GuardianWitness is a new iOS app developed as a partnership between the publishers of the prominent British news periodical The Guardian and the telecommunications company Everything Everywhere, aka EE. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store.
The GuardianWitness app supports the web service of the same name, which is a social-powered news platform that offers aspiring photojournalists the opportunity to have their videos, photos and stories featured on the main Guardian site. The service regularly posts “assignments” and invites members to contribute relevant content before a specific deadline, after which the “best” content will be hand-picked and published on the main Guardian site.
Using the GuardianWitness app is simple. After signing in using Twitter, Facebook or a proprietary The Guardian account, the user is taken to the main “Browse” screen, which outlines the currently-running assignments. From here, it’s possible to see at a glance how many contributions each assignment has seen, the types of submissions that are accepted (photo, video and/or text) and how many days are left before the deadline expires. Tapping on an assignment’s title takes the user to a page of further information that provides a short blurb — often containing hyperlinks to The Guardian’s main site — and the button that allows a contribution to be submitted. The hyperlinks used prompt the user to open Safari every time rather than making use of an in-app browser solution — this is unnecessarily clumsy and could perhaps be refined a little.
In order to add a contribution, the user must simply browse to an assignment they like the look of, then tap the “Contribute” button and pick the type of media they would like to use to submit their work. From here, the user may take the photo or video (where applicable), add a title and a description to the post and optionally add their location too. Once the story has been submitted to the service, it is publicly viewable by all other GuardianWitness users — but unlike most other social networks, this is purely so users can see what others have been posting; there are no “like” or “comment” facilities, though content may be shared via email, iMessage/SMS, Twitter, Facebook or the iOS clipboard, and inappropriate content can also easily be reported.
The lack of likes and comments is actually to the service’s benefit, as it allows the focus to be placed squarely on the actual assignment rather than trying to get as many likes as possible, or start a discussion. The aim is for The Guardian’s staff to be able to discover the best user-generated content and make use of that on the main The Guardian site, not to provide a forum for users to discuss the news or post amusing cat videos — that said, at the time of writing, one of the assignments was indeed “naughty kittens and cheeky cats,” showing that the GuardianWitness team do at least have an awareness of the type of thing the Internet likes.
On the whole, GuardianWitness is a solidly-designed if rather simple app. It’s clear that it’s primarily designed as an advertising vehicle for EE more than anything else, as its branding is prominently (though unobtrusively) plastered over almost every page of the user interface. There’s perhaps an argument that it’s really a journalist’s job to gather information, photos and stories on current affairs and other recent events rather than making their audience do it for them, but GuardianWitness does at least provide a good means of taking the pulse of a broad cross-section of the public on a variety of issues. The assignments vary from the silly (the aforementioned cat-centric topic) to providing the potential for artistic expression (the currently-running “views from tall buildings” assignment, by far the most popular at the time of writing) and are clearly designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of people and ensure no-one feels left out. It’s an interesting and modern twist on the “vox pop” formula that journalists have been making use of for many years now, and a good example of how social media can be used positively.
You can follow GuardianWitness’ progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.