The Lenfest Local Lab and the Philadelphia Inquirer have collaborated to bring news consumers HERE, a location-aware app that makes discovering news easy. Currently, the app is only available for iOS devices. It was released in November and so far has 300 users.
To use the app, users simply need to grant three necessary permissions for the app to function: the ability to send notifications, know the users real-time location and detect motion.
HERE works by sending a push notification if the user is near any art, architecture or real estate that has been written about recently in the Inquirer. These topics were chosen because they are about places that people could be walking by and easily stop to observe and read about. If there isn’t any news in the area where the user is, no notifications will appear, nor will the user receive any alerts if they are driving.
The idea stemmed from Lenfest Lab’s goal to help citizens learn about and connect with their communities and with local journalists. It took roughly two months to develop.
“With the HERE app, we are testing a local news product that meets people where they actually are,” Sarah Schmalbach, lead and product director for the Lenfest Local Lab, told E&P. “We wanted to try to create a local news homepage for the physical world.”
Schmalbach shared that creating the app required a lot of brainstorming and communication with the Inquirer, which included a team of 10 collaborators ranging from executives, directors, editors and reporters. Pulitzer Prize winning Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron also had her hand in the project, as her stories provided the foundation for the app.
Using a Google analytics dashboard, the team checks HERE’s dashboard daily to see how users are connecting with it. Since the app is meant to be an experiment, they are not yet attempting to scale this experience.
At the moment, both organizations are allowing enough time to get feedback before deciding what to do next.
“Since we’re still early on, we’re still thinking about how it might grow,” Schmalbach said. “We do have a few other kinds of news stories that tie to place that we might test the app with next, but we need to know more about how people are using this app first.”
According to Schmalbach, feedback has been enthusiastic thus far, with praise from community officials in Philadelphia, academics and others in the tech journalism community.
“We feel really lucky to be in a setup where we have a lab that’s…able to support us in ways that not every traditional newsroom has,” said Kim Fox, Inquirer managing editor of audience and innovation. “We’re really hoping to be that practical sandbox with the benefit that then some of our lessons learned can be shared with other newsrooms across the country.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated.