Syndicating Customisable Hyperlocal Blog Content

Background

I recently described how I have started writing for the B44 hyperlocal blog, with a post about election leaflets:

'Election Leaflets' post on The B44 blog

After posting that, I realised that it fitted will with an idea I’ve been mulling over for some time: the syndication of hyperlocal blog content, with, critically, scope for customisation to suit various local audiences.

I mentioned on Twitter that my post could be reused, and re-written , under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. In other words, that’s Creative Commons, attribution (“BY“) required, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike.

A couple of my followers said that they would like to reuse it. After some cajoling, was the first to do so, amending and reusing my post on the ‘Visit Burslem’ blog:

'Election Leaflets' post on Burslem blog

Note how she changed the fourth paragraph to refer to the Stoke-on Trent North wards. For good measure, she also reused my post on the ‘Social Stoke’ blog, but due to an accident of electoral geography, without needing further changes:

'Election Leaflets' post on the Stoke blog

Then, after much further cajoling, Philip John used my post on the Lichfield Blog. He not only changed my fourth paragraph, but prepended a couple more of his own:

'Election Leaflets' post on The Lichfield Blog

Discussion

To my mind, this exercise raises several questions.

Primarily, do hyperlocal bloggers want to use content like this?

There’s certainly a lot of satisfaction to be had by seeing one’s own work published; is there less satisfaction when adapting something written by someone else? Does that matter? Is that why Philip wrote additional paragraphs? Doesn’t he have enough to do?

Why didn’t more hyperlocal bloggers reuse my post?

Was it insufficiently interesting, or badly written? Surely not! Perhaps they didn’t know about it?

Do hyperlocal blog readers mind seeing re-used content?

I’d suggest not — I contend that many such readers only read one hyperlocal blog. It’s only those of us fascinated by the hyperlocal blogging phenomenon who would be reading blogs about Great Barr (B44), Burslem and Lichfield. And providing there is openness about the source, and what’s been done, where’s the problem?

How can we do this better?

How can we let hyperlocal bloggers know when suitable content is available? Can we automate the process? Can, and should, we clearly delineate the parts which are intended to be localised? Can we find some way to export, from the original post, the tags, so that re-users can modify them? Can we export whole posts (retaining HTML markup) from one WordPress bog (be it wordpress.com or a self-hosted wordpress.org installation) and have it imported into another (ditto)? What about other platforms?

What license should be used?

CC-BY-NC-SA was perhaps too restrictive; on the other hand, can this model be monetised? Is there sufficient content of this type to make that worthwhile? Would press officers start to supply pre-written content? Would that be a good thing, or bad?

As usual, your comments — especially, but not only, if you’re a hyperlocal blogger — would be welcome. And you’re still welcome to reuse my post.

Footnote

Clare and Philip are both good friends. Please read my comments about them as the good-natured teasing they are. I trust they’ll forgive them, and my using them as unwitting guinea-pigs.

Footnote 2

Read about my new freelance career as an advisor on on-line communities and related issues.

About Andy Mabbett

Enjoying my freelance career, helping organisations to understand on-line communities, open content, and related issues; often as a Wikimedian (or Wikipedian) in Residence.
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11 Responses to Syndicating Customisable Hyperlocal Blog Content

  1. I didn’t use the post as it was but it inspired me to write this:

    http://digbeth.org/2011/04/election-fever-this-thursday-5th-may/

    I’ll be honest – I didn’t notice the Creative Commons so I just used it as a starting point and linked back! So thanks for the inspiration. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I like this. But I’d like it more of the original text was tagged with ‘variables’, i.e. parts of the text that would need to be changed if re-used, e.g. ‘location’. That way, re-use could be automated.

  3. I really like this idea. It’s so simple, yet I’ve never seen anyone offer/do it before! Depending on the actual content, then I would be interested in this.

  4. Philip John says:

    Spot on. I’ve liked the thought of some sort of hyperlocal news agency for a while now and we’re sort of doing that with LCM now. In Lichfield, we get the same stuff from police, fire, county council and much more as they do in Tamworth and Burntwood. So we’re going to produce it centrally, and broadcast to the three sites; Lichfield, Tamworth and Burntwood (coming soon).

    There are then people living in each of those areas whose job it is to do the on-the-ground reporting, expanding that out.

    I’ve also investigated ways to have all posts automatically available in an open format (that includes a license), which can be sucked up automatically by other sites in a way that helps to ensure content is used and attributed in the right way.

    All this while leaving it incredibly simple (seamless even) for the actually blogger. The last thing I want is to make anything unnecessarily complicated.

