Contextual content: SPUN spins tales of the city into a multi-faceted mobile app
A new content-discovery app SPUN is the latest to bring location-specific content to smartphones.
The app, designed by Brooklyn-based start-up Broadcastr, places location at the center of the content-discovery and consumption experience. Rather than searching by category, tag or topic, users choose their location to find content most relevant to them.
Geo-targeted media is the essence of the user experience, meaning that “publishing to place” is the new means of production. This trend is happening across media, from Facebook to Twitter, and lends itself especially well to mobile. With all of the content out in the world, it’s often hard to keep track of the things tied to physical place that are of interest as one moves through the physical world.
Geo-located content is becoming increasingly competitive. Companies like TagWhat are creating ways to tag content with location, thus opening new content – and revenue – streams for small businesses, advertisers, startups and large companies alike.
Co-founder Andy Hunter describes SPUN as a tool that delivers contextual content to users:
“SPUN was inspired by the idea that as content consumption goes mobile, location will become an increasingly important part of discovery. It’s still very early, but as mobile devices become our main means of consuming content, location becomes essential to contextual relevance.
All history–anything that every happened to any human being–happened somewhere. It should be discoverable there. SPUN takes the web and spins it back into the world.”
Read on for the Tnooz Q &A with co-founder Andy Hunter.
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We’re trying to capture local readers, but unlike a large organization like Patch that enlists a large number of local bloggers (and thus has a large payroll) we’re helping people discover content that already exists. Because we’re curating, instead of creating, our app is much more scalable. A single editor can handle two cities.
By associating editorial content with real-world locations, we enable users to discover content they love tied to places they care about. Adding geographical context to digital media changes the conventional thinking around content discovery and consumption. Contextual relevance is added. This maximizes user engagement by combining a user’s social graph and personal interests with their position in the world to create a better consumption experience. Our flagship iPhone app, SPUN launched in November 2012. Broadcastr was created in 2011.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
SPUN takes the best web content about a place, enhances it with location data, and presents it in a dynamic easy-to-use iPhone interface. Through an automated aggregation process that geo-locates and tags stories, we can capture online media from any source on the web and place it where users actually are, out in the world on their iPhones.
35% of people are now consuming content on mobile devices that are location aware. But the content itself hasn’t evolved much in the past ten years. We think there’s a whole new dimension that can be added to media when it’s out in the world. SPUN is just beginning to scratch the surface of that.
For example, when it tells you when you’re near a restaurant that you ‘liked’ in the app. How many restaurants have you read about, thought “I should check that out,” and then forgotten? SPUN can keep track of that for you, and let you know when you’re nearby.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We’re going to go to where the readers are, by partnering with publications that have audiences interested in local content, and by becoming an active – ideally essential – participant in the community.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We’re confident in our vision, which is that as content consumption goes mobile, the world becomes an indispensible index that allows people to seamlessly discover information that’s relevant to them.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
One important lesson: user generated content is a tough sell at the local level–because you’ve got a much smaller pool to find high-quality stuff. Most of the action on our first mobile app was around professional and semi-professional content, so that’s what we’re focused on with SPUN.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
It is less about a flaw and more of an opportunity. SPUN is inclusive in that we created it with locals in mind, but we realized that was a great app and resource for travellers to discover a city – whether it is their first time visiting, or their tenth.
SPUN’s interface is designed to drive users to sponsored, featured content. Featured content, from partners, is ‘native’ advertising: editorially rich,interesting to our users, and with a much higher engagement rate than traditional advertising.
Because our engagement is deep, our users are valuable. Future revenue streams will include premium content available for in-app purchases, sponsored deals that drive traffic to retailers and restaurants, and monetizing our API.
While there are an increasingly large number of content providers using place as the soul of content discovery, SPUN does a good job of creating an engaging interface that encourages place-based discovery.
Aggregating content from many sources melds well with their philosophy of seeing other competitors as potential partners – by bringing all news related to one place together, it can add value to all levels of the chain.
We’re most interested in watching how the premium content plays out within the stream.
Will users push back if all the content is paid in the app, or will publishers view these eyeballs as valuable enough to pay for them? Recommended content engines like Outbrain have been powering pay-to-play “recommended content” widgets for blogs, so what does this sort of paid content placement mean for user trust?
On the flip side, Red Bull has made premium content the lynchpin of their entire marketing strategy and it works wonders for them.
The key feature here might not just be reading aggregated content about a particular place, but delving into the hyper-local news that powers outfits like Patch. By hooking users on block-by-block content discovery – from the biggest city-wide stories to the most micro-minutiae – SPUN could really insert themselves at the center of users’ digital discovery.
An algorithm that also only delivers the best stories for each user is also essential here, as the immense wave of location-tagged content must be parsed into a useful stream that not only delivers what the user expects but also some unexpected surprise gems. This keeps it interesting, and truly delivers the “discovery” element, rather than the “stuff you likely already saw.”
SPUN needs to work on battery life, however, because our battery took a giant hit in our trial run of the app. Using the Location Services capability prudently will be the key here if SPUN wants users to keep the app open in the background for the most relevant content as users move through the physical world.
As far as monetization and utility for users and businesses, SPUN has some interesting revenue possibilities when tied with location-based content. Restaurants with new menu items, retailers with fresh inventory, movie theaters with special events – all of these time-sensitive and place-specific venues could benefit immensely from a community like SPUN.
The question is: can SPUN truly build an engaged community around place-based aggregated content, and will this community be as engaged (and thus valuable) as they hope?
Nick Vivion was a senior reporter for Tnooz from August 2012 to July 2015.