Thursday, February 4, 2010

Local news apps from aggregators still a work in progress

I downloaded three iPhones news apps yesterday and looked at a fourth to see the progress being made in delivering local news to mobile devices.  Here is my report:

Fwix has launched a series of local news apps for San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. I downloaded the Chicago app and was impressed with the look and feel. Fwix already has local news sites that aggregate news from news sources, blogs and what it calls "indie" content. Essentially, though, Fwix is aggregating linked content and flowing them into new layouts.

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When a user sees a story of interest and clicks the link they are transported to the original provider of the news. So, for instance, the hockey story took me to ChicagoNow and delivered the news in browser form, not in a mobile reader format. From there I can continue to surf the ChicagoNow site, or could click the back "News" button to return me to the home page.

There is also a map feature that puts the news stories on a Google-type map complete with pins.

I saw no advertising and the app is free (and there was no advertising on the Fwix web page either). Instead, Fwix's model seems to be built on creating an ad network that actually resides on the home of the news, not the Fwix product. The ad product, called AdWire, and is put the site of the news provider or blogger, through a widget and revenue generated is shared. But the AdWire site itself seems to be under construction and no localized ads could be found on any of the partner sites. This is clearly a work in progress.

The San Francisco based company is backed by BlueRun Ventures which secured Series A funding to the tune of $2.75 million (no word on burn rate).

The company that would be a logical competitor would be Topix. Unlike Fwix, Topix offers only one iPhone app, instead of separate apps for each city. It's app, called Topix Aura, determines your location through your phone and delivers local news.

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Like Fwix, the Topix app sends you to the source of the original story. In the case of Topix, though, the story is delivered in a short summary. The reader is given the name of the source and the option to continue on to the web site if desired. Readers can also comment on stories, though I saw no examples of anyone actually doing this. Topix also gives you a news map similar to the Fwix map.

If you are not familiar with Topix, they also maintain web sites that deliver local news in a similar fashion. The big difference is that both the iPhone app and their web sites seem to be monetized through Google AdSense.

Another big advantage to using Topix is that they maintain localized forums that do, in fact, seem to be used.. The conversations there appear to center around crime news and the bizarre ("Man in flying monkey suit accused of punching U-W basketball player").

So here we have two aggregators trying to profit from the news generated by local media firms and bloggers. What about local newspapers? Are they entering the iPhone app game?

This afternoon I will talk about a third product created by DoApp Inc.  DoApp is working with both local newspaper publishers and local news stations and has over 100 apps currently on the iTunes store. (Crossposted on