences, games and tours”.

And members are also encouraged to use their GPS-enabled mobiles to create their own locative media experiences.


There are several groups at the forefront of locative media experimentation, here’s a selection.

Northwestern University’s LoJo project is a multimedia initiative headed by graduate students and its site is an excellent resource with information on all aspects of locative journalism.

It also has a useful list of 12 recommendations for media organisations regarding geotagging and location-based technologies.

More general uses for GIS have also been explored by a team of scholars at the University of Southern California through its Networked Publics group and its resulting report on Places.

The Center for Locative Media is another useful resource experimenting in a variety of applications of GPS and geotagging services.

And a couple of blogs provide interesting updates on a number of aspects of the geoweb – Google Earth’s LatLong blog and this locative media blog.

Practical Guides

There are plenty of places online to find out more about the practicalities of applying geotagging technology, for instance the EveryBlock blog has guidance on creating maps.

While this blog post from MediaShift’s Idea Lab has a video and text guide about using geocoding services with Google Maps.

Finally, the GPS Visualiser site offers free geocoding software services.

That’s it for this fortnight’s SPOTLIGHT post. As always, do get in touch if you have any examples that you’d like to share of innovation in today’s subject.

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