The Content Corner: Location-Aware Content

While January was about looking ahead, February is focused on content and many of the new possibilities and challenges that will face us as content creators over the next year and beyond. At the intersection of these two themes lies the genesis of my topic today: location-aware content.

Mobile phone gps navigation, travel destination, location and positioning concept of a map and single marker over a smart phone

More than a Map

One of the most common places where we have become dependent on location-aware content is navigation. This can range from a variety of Location-Based Services, or LBS, such as simply finding out exactly where you are, how to get somewhere else and where can you find a pizza nearby. Location can also be used to help improve the user experience by adding another aid in delivering exactly the content the user needs exactly when (and more importantly, where) they need it.

Marketers have leveraged this technology for some time now with location-specific banner ads (arguably the least offensive banner ads possible), but this technology is far too powerful to limit its use to only helping us find special deals on a new mattress.

The Metadata Bridge

Location is determined by using the IP address and hosting information to derive a rough idea of a desktop user’s location or cellular signal (and WiFi) that provides scarily accurate positioning. However, aside from placing the user on a map, without appropriate metadata that location doesn’t do much. For banner ads or local health warnings, the content being created needs to be appropriately tagged to a specific geographical location. This can be as broad or granular as possible and may be determined by the granularity of content available. If there are no data available on a city-by-city basis, for example, then tagging can be limited to county or other geographical categorization.

As we frequently stress the importance of structured and responsive content, location-awareness can add another powerful layer by displaying content that carries the specific metadata that correlates to the user’s location. One example is leveraging the Event Content Model’s location fields that include an address for an event. This address information could be used to tell a user that they are close or to help direct them to the event within a certain range of the event location or at a specific time.


Advertisers are beginning to use similar methods to deliver customer locations and context-specific coupons or offers using geofencing. Geofencing allows the creation of essentially an invisible barrier that can trigger specific content on a user’s mobile device once they enter that “fence.” Again, as long as privacy is handled with care, why should this technology be only used by private sector companies? IBeacon and similar technologies are making indoor positioning systems possible to help guide people beyond just driving directions to a location, but can guide them to an actual event location conference room. Depending on the personal information shared, this type of technology could also provide special content to a veteran with PTSD if they are close or within a hospital or VA facility. Feel free to share any of your ideas on ways your agency might be able to use this technology to further your mission (or are using it already).

The FEMA app shows a great initial step in using a user’s location to help provide severe weather information and nearby shelter locations. In the future, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be able to utilize GPS and geofencing to help alert people in a threatened area that they are near a shelter or relief area or to warn them of an approaching storm or road flooding. As opposed to the more generic, and often ignored emergency alerts that pop up on your phone when weather is threatening your county or surrounding counties, how about when weather is threatening an area within a few miles of your current location? Certain weather apps are leveraging GPS data to help alert you of nearby lightning strikes and other serious weather; I can see FEMA and other agencies building upon this service to provide additional critical location and context aware content for the user.

Another item of note is the clear importance that FEMA assigns to the user’s location data and privacy concerns. One of the best ways to proceed is to follow W3C guidance and ask the user’s permission before any location information is gathered. Once that data is collected, be clear to the user what steps are taken afterwards. As a public sector entity, a user shouldn’t fear this information being sold, but protection of individual privacy is an issue that will only grow as technology advances.

As we do so much these days, a user must weigh the benefits of a feature versus its privacy concerns. Technology will not prove to be the barrier to greater adoption of location-aware content, but ethical concerns may.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.