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.

Enjoy!

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.

A deconstruction of how TBD and Patch do hyperlocal

Yesterday I said that hyperlocals must find the network if they are to be sustainable. Today I want to take you through networks like Patch and TBD.com.

TBD

Upon visiting TBD.com it’s hard to see how it even is hyperlocal. Under the logo we see the tagline “All over Washington” but its’s hard to see how, if I lived in an area such as Annandale, I’d find out what’s going on in that area.

Under the very last menu item, in a drop down I spot the “TBD Community Network” – is this it? Regulated to a sub-menu option after everything else? Actually, no this is an alphabetised list of links to other blogs, many of which are not overly local.

So I tried the option above the Community Network – TBD Blog Network. This seems to be topic-based, although there is one called “@TBD Community” so I check that out. Nope, not that either.

Okay, I’ll use the search. I try various areas of Washington D.C. including; Annandale, Aspen Hill, Colesville, Brentwood, Marlton and Oakton. The majority of results are for external sites, both independent and many from TBD competitor, Patch.

Where there are good articles on the area there is no indication of how I can subscribe to content about that area. Each article is also headed with the section it’s in – often just “Community” or something like “On Foot” – the relevance of which I’m struggling to see.

Meanwhile I’m being shown generic, seemingly site-wide ads that have no relevance to the area I’m reading about.

This is no network. It’s a mish-mash of regional content supplemented by aggregation of independent hyperlocals and all surrounded by the same lack-lustre ad targeting that seems to infect local media here in the UK.

Patch

Moving onto Patch I’m instantly greeted with a map that I can click into my area with. It’s all state-based though which isn’t exactly very refined so I try the (very small) search box beneath. I figure I should try the same areas again.

I instantly find Annandale Patch which appears to show local content, invites me to sign up to the newsletter, shows me locally relevant ads and I can see services like event listings, a business directory and classifieds – all focused around Annandale.

Patch isn’t in any of the other areas, but does suggest Vienna when I look for Oakton. So I wonder if these areas are too small for Patch and check Wikipedia for population stats;

I’d randomly picked these places off a Google Map so I’m quite pleased with the range of population sizes, so it’s not that they’re too small.

Perhaps Patch just hasn’t found anyone in that area! Looking at the jobs they’re advertising in the area, they don’t seem to be looking in the towns I’ve chosen. Where they are looking, population appears to be above 30,000 as far as I can tell.

Additionally, a quick search for Aspen Hill shows an existing community wiki for the area. That site isn’t featured instead of telling the user ‘nothing for your area’ so the network is decided by where Patch wants to be, not where there is a passion for hyperlocal.

Thoughts

Firstly it doesn’t surprise me that TBD is having to cut staff because it hasn’t sussed local advertising. When it isn’t sending people away (and thereby limiting it’s own traffic) it’s serving up generic, poorly-targeted ads. It ain’t rocket science boys and girls, it’s common sense. It’s a lesson for all hyperlocal endeavours – serve an area properly, and make the model work.

On the flip side, Patch appears to be doing a good job. What Patch does appear to be suffering from though is blowing air into an emerging hyperlocal bubble. It’s spending about £3,000 on each site with plans to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. £3m sounds a lot to be spending on a business that isn’t getting the traffic in. The same lesson as TBD, except that Patch’s rapid expansion could, if it fails, mean the loss of numerous jobs and a another blow to the communities they serve, just like TBD has already done.

Headlines are already questioning whether any hyperlocal can be successful in light of analysis of these two.

I’ll touch on that last point in more detail tomorrow when I talk about why I believe networks in the UK, including my own efforts, are showing the way forward.

Five ways to make a difference with data – a round up of #madwdwm

As part of the Making a difference with data project I was asked to run an ‘unworkshop’ for the West Midlands which pulled together hyperlocal site owners, local government folk and data geeks.

Thanks to Nick Booth‘s generosity we had a suitable venue where we could gather. We had 16 people altogether and a good mix of backgrounds. It was also encouraging to see so many journalism students running hyperlocal sites in attendance.

Objectives for the evening were fairly simple: to find out the most important issues to communities, what information pertains to those issues, who holds that information and if it’s available, then how do we use it and if not what exactly do we want.

We started by brainstorming the most important issues to the community and ended up with the four big ones being;

  • Jobs & benefits
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Budget cuts
  • Built environment

We split into four teams with each team looking at one of these issues and went away to discuss them and our objectives for the night.

Jobs & benefits

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LN4_G0-lS4Q]

The group looking at this decided on a few key starting points;

  • Information about available jobs is live and rarely out of date.
  • There is a difference in quality of information between jobs put out by the private sector (e.g. recruitment agencies) and the public sector (i.e. Job Centre) where agencies typically mask employer details. It’s unlikely that change will be affected here.
  • Public and private sectors have different agendas – i.e. Government need to encourage employment.
  • Job centres are policing rather than constructively seeking jobs for people whilst confusing people with a three-layered IT-based system.

