If there is one thing we rarely leave behind, it's our cell phones. With a slew of features we all have come to rely on, smartphones are now a staple in our day to day lives. And as that functionality grows, their presence is only going to become more permanent. NFC will help the transition towards using a cell phone as a one-stop payment method, hacked versions of Siri turns your phone into a personal assistant that does everything but fold your clothes and cook your breakfast and even RIM has some unique ideas for the future of cell phones.
Having such capable and lightweight devices always attached to our heads and hands has turned us into tools ourselves. Fairly recently, people have begun to recognize the true usefulness of millions of citizens carrying around cameras and always-connected devices in their pockets. They are eye witnesses, first responders, to emergencies and other newsworthy events like heavy traffic or wild fires.
The first I saw of this was when I signed up for Instagram, after purchasing my CDMA iPhone in February. I was browsing through some of the suggested people to follow on the image sharing network when I discovered CNN iReport. (It's not new, I know. But I had never heard of it before.) The iReport initiative was created in 2006 and is a crowdsourced sector of CNN that accepts user-created stories in order to gain a different perspective and hopefully better understand the story itself. Stories created by users, of course, are not instantly fact-checked, edited or screened before they are posted. But CNN producers peruse some of the most interesting and urgent stories and will "clear" them to be part of CNN's news coverage.
It's genius. People all over the world are constantly posting live pictures of ongoing events to Twitter, Facebook and even networks like Instagram. CNN and other news outlets can't always make it out to breaking stories within a timely manner. It was only a matter of time before someone pieced the puzzle together and discovered that utilizing readers who may already be live on location to channel content and information to the World-Wide Web for them is the answer.
More importantly, it has caused others to get in on the action. Not every story is worthy of making it to a national news source. Local stories – road construction, floods, etc. – are important, too. That's where Meporter comes in.
Meporter, much like iReport, relies on users to generate content and provide the news. Whether it's a brush fire, as depicted above, or a major hold-up on a busy highway, Meporter users can inform other locals of what might be going on around them with pictures or video. They can then also share the story with Facebook and Twitter.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of the idea and have been contemplating using Meporter full-force since I discovered it a few months ago. There is a problem, however. No one else in my area seems to be using it; the last post was on July 30th and was a picture of Travie McCoy at Warped Tour in Charlotte. That's more along the lines of something you would see on Twitter and hardly newsworthy, no?
Nevertheless, seeing as nearly everyone has a phone that is capable of taking pictures or video and accessing the Internet, and considering almost all of us have recently taken a strong liking to social media, services like Meporter have huge potential. As these things normally go, the two biggest problems will prove to be sorting out the muck and enticing people to actually use the service. I would have instantly started using it months ago had more than two stories been reported locally.
What say you? Do you like the idea of user-created news? With ever-evolving and ever-improving functionality, could smartphones eventually become the best source of local (and even in some cases national) news? Or are you too preoccupied with sharing stuff to other social networks to worry about yet another one, dedicated solely to news?