News Challenge: Project Planet

Created by Mel Buckner, Cole Zingas, and Kaia Hayes

Team Name: Project Planet

Project Title: News optimization through geotagging, preferences, and graphics

Requested Amount: $50,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 9 months to 1 year

Describe your Project: 500 words

            Our product will be a one-stop shop for optimized news, primarily about environmental and public health issues, based on geography, time, and other filters.  The app utilizes a visual, interactive model to allow users to participate in more efficient news consumption, and engage in more feedback. This will be achieved through a geographic map visualization of articles, where articles are geotagged at specific locations.  A personalized, visually appealing map where one can easily select an article from a variety of news sources will greatly increase news consumption.  The visual aspect of a geographically oriented map will catch people’s eye and get them to read more articles.

This is the vision we have for our product:  A map would be the first visual that pops up when you open the website.  There will be articles geotagged in different locations in the area you are looking at.  You could zoom in on an area and click on an article.  Then, once you read that article, you can click on tags to that article, which will bring you to more articles about that topic, using a timeline of the subject, in order that subject over time.  To filter what you see on the map, you can set your preferences– topics you like, certain newspapers, or other news sources.  Also, you can subscribe or follow certain people and interest groups and see what articles they are looking at.  Based on where you are on the map, suggestions for news sources and people will pop up.  For example, if I am subscribed to the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, but today I want to see what is going on in Ann Arbor, I can scroll over to Ann Arbor on the map, and on the suggestions tab, the Ann Arbor Observer and the Michigan Daily will be suggested.  In addition, once a reliable code for geotagging articles is created, articles from every part of the world would be available, and if you zoom out far enough, articles about the International Space Station and other planets would be available as well!

Users will have the option to filter results by media source (blog, publication, video, etc.); location; content topic, and time. Search setting combinations can be saved on your “profile” as favorites for easy access. The user will also have a personal news feed (similar to the format of a Twitter feed), which will have a live-feed of popular local content and comments.

By having articles that are readily available, interesting to the user, and in many cases, in close proximity to the user, we hope to enhance the amount of feedback on articles.  Also, people will have profiles so that you can see articles that other people or groups are interested in, and respond to that person or group directly, so that the user can feel like his or her comment is meaningful.

This product will make news consumption more efficient, interactive, and engaging for the consumer.  If we can get past the hurdle of creating the technology for our product, there is no limit to what this product could do for the world of news.

What unmet need does your product meet? 200 words

Looking for news stories on several different websites can be time-consuming and irritating. Especially for stories relating to the environment, science, and public health, having a satellite image in front of the user will help visualize the geography of the terrain or urban area of where the story is taking place.  Also, one of the most important factors to people when looking for news is geographic proximity– and what better way to display proximity than a map! The second part of news consumption that our product will innovate is the need for feedback and engagement from consumers. The passive scrolling through headlines and advertisements that fill feeds and homepages demonstrates the lack of critical thinking and analysis of news in today’s society.  The people we talked to said they didn’t respond to articles because they found the comment boards to be messy, intimidating, and not worth the effort.  Our product will promote feedback by putting users in an environment where they are interested in the articles they are reading, thereby weeding out the “bad comments”.  Also, users can respond directly to the research and interest groups that have profiles on the site, which will make the user feel like he is making an impact by commenting.

Interview four potential users of your product about this unmet need. Do not tell them about your idea. Just explore their need. What did you learn? Include names and contact info for interviewees and a few words describing each — age, gender, occupation, town where of residence. Go for variety. 200 words

Myles Hawkins (, 18 years old, male, college student, Dallas, TX.  

Normally, Myles doesn’t use his TV or even his computer for his news, he says the only articles he reads are on the CNN and NBC apps which he checks every night before bed.  He enjoys topics about the US, local news, and news that will directly affect him, his age group, or his friends and family.   He says that maps and pictures are great and catch the eye when he is browsing stories.  Also, he thinks commenting on articles is weird and never does it.   

Mick Vail: 49 y.o. female, Bachelor’s Degree, Teacher, Westland, MI

Mick enjoys getting her news from the website, and reads about primarily terrorism, cultural stuff, and political relations between countries.  The accuracy and integrity of an article is important to Mick, and she is much more interested if it is relevant to her life.  Geography and proximity is also a big factor.  She says, “pictures can catch my eye but not keep my attention,” and says that the info in headlines are what makes her read an article. She says that inaccuracies are the biggest problem with today’s news sites and apps.

Lew Dennison, 55 y.o. male, some college, Artisan at Shinola Detroit, Southfield, MI

Lew listens to Fox 2 news for local stories, and WDET’s NPR station for national and world news. He spends minimal time reading print news or online articles. He finds articles relating to personal interest and especially local events to be most relevant to him, and therefore most worth his time. Lew feels that if a story has strong visuals and presentation, he is more likely to read it even if the topic of the article isn’t something he’s inherently interested in. He rarely comments on articles.

