The Cincinnati Enquirer plans to beat Foursquare at its own game.
The paper is rolling out a location-based services (LBS) app, Porkappolis, that will understand the city in a way national competitors like Foursquare, Gowalla or Yelp can’t, according to Cincinnati.com’s Brian Butts.
The app, named in honor of the city’s former “Pig City” fame as a hog packing center, will offer the usual LBS features: check-ins at local businesses and other landmarks, digital badges and leaderboards for loyal users, plus a secret ingredient: bacon.
“Bacon” is the local factor that helps differentiate the homegrown Cincinnati effort from its national competitors. In Porkappolis “Bacon” is literally a tab within the app that provides relevant geo-targeted information to the user. Information, the paper believes, that is most effectively gathered and served by a trusted local source like the Enquirer.
“I can pull up Bacon and click a button and see where all the [closest] happy hours are,” said Butts. The tab will also include location-aware restaurant listings, news and a calendar of events from Cincinnati.com. “It reeks of Cincinnati,” he said, “but in a good way.”
The app will feature locally themed badges such as “Chili King,” received for 10 check-ins at local chili restaurants and “I love Cincinnati” which is earned with 50 check-ins.
Porkappolis is a white label version of the DoubleDutch LBS app. Butts, the Director of Digital & Technology for Enquirer Media, told me last week they had been working with the app developer on the project since August 2010.
The paper was planning an internal soft launch of the app earlier this year, but Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer caught wind of the project and wrote about it in December. Butts told me that coverage led to a post in a local Cincinnati blog, and the internal beta test turned into a still small, but public external test.
Butts said the app benefited from that early feedback and the iPhone version is now moving out of beta and is expected to re-launch in the iTunes store shortly. An HTML5 version for Android, and Blackberry phones, is also in development.
According to Butts, the city’s cellular phone market has traditionally been dominated by Cincinnati Bell, which did a brisk business in BlackBerry and, more recently, Android smart phones. The team at Gannett-owned Cincinnati.com decided the best way to serve that audience was to build a single Web app to serve non-iPhone devices.
Butts said part of the effort includes a planned trip to Cincinnati Bell to test the HTML5 app on the full collection of smart phones the wireless provider has on hand. “We hope to come out with a really good list of handsets that support it,” he said.
The strategy highlights an underpinning of the project: Know your audience.
One of the things they needed to do early on, Butts said, was understand local phone users and how and why they might use location-based information.
“We don’t want to copy Foursquare or Gowalla,” he said. So, “Is there something you can add to that equation, something to add to that experience” to make Porkappolis different?
Local is the key, Butts argues. “We will never be the local eBay,” he said. “EBay is the local eBay.”
But, “Has Foursquare or Gowalla reached that point yet? I don’t think they have.”