Google is running a pilot program of an app called Bulletin that would let anyone publish local news stories and events, Slate reported. The search giant described the service as a way for people to share information of local interest, such as bookstore readings, high school sporting events or information about street closures, per TechCrunch.
The service is currently being piloted in “early access mode” in Nashville and in Oakland, CA, according to Google's website. The site says Bulletin is a lightweight app for telling stories, taking photos and videoclips from a smartphone phone, and publishing them directly on the internet.
A Google spokesperson at a launch event in Nashville said the company wants to work with local news organizations to help them find and publish some of the stories posted to Bulletin, while giving the author credit.
Google’s test of a local news app is part of the company’s push into localized information after seeing that a significant number of searches are geared toward finding nearby events, restaurants, stores, gas stations and entertainment venues. Google last summer overhauled its Local Guides, the feature in Google Maps that rewards points to people who provide data and photo uploads of local venues, to give participants additional levels and awards. It also updated its mobile application and website to show nearby happenings like sporting events, concerts, art exhibits, festivals, lectures and meetings.
Google’s push into hyperlocal content is coming the same month that Facebook added a new section to its app for local news, events and announcements. Facebook’s “Today In” section is being tested in six cities: New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y., per Recode. Facebook’s News Partnerships team vets the sources of news as part of its Journalism Project to prevent the spread of “fake news,” but the company doesn’t curate the content, per Adweek.
While local content is highly relevant to many audiences, it can be hard to monetize, especially when competing with small-town print and online publishers. It’s also doubtful that people will want to consistently create any worthwhile content if they’re not being paid for their efforts. Some local websites that cover neighborhoods have struggled to gain traction — the Bklyner website that features news from Brooklyn, New York, neighborhoods last month threatened to close unless it gathered more paid subscriptions, per Street Fight. DNAInfo and Gothamist were shut down in November by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts after its journalists voted to unionize by joining the Writers Guild of America East, per the Chicago Tribune.