The story breaks – a fire, earthquake, shooting or protest – and the race begins. You need to speak with someone who is at the scene, right now. Sifting through social media content can be a slow and painstaking process, with no guarantee that you will find an eyewitness source. Enter Geofeedia; a tool that allows journalists to zoom in on social media users posting geographically tagged tweets, photos and videos in a specified area.
Formally launched last week after months of testing, Geofeedia aggregates location-linked posts from Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Picasa. By entering an address or drawing a circle on a map, you can call up the content being generated in your target region in real time. The creators vaunt it as a valuable tool for tracking down sources and images when text searches such as keywords and hashtags do not suffice.
In an interview with Steve Myers of Poynter, Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris used the Chardon High School shooting near Cleveland on February 27 as an example of a situation in which the site had been useful: he was able to encircle the school on the map and identify several tweeting sources on the ground within 30 seconds, he told Myers. Harris added that the service also promotes “business intelligence,” assisting editors in determining which stories to cover and how.
On Friday, @Geofeedia retweeted praise from journalists and a communications specialist who were experimenting with the new tool:
Myers claims to have tested the service last week, when a fire broke out at an Oregon high school. In the time it took him to find a useful Instagram photo, however, a local journalist covering the story had already retweeted several others, adding keywords and hashtags that rendered the location-specific search irrelevant. His verdict: Geofeedia is a useful addition to a journalist’s arsenal, but is not the last word in social sourcing.
Holly Moore, a social media producer for Gannett, reportedly concurred with Myers in an email interview, claiming that Geofeedia has potential as a “hip news tool” but is not yet, in her estimation, “a service worth paying for.”
How many newsrooms will be willing and able to pay for it is another matter: the preliminary subscription fee is $1,450 per month for up to five users. Free trials are now being offered to “qualified applicants,” in what Harris described as an attempt to show potential customers the “value” of the service. However, Geofeedia’s website warns that high demand has created a backlog, and there is a two-week waiting list for new accounts. In the high-speed world of breaking news, that may be long enough for the buzz to cool.