Readers jonesing for local news on the web now have one more place to turn.
News website Fwix has emerged a strong contender in the quickly growing field of hyper-local news aggregators, sites which filter local and area news stories for you, showing you the hottest links in your ZIP code.
The site aggregates stories and videos from about 100 cities worldwide, mostly in North America. Each city has its own home page, and each city’s page has different sections for politics, crime, sports and other topics.
Local news headlines are presented with the newest stories at the top, so you get a constantly-updating river of news about topics you care about in the area where you live. New stories flow in as they become hot, appearing dynamically without a page refresh.
It’s a design of the times. Twitter and Facebook have turned us into breaking news junkies. Of all the hottest stories being passed around on the real-time web, few are more interesting than the ones happening closest to us, whether in our city or in our immediate neighborhood. And geoloaction tools in our computers, phones and even in our web browsers are making local content easier to find. To that end, we’ve seen a number of hyper-local news aggregators come down the pike. Sites like EveryBlock and Outside.in offer hyper-local experiences complete with maps, and larger sites like Google News give us the ability to filter results to state, county or city level.
Much like other aggregators, Fwix pulls content from a handful of mainstream news sources, like major area newspapers and local TV network affiliates, as well as social media sites and dozens of local blogs. Check out its long list of sources for the San Francisco bay area.
According to Fwix founder and CEO Darian Shiraz, who gave us a hands-on tour of the site, news sources are hand-picked by Fwix’s small editorial team. Users can also request the addition of a news source by submitting a URL on the Fwix website.
The free Fwix iPhone app, pictured at the top, adds another way in. It has a “Report News” button — click it and you can submit a photo of something happening in your city. So if you’re walking around and you see a building on fire or a gnarly car crash, take a photo with your iPhone and post it (after you call 911, of course).
For all of its depth, the year-old service isn’t yet perfect.
News headlines on the Fwix front page are chosen based on popularity, which is determined by algorithms written by Fwix (using disco project code). Popularity is largely measured by how many clicks a story has gotten and how many sources are reporting an event.
The results can get wonky. When San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum was busted for pot possession, there were three headlines about it at the top of the SF bay area page. All were from different sources, but since most news outlets just ran a wire story, each link had the same headline, the same summary and the same information. Likewise when Lincecum won the Cy Young award — everyone had the story, so the first three links on Fwix were all of the same.
Other hyper-local services have the same problem, but Google News deals with the issue rather elegantly by nesting headlines for related stories.
Also, Fwix isn’t yet a reliable source of breaking news. The day the Bay Bridge was shut down due to structural damage — a huge news event in San Francisco — there was nothing about it on the Fwix homepage even hours after it happened. Also, the bridge closure presented a perfect opportunity for users to submit relevant photos and tweets, but I didn’t see any show up on the website.
Still, while its method of presenting aggregated news may be more chaotic than what Google News offers, Fwix does surface a wider range of stories. Every time I’ve visited the Fwix home page or fired up the iPhone app since I began regularly using both a month ago, I’ve found at least one or two interesting headlines I never would have encountered had I been left to my own devices. Several times, it was something in my neighborhood that one of my favorite go-to local blogs had overlooked. By regularly visiting the site, I’ve discovered some great local blogs I hadn’t heard about.
Also, interesting videos show up often — something few other hyper-local news sites can claim.
While content providers and the large-scale aggregators continue to butt heads over who has the right to profit from news content, Fwix, relatively speaking, takes the high road.
The company has recently launched its AdWire service, an ad network that splits revenue with the site owners running the ads and the publishers of the stories they’re linking to, many of whom are hobbyists, citizen journalists or freelance bloggers.
Along the same lines, Fwix only posts very short, one or two-sentence summaries of news stories, then offers a clearly-labeled link to the original source, much like an RSS reader. The original story’s page is wrapped in a frame with buttons to share the link on social sites using Fwix’s own URL-shortening service. Click-through content frames are a no-no in our book, but at least this one is easy enough to dismiss. Just click the giant “X” button.