Why PBS’ Use of Gowalla Matters

In late February, PBS entered the world of location-based social networking by joining Gowalla—a mobile platform that allows users to “check-in” at physical locations they visit and share photos, highlights and tips. The application boasts more than 1 million active users and walked away with the coveted “Mobile Award” at last year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival. It hopes to garner 5 million users by summer.

While an early innovator, Gowalla is far from alone in the mobile social networking market. FourSquare, The Hotlist, Gbanga and Facebook Places are just a few on a growing list of location-based applications that seek to attract users by blending physical and digital spaces.

And attracting users they are.

FourSquare has 7.5 million users, with roughly 35,000 people joining each day. The growth is not surprising considering last year nearly 39 million Americans participated in social networks on a mobile device. By 2015, that number is expected to reach more than 79 million.

What are the opportunities for public media?

The growing popularity of geo-location services offers public media opportunities to interact with new communities in new ways. Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that young adults, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to go online wirelessly than other groups (more than a quarter of U.S. teens access the Internet from a mobile phone). Overall, African Americans are the most active users of mobile Internet—and their use is growing at a faster pace than other groups.

Additionally, trends suggest that media content will be increasingly tied to physical spaces. FourSquare allows users to submit photos with check-ins, YouTube has been tying content to location for years and, just last week, NCME’s Ann Alquist discussed how Broadcastr maps audio content based on where it was created or what it references.

Imagine: A mobile user checks into your city’s art museum on Gowalla and they’re offered a clip your station produced about the institution’s Picasso exhibit. Or, a high school student visits Washington D.C.’s Vietnam War Memorial and is prompted to stream a preview of a Ken Burns film. Both are potential parts of public media’s future.

Beyond providing another platform for distributing content or reaching new audiences, location-based social networking helps public media build relationships—a paramount priority for any organization seeking to engage the people it serves. Participating in geo social networks creates opportunities for stations and producers to connect with communities in new ways; it pushes conventional boundaries for what public media “is” and creates new relevance for quality content and the indispensable value stations offer to local communities.

How to get started:

Inspired by PBS’ foray into Gowalla? Join the site (you can opt to connect via Facebook). Need a quick overview of location apps? We found a Location Apps for Dummies article (see both part one and part two) that offers quick differentiation among 12 popular tools.

When you’re ready to dive in, consider friending NCME on FourSquare.


“My Source” Highlight: KEET-TV

California resident Duncan MacLaren explains how KEET-TV is his source for the best news and information:

“If treasure is defined as something of great worth or value, then public television is a national treasure and KEET-TV is our own regional treasure…”

View other testimonials and submit your own at mysourcefor.org.

Inspire Literacy with “SUPER WHY!”

Join us on Wednesday, March 23 at 1 p.m. ET to learn more about Super Why Reading Camps from the PBS KIDS series SUPER WHY!

Read more and register to attend.

During the one-hour webinar we’ll be joined by representatives from WGBH, WNED, Iowa Public Television and the series’ producers, who will share new resources and advice for how to inspire young readers in your community.

Also, SUPER WHY! will have two life-size character standees to give away as part of drawings during the webinar.

Presenters include:

John Craig
Vice President of Education & Outreach

Mary Haggerty
Manager, Educational Outreach

Trista Peitzman
PK-12 Coordinator
Iowa Public Television

Karen Samnick
Vice President of Marketing
Out of the Blue



Resources from “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!”

NCME welcomes KQED Wednesday, February 16 for a special webinar to introduce PBS station outreach, education, and community engagement staff—along with educators—to opportunities for educational community engagement around The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™

We’ll highlight available resources, report on successful educational outreach, and suggest ways of connecting with your community. Panelists include: Kim Storey, consultant with KQED and creator of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ parent and teacher websites and educational resources; Amy Puffenberger, Manager of Outreach, Education Department, WQED; and Yovel Schwartz, Project Supervisor for The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!™ at KQED Presents.

Register here to participate.