countculture

Open data and all that

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Yet another UK Hyperlocal Directory… but this time it’s open data

with 13 comments

At OpenlyLocal we’ve long been fans of hyperlocal sites, seeing them as a crucial part of the media future as the traditional local media dies or is cut back to a shadow of its former self.

And for a while I’ve been looking for a good directory of such sites, whether pure community ones such as HaringayOnline, ones with serious journalistic depth such as Pits’N’Pots, The Lichfield Blog, or all-rounders such as VentnorBlog (who do so many things well). Mainly I wanted it for selfish reasons, so I could make OpenlyLocal a better site, by linking to relevant hyperlocal sites on council pages.

Seems to me the community could do with such a thing too, as a way of new sites alerting the community to them and of course help with their google juice. Sure, there are a few — recently the one over at hyperlocal.co.uk has been getting stronger, and is now pretty good — but there are problems, at least from my perspective.

So what are these, and why have I spent the past couple of days doing a UK hyperlocal directory as part of OpenlyLocal. Three reasons:

  1. Most importantly, I thought the directory should be open data which could be reused by anyone and not just by the person or company running the directory. The one at hyperlocal.co.uk isn’t (as far as I can tell), and so if you wanted to to put the information on your website, say to allow people to see the closest hyperlocal sites to them, you couldn’t.
  2. I thought such a directory should be run by someone who wasn’t publishing a hyperlocal site or several hyperlocal sites. Perception is important in these matters, and conflicts of interests have a way of raising their head despite the best intentions.
  3. There lots of useful things we can do when we know the location of a hyperlocal site, not just put it on a map. We can use the info in mashups, we can use it in tweets, and we can find the nearest sites to a given address — if the info is made available as open data.

So after a couple of days of coding we have the first draft of the OpenlyLocal UK Hyperlocal Directory.

Here’s how it’s different:

  1. The information on the OpenlyLocal UK Hyperlocal Directory is licensed under the CC SA licence, and can be reused by anyone.
  2. You can enter you own data. Just go to http://openlylocal.com/hyperlocal_sites, click on “Add your hyperlocal site” and fill in the form. Even specifying the area covered should be a breeze — you just drag the pointer on the map to where the blog is about, and you can also chose the radius of the circle covered by the site. We aim to approve all sites within 24 hours, and you’ll be tweeted automatically on approval from the OpenlyLocal twitter account.
  3. We allow non-commercial and commercial sites. The only sites we won’t allow are those behind a paywall or those that are pure listings sites (and don’t have a significant news or community aspect). So even local newspaper sites can be included as long as there’s free access to them.
  4. People can search for the sites closest to to them — just put an address or postcode in the search form and it’ll give you the nearest ones with distance.
  5. The list can be output as XML or JSON data for mashups or anything else, as can the results of searches for closest sites.
  6. All approved sites also appear on the correct council’s page (just choose a council when you fill in your entry).

There’s more we could do with this, but really it’s about generating a community resource, and one that’s open data. So if you want to help build the first open directory of UK hyperlocal sites first open directory of UK hyperlocal sites , get over to http://OpenlyLocal.com/hyperlocal_sites and click on “Add your hyperlocal site“.

And if you’ve got any suggestions, leave them in the comments or contact me on twitter.

Written by countculture

January 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Posted in api, hyperlocal, open data

OpenlyLocal info on your hyperlocal website, Part 2: Ning app

with 4 comments

A bit overdue (I’ve been talking about doing this for a couple of months), but at last there’s now a Ning app for OpenlyLocal local data so anyone who has a UK Ning hyperlocal site (well, anyone in the 90+ councils we’ve opened up data for) can now have information about their council right there in their site.

Like the OpenlyLocal Google gadget (see OpenlyLocal info on your website, Part 1: Google Gadgets), it’s fairly straightforward to use. You need to be the owner of the Ning community to add it, and then it’s automatically available to users as just another tab (like Forums, Videos, Photos, etc). Once you’ve done it you (and the other members of the community) can see the council’s key data, upcoming meetings, members and committees. More features and functionality will be added, but it’s already a very useful addition to any hyperlocal site.

