Tag Archives: Hyperlocal

4 years and 2 months later… TheyWorkForYou plugin gets an update

Shocking it’s been so long really, but I’ve finally revived my TheyWorkForYou WordPress plugin.

When I first released it, all the plugin did was supply a TheyWorkForYou widget. Nothing’s changed! That’s for good reason though… At the time, the latest version of WordPress was 2.8.6 and we’re now on 3.8.1 so a lot has changed!

Crucially, the way plugin developers add widgets has changed so that needed to be updated.

Also of huge importance was that the original plugin hard-coded my own TheyWorkForYou API key and was a key reason why the plugin never made it to the WordPress.org plugin repository. There is now a simple settings page for you to enter your own API key, and the widget isn’t even available to you until you do that.

I have a bunch of other enhancements I want to add, all of which are listed on the GitHub issues page for the plugin. If there’s something you’d like to see in the plugin, please add it there too.

Given the amount of functions provided by the TheyWorkForYou API there are probably loads more things the plugin could do – please think of them and ask me to add them. Or, even better, fork and pull on GitHub and to add them yourself.

Finally, to use the plugin you can;

  1. Go to Plugins > Add New in your WordPress dashboard, search for TheyWorkForYou and install
  2. Download from the WordPress.org plugin repository and install manually

One important note: if you are using the original plugin, you’ll need to remove that first.


New WordPress Plugin: WS7 Weather Widget

One of the great local bloggers around Lichfield is Kevin Jones who, every day, uses his own weather station to provide a forecast for the area.

It’s a great service and one that we try and retweet through Lichfield Live. I wanted to provide our visitors with something more and so, after some collaboration with Kevin, I built a WordPress plugin that creates a lovely graphical widget that will sit in any WordPress sidebar to show today’s forecast, and link through to Kevin’s site for the full report.

You can see it in action on Lichfield Live and Burntwood Live and if you’d like to use it on your own site you can do so by downloading the zip file.

If you’re running a site in the local area, feel free to use it. It’ll update at around 7:10am every day. If you have any issues with it, or feature suggestions, let me know in the comments section below.

NESTA Destination Local – initial reaction to funded projects

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network about Destination Local in which I outlined my view that the hyperlocal sector would be better helped by small amounts of money, with less stringent criteria, aimed directly at independent hyperlocals rather than any tom, dick or harry with the skills to write a business plan (something few hyperlocals have).

A simple example would be a few hundred quid directed at a site that clearly has the potential to generate significant ad sales revenue but none of the sales skills. That tiny amount of money could pay for training that turns that site into a sustainable operation and maybe even pays part time some wages.

Another complaint I outlined was that the criteria for Destination Local focused too heavily on technology (the one part that hyperlocals generally don’t struggle with). NESTA, whilst recognising the shift from desktop to mobile, has failed to account for the shift in development methods. Instead of developing a website and then 2 or more mobile apps (i.e. a costly way to reach multiple platforms), there’s a shift towards HTML5 responsive web apps (i.e. a single website that gives a great experience independent of the platform).

Take a look at FixMyStreet.com and RateMyPlace.org.uk on your PC and then a smartphone – both of these sites deliver a good experience from the same place, no special mobile website or app required, and they pick up your location regardless of what platform you’re on. Both of these were built by very small teams at massively less cost than building (and maintaining) additional mobile apps.

My worry was that this programme will produce a bunch of ‘same old’ mobile apps that do nothing to help the sector as a whole. So… what have NESTA decided to fund?

MyTown – this sounds like a project to build a network of top-down hyperlocal sites and give each one a mobile app (detail is scarce). It doesn’t sound particularly ground-breaking and I’m wondering how this will help other, independent, hyperlocal sites.

Local Edge – although an app, this is a fantastic idea and something that can’t be done in HTML5 as yet. It’s brilliance is that it represents a bit of diversification into the high street retail business, which should help to sustain the hyperlocal sites and help relationships between local businesses, their customers and the hyperlocal sites.

LocalSay – Augmented reality app, as lovely an idea as it is (I’m as geeky as the next person and love the idea of augmented reality) who really holds their phone up in front of their face while walking down the street? It’s a nice idea and might gain some traction if Project Glass goes mainstream but that’s a way off yet and I struggle to see the impact this will have on the hyperlocal sector as a whole.

LOL! Leeds Online – Nothing spectacular again and another generic mobile app (from the description and video). No other hyperlocal will be able to repeat this without the same level of funding so unless NESTA are going to do the programme again, I can’t envisage how the wider sector benefits.

Papur Dre – Getting the local college involved to turn a local paper into an interactive online TV station of sorts is great. Big downside with this is that it’s an app – massively more costly than a HTML5 responsive website deliver HTML5 video, but interesting nonetheless.

OurTown – Another app that seeks simply to deliver news content via a mobile app. Nothing spectacular (from the description and video) and a disappointing focus again on expensive mobile app development.

#21VC – Finally something that isn’t about creating a mobile app! Another example of diversifying, this project plans to make a hyperlocal site the gateway site to a WiFi portal. Anyone who’s logged onto public WiFi like those at Wetherspoons pubs will know that you quickly get rid of the portal page which raises the question of whether this will be successful. However, the key difference is that most WiFi portals deliver something generic and largely irrelevant like MSN whereas this portal will give you a hyperlocal site about the very area you are in at the time. This could obviously be replicated in villages across the country, if it works.