Iris Partlan, 18 y.o. female, college student at U of M, Royal Oak, MI

Iris doesn’t actively browse for news, so the majority of content she consumes is whatever trends on facebook and tumblr. Her interests include life sciences, anthropology, and cultural shifts. When she wants additional information about a topic, she googles it and reads through more articles. She believes one way to improve the news consumption experience is use of search filters to eliminate content about things she has no interest in.

How big is the potential market for your idea? Mention sources for any statistics you use. 100 words

The market is the general public interested in environmental/public health issues, or concerned about the place where they live.  By using a map, people who don’t really care about environmental issues in general can find out what’s happening in their area.  Potential users of this app, in addition to the general public, will be interest and research groups which can cater their search for their needs, and be more efficient in their collection of news and data.  These groups can create profile pages where they can showcase the articles that they are interested in to other users, and generate conversation about issues.   As the users grow in number, more and more people will join, as the experience is improved for all parties with an increase in traffic and content.

How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing? Name your closest competitors – 200 words

Using a map to geographically organize and tag information is an increasingly popular feature in apps such as Hooked, Instagram, and YikYak. However, most of these platforms have a purely social or commercial focus. There are not currently any well-known apps or websites that use geo-tagging as a way to visualize news or information. Local news websites and stations will compete with our product in that their content is inherently localized, however their presentation of content lacks the personalized search settings that allow users easier access to the news they are most interested in consuming, and is often limited to photo and video content in terms of visual content.  Also, our product will be more efficient than a certain competitor, the biggest news source on the Internet, a Google search.  Instead of having to search for news and sort through hundreds of options and a page full of words, our app uses visuals and easy filtering options to narrow down your search, which will be personalized not only by what you would type in the search bar on Google, but more than that– age group, time of publication, geographic location, and more.  These aspects, along with a specific environmental and public health focus, are where our project outshines competing outlets, and holds more appeal in the eyes of consumers.

How will your idea be financially sustainable? 150 words

Once this product establishes a solid database of articles, and our product becomes popular among users, it will become appealing to news sources to have their articles featured on our site.  In order to keep this service free for users, and relatively ad-free, newspapers (although not in the beginning) would pay us to have their articles shown on the website.  Not many people, ourselves included, make an effort to go to individual newspapers websites very often, such as the Detroit Free Press, or even less likely, a local newspaper like the Ann Arbor Observer.  So by having articles from these sources on our site, the readership and visits that their individual sites would get would increase significantly.  Therefore, we imagine that our product would be funded by news organizations. Additionally, there is potential for a mobile app version of the product to launch, offering an additional income and allowing for expansion of the interactive and feedback features of the website.

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?  100 words

Collectively we have experience in journalism, digital photography, visual arts, and community outreach. We recognize the value of an informed, critically-thinking public for overall social literacy in crucial topics like environment and public health. We also have an interest in the changing field of journalism, and the way technology shapes how people consume news and interact with the world around them.  We come from different backgrounds, giving us different perspectives on technology and news consumption.  Together, we have identified a need among all generations for new news platforms to get people to interact more with news. We believe that our vision provides exactly this, extending one step further to offer a space for news outlets and special interest groups to experiment and innovate the ways they reach their audience.


About colezingas

Hey I'm Cole, I am very excited to be taking Photobook with all of you! I took an introductory photography class my senior year of high school, in which I got to learn the techniques of photography and play around with film cameras! I'm looking forward to this class so that I can take the next step, and use my photos to create a story.

3 Responses to “News Challenge: Project Planet”

  1. Hey, guys. Great idea to implement a more visual and geographical way of looking up news. I think the idea is perfect for those that travel often or are concerned with certain regions for personal reasons. I also really like how this could apply to many different institutions that are location based. One suggestion I have is to focus more on the “need” for this product in your proposal. There definitely is a need, but I think that you could make it more concrete and make your product seem more urgent.

  2. I love this idea! I have never seen a site that brings up news articles based on geographic location. I like how this could easily branch out into other things, like looking for articles based on places you are going to visit (e.g. restaurants, museums, historic sites, etc.) I would definitely use your app, great job!

  3. Mel, Cole and Kaia — Nice idea! It reminds me of a talking globe toy that my kids had when they were younger. You touch the globe anywhere with a special wand, and the globe starts talking about that country. Some news organizations have been experimenting recently with this kind of geographic presentation of news on a smaller scale — for example, interactive maps that allow users to click and find police reports. There have been some very interesting use of geographically presented information collected by users, too. The most famous platform for this is Ushahidi, check it out:
    The biggest challenges I see for your idea are: How do you gather an audience? How do you persuade news organizations to share content with you? There are probably some technical challenges as well, but let’s assume you will hire someone who can overcome them. If you were a manager at a news organization that was losing money, would you pay to put your content on Project Planet? What kind of information would convince you to do that? I think you have something of a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum there. How would you solve it?
    Again, very nice concept. I can see that it would be valuable, if you could somehow attract enough initial users and content. Good work!

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