With this, these points about necessary change came out of the discussion;

  • DirectGov database needs to be more open, instead of hidden behind the current 3-layered, difficult to use interface.
  • Provided as open data, the database could be formatted into more usable applications.
  • The incentive for this change is the need to increase employment levels and do that better than the private sector.

Anti-social behaviour

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc5IDh924K4]

This group identified a few issues with information;

  • Often collected for the purposes of measuring against targets, as opposed to providing useful information.
  • Contact centre data doesn’t necessarily contain everything.
  • Some information comes out of more informal channels, such as a social worker going round for a cuppa and a chat.
  • Data is often buried in silos and a lack of information sharing within authorities leads to incomplete datasets.

So what can be done?

  • Have more data collected just because it’s good to have raw data to work from, rather than for measurement.
  • Use linked data that can easily be linked to other sources.
  • Share information across data sources.

Budget cuts

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlVkAW3SDKQ]

Obviously a big issue at the moment this group had a wide-ranging discussion. Some key points to come from it were;

  • Data could be collected in different ways which has an effect on the consequences of that data.
  • Data is not ideologically or politically neutral
  • Complications arise with linked data – i.e. as soon as you have one set of data it’s likely you’ll want to explore that data but will need another set of data to do so. This process repeats itself making a single issue more complex just because of the effort involved in analysing the relevant data.
  • Data rarely comes with explanation of what it is, why it’s been collected and using which methods.
  • Information is data with added opinion.
  • People approach budget cuts with their own opinion and seek the data to confirm that.

Food for thought from this group then;

  • How can we make linking data easier, and communicate that without overcomplicating it?
  • The 5-step process encouraging ‘just get it out there’ is great but the data now needs explaining.

Built environment

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WglLnzmDvB8]

An interesting topic given recent (ongoing?) investigations on Digbeth is Good on this very issue.

  • It costs money to find out about empty properties – why is this, what is the cost for?
  • Where’s the cause and effect with empty buildings?
  • Is a property empty because of planning permission?

Some thoughts on possible solutions/advances;

  • Planning notices are placed on lamposts – these should be available as open data (i.e. we shouldn’t need scrapers like Planning Alerts).
  • Mapping planning applications could play a big role in providing information on properties.
  • Re-purposing should be a consideration. Birmingham City Council is doing this.
  • Housing exchanges should be looked at where two council tenants wish to move to another local authority area.

Conclusion

All in all a good bunch of thoughts and for me we can boil a lot of this down to five points that need acting on;

  1. We need more open data – we have been given a lot but there is more out there and open data should be the default.
  2. But we need context – data can often carry an agenda with it so we need context such as why the data was collected, who by/for otherwise how can we trust the data?
  3. Linking data should be easier – the concept of linked data is all very well but there are very few people with the know-how to actually do it.
  4. Data empowers community solutions – issues such as empty buildings and the lack of a home for community groups can be solved if the relevant information was freely available in an open format that could be interrogated.
  5. Training is a must – we have a lot of data, we need more and we need explanations with it to provide community solutions to community problems but we need the knowledge to retrieve, link and interrogate data effectively.

A big thank you to everyone who came and gave up their evening. Especially to Nick for providing his office as a venue, to Nicky for shooting the videos andMichael Grimes for his notes.

Coverage from elsewhere

Remember – if you do contribute anything more to the discussion please tag it with ‘madwdwm’ and add it to the Making a Difference with Data site too!

Making A Difference With Data West Midlands from Nicky Getgood on Vimeo.

Building a hyperlocal business directory: call for suggestions

I’ve long been planning to build a hyperlocal directory for The Lichfield Blog and something which can be used by other hyperlocals.

B31 Blog launched their business directory the other day using a simple form submission and manual entry of listings. Owner Sas Taylor complained on Twitter about the lack of a decent business directory plugin, something I’m well aware of.

So when I mentioned I have been planning my own I got a few excited responses and figured if there’s interest why not ask those interested what they’d like in a directory.

Let’s start off with fields;

  • Name (of the business, of course!)
  • Address (incl postcode, of course)
  • Phone number
  • Fax number
  • Mobile number
  • E-mail address
  • Opening times
  • Contact name
  • Web site address
  • Description
  • Wheelchair/disabled access?
  • Toilets?
  • Disabled toilet?
  • Photo
  • Location(s) (pinpoint on a map)
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare

Features

  • Ratings
  • Reviews
  • Maps (using postcode/address)
  • Search, with filters
  • Show directory as;
    • a list,
    • categories,
    • a map.

Options

  • Toggle visibility of fields
  • Payment option (to charge for listings)
  • Paid-for upgrades (e.g. add additional photos/info)
  • Use opening-times.co.uk for opening times so we simultaneously build up that site (which I made a plugin for)
  • Pre- or post-moderate listing submissions

Any others? Add your suggestions to the comments below…