Thoughts about Talk About Local #TAL16

Last Saturday I left the house in the dark, and caught the first available bus. It had to be something good to get me out of bed that early in the morning at a weekend.

It was…

#TAL16 – the hyperlocal unconference.

If you’ve not heard of hyperlocal before, it’s an increasingly popular form of journalism, produced for, and by, local people.

If you’re interested, there’s lots more detail in the 2014 UK Hyperlocal Community News collaborative research report.

Local, where?

screenshot-2016-10-22-13-00-18

Map of UK hyperlocal sites

I’m glad you asked – there’s a handy map of all known UK sites at http://hyperlocal.uk/. It lets you zoom in and explore sites near to you.

If you want the data behind the map, that’s also available to download, thanks to Mike Rawlins.

If there isn’t a hyperlocal near you, then perhaps there should be…

Unconference

An unconference is a bit like a conference, except there is no pre-defined agenda (and it’s a lot more fun). I’m a big fan, and have co-organised a few like Open Data Camp and BlueLightCamp, and helped out at others like UKGovCamp and GovCamp Cymru.

The Talk About Local (TAL) unconference has been running for years, but I’ve only been to one before. It’s co-organised by Will Perrin, this year assisted by Mike Rawlins. #TAL16 was hosted by Birmingham City University in the fab Curzon building.

Who was there?

It was a diverse group, including bloggers, journalists, students, researchers and academics.

Welcome and introductions

After the welcome, everyone introduced themselves. [Tip: you may find the audio is more useful than the video in the Periscope which follows]

The sessions

People interested in pitching a session queued up at the front of the room, and said a few words about their idea, which they also wrote on a post-it note. The post-it notes were arranged on the session grid, thereby forming the agenda.

I pitched a session, asking if open data is useful for hyperlocals. More about that later.

Who is your audience?

The first session I went to explored who the readers of hyperlocal and community news sites actually are.

Jerome Turner has been doing some fascinating research, some of which he kindly shared:

Download (PDF, 457KB)

Jerome has been using every method possible to find out how people use hyperlocal, and exploring how it fits into everyday life. This includes face-to-face meetings, visiting local groups, surveys, desktop reviews, analysing Facebook etc.

I didn’t write much down during the session, but comments included:

“mix banal with other content: what’s the best Chinese takeaway….and what do you think of regeneration policy?”

“people may not be comfortable commenting on politics, but they’ll happily send in a picture they took of snow”

“Facebook is popular for hyperlocals, because it’s a place people already are”

There was also a really interesting discussion around what constitutes local, and how the answer depends on scale. For example, a loose paving slab affects my street, but a proposed airport expansion affects the whole city, whereas photos from Mrs Miggins’ class are specific to individuals.

The Unawards

TAL has a tradition of giving what have become known as unawards. These items are worthless financially, and yet are highly sought after and coveted by those who receive them. This year’s glittering ceremony was captured in full colour on Periscope, and highlights included a lifetime achievement unaward for Nick Booth

I was extremely surprised – and very pleased – to receive my very own unaward for banging on about open data a lot (or words to that effect).

Hyperlocals and open data

screenshot-2016-10-22-15-24-20Speaking of open data, I’m really interested in the extent to which open data is, or could be, used for information / news gathering and dissemination, and pitched a session to that effect. Umar Hassan also pitched a data-stories-related session, and we ended up attempting to cover both in a single session.

As you can see from the screenshot above, our timeslot was immediately after lunch, and we were up against some serious competition. I mean, who can resist a headline like “You Won’t Believe These Amazing Five Reasons People Start Hyperlocal News”?

Who visits open data sites?

We began by asking “do you visit open data sites, or download open data to use in stories?” The short answer was “no”, though some of those present had downloaded open data in the past.

That’s not to say that open data doesn’t feature at all – it does, it’s just that it might already have been packaged by intermediary sites. Some of those mentioned* included:

  • They Work For You
  • FixMyStreet
  • Open Charities
  • Open Corporates
  • Observatory of Economic Complexity
  • Public Health observatories
  • The Office for National Statistics (ONS) e.g. Census, neighbourhood statistics etc

I didn’t note them all, but the gist seemed to be that all the sites mentioned take data from various sources (including “the crowd”), and then package or present it in a way that enables the visitor to quickly and easily find what they are looking for.

There are also some useful resources to help people find local open data, including UK Local Government open data resources (Owen Boswarva) and Local Open Data Discovery (Steve Peters)

Actually, the Hyperlocal map I mentioned earlier is a good example of this point. Someone built a useful map which enables you to quickly find and access hyperlocal sites in the UK. The data has been made available with an open license, which means that any of us can use the same data and build our own maps should we wish to do so. However, the reality is that the vast majority of us don’t, as we’re too busy doing  our own thing.

The session sped past, and my notes are skeletal, so I’m hoping that others present might help fill in the gaps. I was left wondering if what’s needed is something like:

The Hyperlocal’s Guide to the Galaxy

screenshot-2016-10-22-16-41-53

Something to help translate data into human?

A guide which helps you find information (and supporting data) about a local area, without you having to start from scratch.

Perhaps with lots of charts – population, demographics, transport, health etc which can easily be embedded on local news sites – with the appropriate crediting, of course – and of course the option to download the supporting data.

As you can tell, I haven’t thought this through yet, and it may well be that there’s already something out there  which does this. If so, please comment and share links to any good stuff.

 Out of time

I’ve run out of time (and steam) for this post. if you’ve made it this far, thanks for persevering. I’ll just finish by signposting to a few other write-ups from the day:

#TAL16: Talk About Local’s Latest Hyperlocal Unconference

Talk About Local 2016 Round-up

Talk About Local Unconference 2016: hosted by BCU

* I’ve listed some of the sites mentioned during the session – not all of these necessarily make use of open data, but all make information easy to find

Photo credits

Babel Fish – Screenshot from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTNuldPhP20&feature=youtu.be&t=28m20s 

Follow-up comments (Twitter)

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