Open data and all that

Linking hyperlocal blog posts and councillors: a simple solution

with 10 comments

At last Saturday’s Talk About Local unconference, I chucked out an idea and problem I’d been playing with for a few weeks: how to show links to hyperlocal site blog posts about a given councillor, committee, meeting or what-have-you. We’ve got pages on over 8000 councillors over at OpenlyLocal and it would be good to show links to stories about them when they are written about by hyperlocal sites.

The solution I’d come up with was pretty simple, but seemed like it would have legs, and more to the point be easy to use: the pingbacks that WordPress and many other blogging systems send out (unknown to most users) when they link to another website. A pingback is a very short message to say: hey, I’ve linked to this page on your site from this blog post on my site.

Normally unless the thing you’re linking to is another blog (in which case it often appears in the comments), the pingback is ignored, but it doesn’t have to be. So my idea was to set up a pingback server on OpenlyLocal so that if you linked to a councillor, committee, meeting or poll (possibly soon candidates and documents if the interest is there), we could then link back to the piece (together with its title and few words of excerpt).

As with the OpenlyLocal widget, I got the excellent Philip John of the Lichfield Blog and JournalLocal to test it out once I’d built it. He updated three recent posts about Councillor David Smith, the departing leader of Lichfield council, with links to the OpenlyLocal page about him, and this is the result:

Related articles about councillors on OpenlyLocal

Thus your readers get links to more info about the councillor, meeting, committee etc, and you get more links and Google juice back to your site (it also acts as a loose webring for hyperlocal blogs covering the same area). One extra point, this service will only list pingbacks from approved entries in the Hyperlocal Directory. That way, we don’t have to worry about spamming from non-hyperlocal sites. As ever, comments welcome below.

Written by countculture

April 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Nice, elegant solution – I love it. Any chance council websites can be in the approved list? Would love for press releases featuring councillors to show up too.

    Stuart Harrison

    April 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    • Don’t see why not if the demand is there, but do you think many councils would or even could implement a pingback client. It’s built into WordPress and there’s a module for drupal, but can’t see many councils doing it. Course what they could do is publish their press releases using WordPress/Drupal or some other open source system. That way there’d be no more inaccessible Word docs to download, and they’d get all that goodness + RSS, SEO etc thrown in.


      April 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm

      • Great stuff Chris. I imagine you are right that many councils won’t have a pingback client. Although I know a few are starting to implement Drupal, their press releases may be in a separate system. I also suspect many councils would link to a councillor profile that’s being published from their own system rather than linking to the profiles on Openly Local. Do you have stats on how many councils link to Openly Local?

        Michele Ide-Smith

        April 25, 2010 at 9:12 pm

      • No stats, but I doubt it’s many (Lichfield and Cheltenham are the only two I know for certain). However it would make sense from them to do so as they could then say ‘This information is available as open data’ and link to the relevant OpenlyLocal URL.


        April 25, 2010 at 9:37 pm

  2. Chris 3 questions:

    1. Will it work with Ning? (with & without membership walls)?
    2. Do the links to the OL page have to be in a post when it’s first published or can they be added later?
    3. Do links in comments get picked up?

    Hugh Flouch

    April 25, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    • Hugh
      I’m not sure if Ning sends pingbacks from blog posts. Had a good search for anything about Ning and pingbacks but drew a blank. Doesn’t mean they don’t do them but frustrating they don’t mention them.
      My understanding is that pingbacks are sent after edits as well as on creation, but I’m pretty certain links in comments wouldn’t be pinged.


      April 25, 2010 at 8:43 pm

  3. Will it work with Drupal?

    Mike Rawlins

    April 25, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    • Mike, there’s a Drupal pingback module. Matt was going to check it out


      April 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm

  4. […] Linking hyperlocal blog posts and councillors: a simple solution « countculture “The solution I’d come up with was pretty simple, but seemed like it would have legs, and more to the point be easy to use: the pingbacks that WordPress and many other blogging systems send out (unknown to most users) when they link to another website.” (tags: hyperlocal localgovernment opendata) […]

  5. […] Taggart has just launched a new feature for his OpenlyLocal project which matches the massive wealth of accessible council information with […]

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