This is what it looks like in action:

Screenshot of Hyperlocal Ning app from OpenlyLocal

So how do you add the OpenlyLocal application to your Ning community (NB Ning Apps need to be added by the network creator). It’s a breeze, and should take no more than a couple of minutes (probably a lot less):

  1. Go to the ‘Manage’ Tab on your network:
  2. Click on Ning Apps and you’ll be shown the Ning App directory. Quickest thing is just to search for the OpenlyLocal app:
  3. Choose the OpenlyLocal application:
  4. You’ll then be redirected to the Tab management screeen, where you can change the name of the Tab for the app . By default it’s “Council info :: OpenlyLocal”, but might be better to be just “Our Council” or “Council watch” if space is tight. *Important*: If you do change the name, you must click the Save Tab Settings button, otherwise just click on the link:
  5. You should now be shown the OpenlyLocal page (if not, just click on the tab), and you should click on the ‘edit settings’ link (in the top RIGHT of the info area, not the ‘settings’ link just above it and to the left).
  6. Select your local authority, and then “Save Changes”
  7. The app will then get the data from OpenlyLocal (but some may be hidden – if so so just reload the page).
  8. That’s it.

There’s more features coming, but I hope you’ll agree it’s an essential addition to any Ning hyperlocal community. Comments as ever welcome, and the code behind the application will be shortly uploaded to the OpenlyLocal github tools page.

p.s. To remove the app, just go back to the tab management page and click on the ‘x’ beside the tab.

Written by countculture

November 20, 2009 at 2:09 pm

OpenlyLocal info on your website, Part 1: Google Gadgets

with 18 comments

  1. As I promised at the excellent TalkAboutLocal unconference in Stoke, I’ve been working on ways of helping non-techies use the local council data opened up by OpenlyLocal.com . The first of these is a Google Gadget, which can be added to your iGoogle page or your hyperlocal Blogger blog.

UK Councils Google Gadget

Though writing a Google Gadget can be a frustrating business, adding and using it is a doddle. Basically, if OpenlyLocal is extracting the data from your local authority (and we’ve got over 70 councils so far, with more being added every week — see the parsed council list for details), the gadget will show the key info at a glance — basic contact details, updated info, members, committees and forthcoming meetings.

For iGoogle users

  1. Go to iGoogle and click on “Add stuff” in the top right-hand corner of the page.
    iGoogle_add_stuff
  2. Click on “Add feed or gadget” at the bottom of the left column
    iGoogle_add_gadget
  3. In the box that pops up enter (or paste) http://openlylocal.com/tools/gadget.xml and click “Add”. Click OK to the box asking you if you want to add the gadget.
    iGoogle_add_gadget_url
  4. Go back to the iGoogle home page, and the gadget will have appeared and will need you to choose your council. Choose the council, click “save”, and you’re done.
    iGoogle_choose_council

Note you can drag the gadget anywhere you want on the page, and even add more than one copy of the gadget, if you want to have ones for different councils.

You can also share the gadget with friends, neighbours, colleagues etc. Just click on the triangle in the top right of the gadget. This is also where you go if you want to delete the gadget.

iGoogle_share_gadget

For Blogger users

  1. Make sure you’re logged in and go to the Customize area (the link is in the top right hand corner of the screen) where should choose “Layout” and “Page Elements”
    Blogger_page_elements
  2. On the template that you’re presented with there’s a block of boxes representing widgets/sidebars, including “Add a gadget”. Click on this.
    Blogger_add_gadget
  3. You’ll then be given a selection of gadgets, with a menu on the left-hand side. Click the link that says “Add your own”
    Blogger_choose_gadget
  4. A form will appear with a space for the gadget’s URL. Enter (or paste) http://openlylocal.com/tools/gadget.xml and click “Add”.
    Blogger_add_gadget_url
  5. You will be then asked to configure the gadget. Select the council and click the “Save” button.
    Blogger_configure_gadget

We’re planning on introducing more features in the future, but even as it stands, I think it’s a useful tool for your iGoogle page, or if you’re a hyperlocal blogger, a great way to add up-to-date and relevant info to your blog.

By the way, you can see the code behind the gadget at http://openlylocal.com/tools/gadget.xml (it basically makes a single call to an OpenlyLocal API url — http://openlylocal.com/councils/%5Bcouncil_id%5D.json — and then builds the gadget using javascript) and I’ll be creating a github project for it so you can help improve it/report bugs/request features.

The next step in making info more available is a Ning app, as quite a few hyperlocal sites seem to be using Ning as their platform of choice, and there’s someone who’s promised to write a WordPress plugin to provide the same or similar functionality to the gadget.

UPDATE:

As Helen reported in the comments, the gadget wasn’t working in Internet Explorer. Debugging it was not a pleasant process, but I’ve now found and fixed the bug (I believe). Let me know in the comments if the are any probs. It might take an hour or so before Google updates its cache with the latest code, but then should be fine.

Written by countculture

October 9, 2009 at 10:56 am

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