This week, Bay Area News Group—publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and several other newspapers—will release a new map-based mobile news application called TapIn Bay Area. As Luke Stangel, one of its creators, described it, “Imagine cutting up your local paper into 10,000 little pieces, and organizing those pieces on a map. TapIn is that map.”
The app’s news content comes from the hundreds of reporters who work for the Bay Area News Group’s papers. As you move the map, the news stories change based on location, and so do the offerings under its various tabs, which include Features (interactive content), Deals (local business offerings), Gigs (which allows users to ask for specific things from strangers also using the app), weather, and events, allowing users to upvote, share, and comment on content. Alysia Santo spoke with Luke Stangel, a former newspaper reporter and one of the creators of TapIn, to find out more. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
You quit your job to start Tackable, a social networking company, with Ed Lucero, a tech startup veteran. Where did the original idea for a location-aware social network come from?
Tackable came out of my experience as a reporter. My very first job in journalism was at the extremely aggressive, tiny Palo Alto Daily News (now The Daily News). We were under really tight deadlines and we had to produce an insane amount of work. This paper’s specialty was crime news. I was in charge of crime coverage, which was a nerve-wracking job. I was listening to the police scanner twenty-four hours a day. In the morning, when I got to the office, even when I went to dinner, I took the police scanner with me.
We had to scoop every single day. It was insane. So I would go to bed and turn off the police scanner and I would wake up and have this feeling that I had missed eight hours of reality. And I kept thinking about these eight hours, these eight hours were eating me up. I absolutely needed to know what happened while I was asleep.
I started thinking about a gadget where you could link it up to a bunch of people and if they knew something was happening, they could just drop a little beacon on a map. So the idea was going to be really simple: take out your phone, take a photo of whatever you see in front of you, write a caption, and upload it to the map. So we built it and we pushed the prototype out. We realized that journalists would really find this interesting and useful, so we started showing it around to newspapers.
We took it to the Mercury News and they loved it. They told us to take our software and think about other location-aware, real-time information we could put on this map. We started to imagine news on a map, events on a map, mashing up traffic and weather and a business directory and movie listings. We were incubated inside of the San Jose Mercury News as just sort of a independent startup, so we built this in partnership with them and the California Newspapers Partnership, which is a subsidiary of MediaNews.
Are there plans to make this something larger, or is this just meant to be for the Bay Area?
A lot of our plans hinge on this launch, and if it is successful, MediaNews is going to replicate the model in Los Angeles because they own the LA News group. MediaNews is also hoping to bring it to the Denver market since they own the Denver Post and a few Denver community newspapers. I know that they are really eager to see how this launch goes so we can get into the other major markets that they own.
The plan is to roll this out as a platform for newspapers nationwide. Eventually we’re hoping that when you open up this app in New York, you’re seeing stories from different newspapers in New York all sitting on the same map, so you can get a real time sense of exactly what’s happening on a location basis.
So, ideally, papers owned by different companies would all provide content for the app?
That’s our ideal goal. We’ve shown the app around and we’re trying to gauge what the level of interest is in doing that. Potentially, you could read a story from the New York Post and a story from The New York Times on the same map. That’s going to be one of those things we’re going to have to negotiate with each company. Whether or not we can actually achieve that is going to be determined.