Spectee: Japanese app delivers local news faster than newspapers and TV



See the original story in Japanese.

More TV news shows have started carrying video clips or photos picked up from social media platforms. News channels like CNN or Fox News have adopted such news materials en masse from earlier on. But surprisingly, Japanese public broadcaster NHK, hitherto considered to be a late adopter of this kind of coverage, now even uses materials from unknown origin in their news programs. This is likely due to a change in generations.

Yet despite the advances in news media, no correspondent or news anchor can beat out ordinary citizens witnessing and recording a scene in terms of newsgathering speed. Given that, a news media’s value relies on its ability to edit the materials being delivered. Analysis and provision of obscure background information behind events are needed to help viewers understand the news.

As social media has disseminated widely among the public, I see editing of information as the remaining bastion of media. But a new startup aims to disrupt this prevailing view. This is Tokyo-based Euclid Lab, which is developing a mobile app called Spectee.

In July, I talked to Euclid Lab CEO Kenjiro Murakami at ICT Spring in Luxembourg, but I could not then understand the overall concept of the product because they were still early in the development process. Several months have passed, and I wondered how the development of Spectee was progressing. To find out, I visited Euclid Lab to speak to Murakami. (Below is a video of his pitch at ICT Spring 2014.)

Devoting themselves to fine-tuning

Spectee is a platform that curates updates from social media and sorts them based on geotags or keywords contained in every tweet or message post. About 60 locations across Japan are set in the app where users can see what is happening in real time in every location.

Murakami explained:

Since the launch of our service in beta, we have been devoting ourselves to fine-tuning the filtering engine so that it offers users better results. So we haven’t massively exposed ourselves to the media. Location-based analysis, filtering out irrelevant content, machine-learning technology… we have mixed them all together to improve the accuracy of our engine.

Since ICT Spring in July, Euclid Lab has been demonstrating their product on an operational test basis at festivities like the Aomori Nebuta festival in partnership with companies like Japanese telco NTT East and Cisco Systems.

Due to the platform’s ability to collect regionally oriented events, it seems that newspaper publishers are also interested in Spectee. As the form of media continue to diversify, although in general the newspaper business is struggling, many local newspapers are doing well compared to major newspapers, not only in Japan but also in the U.S. and other countries.

Let us consider a local newspaper in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Without any foreign correspondents, they can buy global updates from news agencies. Updates from Tokyo can be distributed by their affiliates. However, they need to place reporters at every corner of the prefecture to obtain local news updates. But if they adopt Spectee, it will act efficiently as a primary information source for reporters.

Noted Murakami,

Finding relevant regionally oriented updates is not so easy online because most sites show trending updates from the entire base in an upper level of retrieval results. So updates unlikely seen by a big audience will be buried under a pile of information. One can pick up the updates that are really needed with our app.

Spectee crawls social media to curate updates, but they aim to expand to other platforms for crawling, to become a platform that gathers local news updates from around the world.


Will newspapers buy news from citizens?

Thanks to the penetration of social media, word of incidents or events can spread very quickly around the world. Just for speed, social media can deliver updates faster than any conventional news media like newspapers or TV news programs. Murakami elaborated:

I came up with the idea when a big fire broke out on a highway in Shibuya in March. When an incident happens, pictures of the scene will be uploaded to Twitter or other social media right away. In contrast, conventional media takes 60 minutes on average to cover an event after it happens.

Murakami told us that they are receiving offers or potential partnerships from newspapers, railway companies and other curated news media. Euclid Lab can make money if they distribute updates to these potential partners, and the company is exploring a business model of redistributing retained earnings to their users who have properly posted pictures or provided text reporting. Under this concept, people can sell their updates to newspapers instead of buying their papers from the companies.

Taking advantage of the strength in curating regional updates, they want to make another revenue stream by providing local advertisements, as they are more likely to target a regional audience and avail efficient marketing rather than a nationwide campaign.

Curated updates on protests in Hong Kong.

Seeing what’s happening in your neighborhood through smartglasses

While Spectee is available for iOS, Euclid Lab has developed a prototype version for Android Wear and is developing one for Android handsets.

In partnership with Sony, the team participated in IFA 2014 (Internationale Funkausstellung) in Berlin this September and demonstrated the Spectee app (Android Wear prototype version) for Sony’s Smart Eyeglass.

Murakami said,

In Japan, much information is centralized in Tokyo. But in Europe, their information is more regionally fragmented so we garnered a high reputation at the exhibition.

Euclid Lab is a seven-person team and comprises Muarkami, four engineers, and board members like notable serial entrepreneur Tomoyuki Uchida and Kazunori Umino, who is the authority in adopting scientific methologies to businesses.

The start-up was qualified in the second batch of the Orange Fab Asia incubation program, and will pitch at a Demo Day event today (25 November). The Bridge will cover this event including the Euclid Lab team’s presentation.

Spectee-installed Sony Smart Eyeglass demonstrated at IFA 2014, Berlin.