    Good stuff!

  5. Jon Foster says:

    Love the concept – I think there is real scope for something like this. I’m not a hyperlocal blogger, but if I was, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate in using something like this.

    Thinking about how it can be done, I think there’s a good case for keeping it simple. Something as straightforward as a WordPress blog which people can subscribe to by email could suffice. Copying and pasting content from your email into your blog needn’t cause problems, HTML mark-up could also be provided for those who want it.

    I think there’s a way of syndicating content between WordPress blogs (of either type) through the feeds – I’ll have a look later and see if I can find it. My memory though is that it just posts straight out, so no opportunity to edit – might need a bit of work to make it create a draft…

    I sort of instinctively stray away from the idea of total automation of the ‘localisation’ – how would it be decided which variables replace which words? For example – The B44 covers Kingstanding, Great Barr and Oscott; any one single blog post could refer to 3 different locations – like West Midlands, Birmingham, Northfield. Automating replacement of that kind of thing could lead to some fairly dodgy sentences!

    On a similar note, where Andy’s original post links to electionleaflets.org, would recipients be required to input their constituency when setting syndication up? The system would then need to parse this into a correct electionleaflets.org URL, which is a bit of faff, especially if this isn’t monetised…
    And what if a blog covers more than 1 constituency?

    My head is full of ideas with this already – and if you do this I’d love to be involved & help!

    Jon ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. This looks like plain good sense to me, and something that, after all, print journalists have been doing for years. When I worked at Metro we had shared news content and regional arts desk across the country. When we had bands (for example) touring, it would have been madness to pay for a writer to create a new article for every regional city – we simply created a system whereby we coordinated the commissioning of copy and then added regional tweaks to the same piece at the subbing stage (sorry if that’s spoilt the magic anyone :D) What interests me is the way that hyperlocals and websites in general are not as far away from traditional media techniques as they might think; in new media this is referred to a syndication or re-purposing content, but it’s all the same thing, and makes excellent sense.

  7. Philip John says:

    It’s entirely possible right now to suck a feed into your own WordPress blog (not if you’re on WP.com, sorry) and have them go straight into draft or pending.

    Then you just check your drafts/pending, edit to suit your area and publish. This is one of the reasons I’m so disappointed that NewsWaves are packing up – they were perfectly positioned to do this kind of thing.

    Still, it’s on my to do list so if anyone wants to take a lead on it, I’ll gladly contribute.

  8. Laura says:

    First of all thanks for the nice comment Phil, we we’re happy to have been of service and glad that you thought NewsWaves was a good idea!

    I too really like the idea you had and I think that as long as variables can be changed to be specific to the certain area then people will want to use it.

    When we started NewsWaves we also questioned as to whether hyperlocal bloggers would want to use content not written by themselves and we found that yes they do. There’s so much going on that no blogger has the time to cover everything, so we found many bloggers to be relieved to have our service on hand as not only did we suggest content, we also offered to cover stories the blogger didn’t have the time to do themselves.

    I think your idea works best with big events (like the election as you’ve done) as everybody wants to cover it; so having the bones of the article and then having the ability to just change variables so that it is appropriate to the ‘patch’ is a great idea and a useful tool ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Mike Rawlins says:

    This sort of happens any way I think.

    Take 500 Words over on Pits n Pots, we did it, I stole it from someone else, and people have lifted the idea from us.

    We did the election leaflets thing a while back so you stole that from us! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Sharing is good, on PnP we have an agreement with My Tunstall to share content if either of us feel it is relevant. The one thing that concerns me is, the ‘Hyperlocal News Agency’ thing, does this not spoil the Hyperlocal thing? If you get 20, 30 or even 50 sites sharing some content you are fast becoming something like the Thisis brand..

    As I say sharing and collaboration is good but don’t formalise it too much.

    • Andy Mabbett says:

      Hi Mike,

      The last thing I’d want to do is over-formalise stuff, I’m simply looking to facilitate. And for every syndicated post about something of regional or national interest with a hyperlocal slant, there will be dozens about truly hyperlocal issues, not worth syndicating.

      Though we could always ask Will Perrin for a boilerplate dog poo post ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Philip John says:

      “you are fast becoming something like the Thisis brand”

      Noooooooooooooooooooo! I’d rather eat my own head!

      Yep it does happen and it should happen more. Where’s the sense in Warren writing out a vertically identical story about schools in Tamworth as we do in Lichfield? We might as well give him the story, let him tweak it for Tamworth and publish. The little time Warren has is then better spent on the ground.

      Beautiful!

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