A few weeks back, we reported on N0tice, a pretty innovative project that the Guardian newspaper is trialling, one with potential to take news reporting, and news gathering, in new directions. As we wrote at the time:

“N0tice is essentially an online community noticeboard, upon which news, details of events, and local special offers can be posted for other users. Still in private beta, the service isn’t labeled as a Guardian project, taking more of the appearance of a small startup.”

With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at CivicBoom, a young Internet startup based in Canterbury, England. It’s a similar proposition to N0tice, except Civicboom claims to incorporate “many more exciting extra features – many of which are still in development.”

So what, exactly, is Civicboom? It’s an online platform designed to facilitate content-driven organizations and individuals to work together in generating rich media content.

Content-seekers can place a request for specific content. Then, by using the Civicboom mobile app (Android), or by uploading to the plug & go site, a content-creator can respond with rich-media directly to that request. All incoming rich-media content is then managed by the content-seeker, and directed to a customizable plugin to be embedded on a website.

Civicboom is built from its own open API platform, which means it’s customizable – the platform can be tailored and applied to different industry workflows through the development of an application or plugin. “The aim is to develop Civicboom as the answer to topical concerns over the future role of content-seekers by using our open API”, says Tom Foster, Business Development and Communications at Civicboom. “And we realise that our value is in assisting the audience to channel content to content-requesters. Accordingly, we also have a free basic service – ‘plug and go’ – with limited access, but it will always be accessible to content-providers because they are the asset.”

Civicboom can be bolted on to existing communication platforms or systems, and it can be used in a number of ways. However, the primary function is to let organizations ‘request’ rich-media content. Audience members – such as freelance journalists, citizen journalists, or ad-hoc contributors – with access to the desired content can respond to that ‘request’ via mobile or PC. This content is then validated, approved and used by the organization.

“We have created this system not only to bring the audience into the content creation process, but in turn it also enables organisations to have a better knowledge of who is responding, ‘what’ content is coming in, from ‘where’ – all content is Geolocated – and even ‘when’; we have a scheduler and deadlines can be set with automatic ‘nudges’”, says founder Elizabeth Hodgson.

“Together our platform creates an overall deeper level of engagement. It also manages all the content in one place, which we call ‘Hubs’, that can be accessed by authorized individuals in the organization requesting content”, continued Hodgson.

Hodgson says that the platform lends itself to the development of apps and plugins, and whilst the existing ‘plug and go’ version of Civicboom and mobile website are currently supported by an Android app, Blackberry and iPhone are currently in development. “These existing mobile apps could be used as they are, or adapted according to an organization’s specifications”, says Hodgson. “And because we host in the cloud, there is no additional strain on organizations’ servers.”

Civicboom has been in development for a little over a year, and it launched in beta in early summer – before the Guardian released n0tice. The team now consists of 7 people – 4 developers and 3 marketing people.

Since September, Civicboom has been in discussions with organizations such as Thomson Reuters, NESTA and the Greater London Authority (GLA), as to how they can leverage its API. “We hope to build relationships with these organizations that will allow us to continue developing and refining our API platform, whilst bringing in revenue to validate us at market”, says Foster. “We were also just accepted onto the UKTI Entrepreneur’s Festival – something that brings exposure and possibilities we are very excited about.”

So what does Civicboom look like?

Civicboom is available on Android

1. Civicboom Android Civicboom: This open platform lets organizations request content from their audienceAudience engagement: Boombox

2. Boombox widget  520x258 Civicboom: This open platform lets organizations request content from their audience

The Boombox is an audience-engagement widget, a window that can be embedded into any website or blog. It allows an audience to directly post content and respond to requests for content. A unique Boombox is generated automatically by every user or Hub.

Civicboom website fragment

3. Site fragment design 520x366 Civicboom: This open platform lets organizations request content from their audience

Users can upload video or audio direct from webcam

4. Upload content or audio from webcam 520x351 Civicboom: This open platform lets organizations request content from their audience

Here are two examples of an interface powered by the Civicboom API. This interface can manage multiple mediums from different sources, managed by multiple admins.

5. Multiple media 1 520x364 Civicboom: This open platform lets organizations request content from their audience

Here’s an example of a website (Gradvine.com) powered by the Civicboom API.

6. Gradvine API example 520x542 Civicboom: This open platform lets organizations request content from their audience

The birth of Civicboom

Civicboom was founded by Elizabeth Hodgson, who has 14 years communications and editorial experience, and it was born out of a citizen journalist website, Indiconews.com, that she had set up. “This was inspired by my time as a travel writer back in 2003 – what I saw on the ground wasn’t reflected in the paper”, says Hodgson. “However, technology, time & cash wasn’t ready, but in 2008/09 initial funding for that came from myself, my brother Mark Hodgson, who’s now EMEA Head of Partner at Google, and a friend.”

Hodgson ran Indiconews.com part-time but, after a year, she realized the value of audience engagement and participation – especially for local news, so she shelved Indiconews.com in the summer of 2010 and started work on the Civicboom platform with 2 in-house developers.

“We’re all passionate about the collision of technology and society – civic media”, says Hodgson. “It’s an idea that we are building into a real and live solution.”

In terms of funding, Hodgson points to the ’3 Fs’ – friends, family and fools. “Though we have had a small amount of local (Kent-based) Angel investment”, she says. “We will be pursuing further investment to scale. The ultimate goal is to be the leading audience engagement platform used by multiple organizations in multiple markets in multiple territories within the next 3 years.”

Hodgson is also adamant that its UK location is very important to the company’s philosophy. “We want to be part of the groundswell of innovation and startups in this country”, she says.

In terms of competition, Hodgson acknowledged the Guardian’s N0tice platform as a good sign for her own business. “This not only validates our platform and vision, but also highlights how agile we are”, she says. “We already have a mobile app solution ready for news establishments and other content reliant organizations, built from our own API. It also shows what can be achieved with a very small team – and incredible determination.”

It’s also worth pointing to other similar platforms such as NewsPoint, a service offered by the people-powered news service Blottr, which opens up the same core platform used by Blottr to external online publishers. So, any online publisher – from regional and national newspapers to review websites and technology blogs – are the target market. You can read all about NewsPoint here.

Meanwhile, Civicboom is still in its infancy, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.