I’m in the early stages of developing the mobile site prototype for RichmondConfidential.org, the hyperlocal news site. I will use this site for testing before implementing similar mobile sites to the other hyperlocal news sites we run here at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
In order for a developer to be able to implement some of the features, we need to rewrite a lot of the backend in HTML5. That should be done by mid-January. My developer is already working with the CalPress WordPress theme that the hyperlocals run on to determine how best to implement a mobile site. The features and functionality for Richmond Confidential are locked in and agreed upon. They are a little different than what I originally proposed but better suit the needs of the site’s audience. Our goal is to not only have a great mobile site, but to add functionality to RichmondConfidential.org as well so that people will continue to come back to our site. We aim to be the main news source for all things in Richmond, California. There are three components to the mobile site:
- A readable news site on mobile devices. The newest five stories will automatically save locally to the phone, so you’ll be able to read them on the go. To resize the text (often, as a user I find it so annoying when the text is too small), a user will simply spread their fingers to size up to three gradations larger. The sharing options will be Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Instapaper.
We had originally wanted to save specifically to the user, but determined it was not worth the resources or server space that feature would require. Users who are used to saving stories for later often use things like Instapaper, which has an open API, so it should be easy for us to implement. We can always build out more sharing options later.
- A community event calendar. It might sound fundamental, but Richmond Confidential doesn’t have one, and the audience needs one. Ideally, we can start introducing a user-generated content element, such as Tackable, to engage more with the community. This is a feature we’ve been asked for repeatedly, and really makes sense on mobile. We’ll show the events of the day in order of time, you’ll see directions and how far they are. We’ll link to public transportation options as well. This is one of the features that will keep people coming back to the site.A list of the “best that Richmond has to offer.”
- Originally, we were going to go with restaurant health-inspection reports, use geolocation and show you what near you is a sanitary place for you to eat.This idea really works well with the other two hyperlocals and is something we will probably explore in the future when translating the project to the other sites.
However, Richmond Confidential tries really hard to report on the positive things happening in Richmond, partially because the only time the city gets major news coverage is when something horrible happens. It’s a traditionally under-served community that is always cast in a bad light. The health-inspection report didn’t seem like a strong fit here.
After talking to the reporters and editors, we decided to create a geolocated list of the best “places” in Richmond — the best restaurants, hiking trails, etc. The idea is that if you’re in Richmond and you don’t know what to do, you’ll go to this part of the mobile site and it will show you what’s nearby. You’ll be able to sort by category as well. This is very similar to Yelp. We’re getting a lot of community input on what the best activities in Richmond are. We’ll also include a link to give us feedback if we’ve missed a great local spot.
I’ve used some of the money to hire the developer. The majority of the funds will go to him upon completion of the project. I’ve also put aside some of the funds for a user- interface designer to help with the flow of mobile websites and applications.
Each feature is being developed as a WordPress plugin, so transferring the functionality between these sites will be no issue.
I’d like to get my working prototype up in late February and start beta testing in March. We will continue to tweak the design and functionality as long as necessary.
The next big step is to work out mobile advertising on the sites. Berkeley has recently hired Dave Cohen, founder of Spot.us, to help the hyperlocals figure out how to become more sustainable. This is particularly important since the grants that fund the hyperlocals will end this school year. Originally, I wanted to get local businesses to advertise with the hyperlocal sites, but this requires more manpower than we currently have.