Devon and Somerset – putting about 100 hyperlocal sites on the map

The old OpenlyLocal map only had about 5 sites for Devon, mainly the defunct ‘Local People’ franchise. This couldn’t be right for England’s second largest county. Devon has a strong tradition of local pride in place and its rural nature meant there are obvious advantages to having websites for local civic life. As well as a healthy tourist industry for which search now seems to be mainly online.

We’ve been writing about our work to improve the LocalWebList map.  So to fill in this blank space on the map I started Googling place names and following links around Dartmoor, where I knew of one independent site Talk About Local worked with some years ago in Moretonhampstead. After a while, this led me to a resource on the Devon County council website attempting to list Devon’s local websites.   Which in an exercise like this is hitting paydirt.  So I followed the links on the DCC site, make a quick assessment of what I find there, add it to LocalWebList, then in each site look for outgoing links to other hyperlocal sites.  I haven’t yet finished but have added in over 100 sites so far, including some in North West Somerset.  Some observations on the sites I mapped in this exercise:

they are nearly all village sites, orientated around the parish council or other local committee such as a hall, many dating from five years ago or more, with occasional updating (monthly or quarterly it feels to me, some annually). This can be very rich (see this site for Belstone) but this type tends not to have a journalistic ‘news’ component.

almost all these sites serve a basic transparency role that could only otherwise be served by visiting in person the parish clerk at their home or the church hall. They provide on demand information resource that otherwise is constrained by time, place and networks. Given the highly rural nature of these areas with low population densities having an online information point adds considerable value if it prevents a journey or otherwise lowers the threshold to getting hold of information.

they also provide basic information about village life that to my mind contributes to bridging social capital by connecting people together (church, institutes, clubs for parents, activities for older people, nature). And would help visitors and new arrivals as a community welcome pack.

some are quite eccentric in web design terms, there are one or two mini groups done by the same web developer for adjacent villages/parishes.

these sites are basic village information sites, run by local people. i have included one or two (very) small town websites that are clearly locally important and more professional, but aren’t .gov.uk

there is often a mild to moderate tourism element, given the areas involved. I have not been including out-and-out tourism sites with no civic nor journalistic components.

maybe only one or two of these sites have interesting discussion or place to challenge civic authority on them.

active ‘news’ on these sites as a newsy person would recognise it is rare.  There is a scattering across Devon of relatively weak websites from small local Tindle group papers.

I would expect there to be some Facebook action that runs in parallel for some of these sites, but it isn’t clearly flagged up from the sites themselves.  There is a very good example in UpLyme.  I have come across only a few references to Twitter from these sites such as the very good Dartmoor NPA   and Belstone again but there must be more hyperlocal Twitter action out there.

none of the sites I have mapped in this exercise seem to be as active as the UK’s class leading village website Parwich.org up in the Peak District.

the tedium of this exercise (as Johnson said of making dictionaries, it is dull work) was lessened by the discovery of my favourite place name Zeal Monachorum.

There’s still more to do, I haven’t yet finished going through the Devon CC list.  And I notice that in Cornwall there is a list of parish clerk contact details which often gives away the presence of a local website with a bespoke URL in the clerk’s email address.  So I shall plough through this when I have time.  Many counties publish parish clerk/council details so this could be a route to follow elsewhere.

How to approach white spaces in the #hyperlocal map – Wakefield experiment

Carnegie UK Trust is supporting Talk About Local in improving the map of UK hyperlocal sites.  Despite having hundreds of entries, the map when we rehosted it had some curious white spaces – it can’t be right that Devon only had five sites listed nor that towns such as Wakefield had none, nor Scotland about eight.  So Mike and I at Talk About Local have been trying several methods of filling in blanks to help the hyperlocal community link up and to help those interested in finding a local site.

We’ve had some success which we are writing up and I’ll kick off with a desk based exercise/experiment to see what we could find for Wakefield, prompted by a Leeds hyperlocal lunch.

I have no hyperlocal contacts in Wakefield so started with some random Googling for Wakefield blogs, Wakefield civic news etc – ideally I am looking for sites that link to others locally with a civic feel.  Then ricocheted around web sites or reports about the local civic society, rotary, local history, genealogy, lists of Yorkshire lifestyle bloggers, a Wakefield hashtag and other groups until  I start to turn up web media with a hyperlocal feel.

In this case Unique Wakefield – a lovely service three years old now that promotes local independent traders.  It’s not a hyperlocal news-type site but is distinctive and genuinely local.  Their website is fine but as with most modern web operations the Facebook page and Twitter feeds contain real gems.

I start to google around things that pop up on Unique Wakefield and follow some links from Twitter etc. This then gives me other things to Google and I stumble across a news report about Horbury Village where someone is clearly trying to promote what goes on there.  This leads to a Horbury Village website which is very much a traditional parish site – from there though I get to the Facebook group and Twitter feeds and also an unexpected Twitter hashtag for Horbury.   The social media are rich.  Again this is a common pattern in 2015 – a trad website very much for reference that shows up in Google but new updates and action on Facebook and Twitter.

Looking at the map to work out where Horbury is I see a large parks complex to the North East and Google for Thornes Park hoping to find a ‘Friends of’ website, which turns up but as a bonus covers several local parks.   But I find another entry in google for Thornes Park on a much older platform which was nominated for an award for e-government in 2006.  Back tracking to the parent site takes me to Wakefield District Community Online – a platform apparently provided by the council. The full site list operating on this CMS seems to be over 100 local sites.  This will no doubt lead me off to record others to go on the map.  I have also mailed the local library to see if they have a list of links, which is common.

About 45 minutes work enables me to start to fill in a blank spot on the map and I still need to put a couple of hours more into Wakefield alone.  It’s very labour intensive and is hard to distil out as a method.  I was pleased that when I talked this through in a hyperlocal lunch in Leeds, no one there had come across the sites I had mapped.  Emma Bearman observed that this could be automated somehow – maybe running a gazetteer of place names against Twitter , looking for repetitions and hashtags to give a list for manual inspection.  I agree but am not sure how to go about it yet.  I shall write up shortly my experience with Devon and Somerset where I was able to add dozens of local parish sites.

Site ‘Groups’

We found a field in the Openly Local data that attributed some sites to networks such as LocalPeople etc.  We have as an experiment revealed this for a while as a category selector at the bottom of the front page.  However most of these sites are now redundant and so we shall remove this when we cleanse the data.