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.