URTV – A plan for a HTML5 web app, this is music to my ears and a great example of what the future of local TV will look like while DCMS obsesses over transmitters. There is a mobile app in here, too, that complements the HTML5 web app in providing users the opportunity to take and upload videos of their own.

Kentish Towner – HTML5 again and another brilliant idea of how to tie local businesses into the hyperlocal experience in a way that creates a level of interdependence and not just another method of delivery for generic content.

Locali – This one perplexes me a little. Some of it’s benefits are already delivered by FixMyStreet and it’s plan to sell the system to councils looks to me like undermining hyperlocal sites rather than helping them. Why bother going to a hyperlocal when all the info you need is delivered by a Locali-powered app from the local council? Presumably councils will use the app for their entire area, too, which will be district or county-wide (I can’t see any Parish councils buying this) which, by definition, isn’t a hyperlocal audience – it’s regional.

Some really interesting applications and I’ll be keeping an eye on Local Edge, #21VC, URTV and Kentish Towner in particular. As for the rest it appears that a few are, on the surface, just a mobile app to deliver existing content to a mobile device. Something that is easy to achieve in a very short space of time with tools like WordPress at virtually no cost. Mostly, it’s disappointing that nothing leaps out as something that could make a huge impact on the whole hyperlocal sector. A couple of new businesses might be created but beyond that I can’t (yet) see where the impact is.

Planning Applications for WordPress: New Plugin

It was great to hear last week of the progress Chris and his team at OpenlyLocal have made on resurrecting Planning Alerts.

Thanks to their efforts we now have a site where we can view planning alerts for each council across the country. Not all councils are there yet, but it’s a great start.

As expected, the applications are available as XML, JSON and GeoRSS, which made it easy for me to – in two hours – produce a WordPress plugin that allows any self-hosted WordPress site to display a widget of recent planning applications.

You can download the plugin right now from WordPress.org. If you fancy contributing, it’s also on Github.

At the moment, there’s just the widget. I plan to add the ability to add lists of planning applications into posts and pages, as well as maps pinpointing each application.

Comments welcome!

Blogger arrested for filming council meeting

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Police arrest hobbyists for taking photos of public events they’re now arresting bloggers for filming council meetings.

While my request to film council meetings in Lichfield was met with no resistance it seems some councillors seem to be living in an entirely different reality.

I’ll be writing to my MP to ask him for a statement from Eric Pickles about the incident following Pickles’ advice to local government to allow local bloggers to film council meetings.

Update: it turns out that the guidance given to councils by Erick Pickles means absolutely jack shit in Wales, which I find hilarious and infuriating at the same time.

Comment on Journalists: We know we care, but do our readers?

On occasion I post a comment somewhere I’d like to keep hold of. So here’s my comment on a post by David Higgerson talking about something I said at news:rewired.

Blimey, I really need to stop ranting at news rewired! If only because I end up wanting to explain myself. You’ve done that for me very well though.

On the HS2 example, Ross got some great personal stories that the other media simply didn’t. It’s one of many examples where our own volunteer-created coverage has dwarfed that of trad media. The reasons for that though are many and generalising like I managed to do with my comments isn’t right.

I partly wonder whether the cause is a culture/morale thing. Given the attitude from some regionals (management, I mean) towards the question of sustainability I wonder if their approach (seemingly sacrificing good journalism to keep making a profit) has filtered down somehow.

I’m not suggesting journalists are only interested in money (you’ve already pointed out why that’s pointless) but perhaps journalists are more conscious that they need to make money for the paper so they are subconsciously changing their attitude towards stories they perhaps don’t see as profitable.

You’ve given examples that show you’ve identified where your passion for reporting influences sales of the paper. So perhaps what I’m trying to get across is that regionals need to be looking at why the paper sells and helping its journalists to see that. The passion would tie directly into a successful paper as well as a well-served community.

You’ve written on this before David so it’ll be nothing new to you. If only all regionals involved their journalists like that, instead of sacking them and replacing journalism with glorified discussion forums.

Comment on Why Bloggers Shouldn’t Work For Free

I just commented on a blog post by one of The Lichfield Blog’s excellent contributors, Annette Rubery. She talks about the closure of Guardian Local and the attitude of the Guardian towards contributions.

I wanted to make sure you, my readers, saw my comment, so here it is;

This is something I think about a LOT. As one of the main non-journalistic influences of The Lichfield Blog I’m mainly charged (self-inflicted, of course) with the task of making sure TLB survives and thrives.

A big part of that is, honestly, ‘how do we get people to contribute for free?’

That’s not something that sits comfortably with me and is instantly followed (in my head) by ‘what does it give them?’

You’re contributions are some of the most exciting that we have! As you know we’ve talked about how to make sure that isn’t just sucking up your time for nothing but producing an end product that makes it worthwhile.

Because while free contributions are brilliant, as any volunteer organisation will understand (and I’ve seen enough to know), you can never rely on volunteer contributions. Paid work will (obviously) always come first as will pretty much everything else you can think of.

TLB works well so far because so many people have committed so much to it. It won’t take much to erode that commitment though and so we need to be aware that if we don’t provide solid returns (and yes, that sounds horrifically corporate) our contributors will eventually disappear. I wouldn’t blame them.

Cuddly community-benefit volunteer fuel only takes you so far down the road. At some point you need to switch to the premium stuff to keep going.