INTERVIEW: Guardian Media Group's digital director on community service n0tice

Last summer, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger announced that the paper would be a "digital-first" publication, indicating that it would build out its online business to help generate much-needed revenues. One product of this approach is n0tice, an experimental location-based publishing service recently out of beta. Here, GMG's digital strategy chief Matt McAlister explains the vision for n0tice.

¤ What is n0tice?
It's a community noticeboard, and it tries to answer the question -‘what's happening near you?'. It started off as a ‘Hack Day' project at the Guardian, which is part of the innovation stuff we do. I was trying to suss out how location works on phones, and when I realised how easy that was, we started looking at the impact of that for open journalism and what that might mean for bringing in more participation from people to talk about, report on or give insight on what's happening around them.

¤ Where does it fit in relation to GMG's business?
The intent is for it to live as an independent business. But it is owned by the Guardian as part of the Guardian Media Group, to sit in its portfolio.

We haven't done the work to set n0tice up as an independent company and accounts and all that kind of stuff. But that's the intent.

¤ How will it make money?
There's one primary commercial model around it, which is simply classifieds. So people can list things they are selling, or things they want to offer or trade, and it's free to list your stuff. Then if you want premium positioning, which would include special treatment on the site,then you pay for that. To start with it would be a very modest, GBP1-per-day model for that positioning. But since it's all been run through PayPal and the platform is global, we're also setting up the equivalent in various local currencies.

As it scales there are lots of options for expanding on that simple model in terms of being able to buy positions, not just time but also in space. You can start to be something where you can buy a premium position within a certain radius from a point. And then you can add additional elements to that.

¤ What kind of uptake do you expect for the paid products?
It's only weeks out of beta! We'll start sharing numbers a little further done the line. Not just yet.

¤ Are you seeing strong user growth?
Definitely. We had a really strong beta period when there were around 6,000 people who had signed up, merely through word of mouth and the typical viral marketing stuff. And since we've opened it up fully, that's increased and we've been really pleased.

¤ How are you planning on growing your user base?
That's definitely the big question. That's the thing we're spending most of our time thinking about. What we're trying to do is balance our proximity to the Guardian and all it has to offer with things like natural incentives for people to participate. For example, you can use n0tice as away to make money. You can set up your own noticeboard for your community, and revenues come in from the classified listings on your community's notice board. We share 85% of that revenue back with you. There's a financial incentive in addition to things we can do to engage people through just the normal open journalism projects that happen through the Guardian.

Then there's clearly a lot we can do with other platform partners. We're also going to have an open API so we can integrate with Flickr, Instagram and, you name it, just about anyone who has an open platform.

¤ Do you compete with Foursquare?
We haven't really viewed anyone like that as a competitor. We've looked at a couple of integrations on the Guardian, where those services in partnership with us would amplify each other. That kind of approach is how we view the world.

¤ Why build such a service from scratch?
Because we didn't see that any of the platforms out there were addressing the basic need for people to participate and understand what happening near you. It seems like such a big premise, that you would have thought it would have been tackled. There are lots of different platforms that address it, but no one's focused on it. Twitter has geo-location as a feature. But it's not necessarily core to the way that Twitter works.

¤ Is this part of the Guardian's digital-first strategy?
Yes, certainly. A part of my role is to look outside the Guardian and across the market at what some of the big shifts are happening and to see how we can play on some of those spaces, and this is a demonstration of a different way of thinking about open journalism.

I think the single biggest one we're working within is the convergence of social, local and mobile. It's probably the most important one for us to start investing in. Not to exclude any of those things individually and separately, but focusing on that convergence part, what happens when you can offer a service that is in someone's pocket, that knows where they are and that can connect them to people. That convergence is massively important.

¤ Is there a risk that the Guardian could diversify too much?
No, I wouldn't agree with that. We have to keep evolving what journalism means and we've taken a really smart position around investing in open journalism and making that a core competency. It's important for things like this to become more integral to the core of business, rather than treat it as something that's separate and extraneous.