Directors' blog

Links, thoughts and updates from the directors of Dim Sum Digital.

Archive for the ‘howto’ tag

Notes from effective online search strategies #ipiwoco

leave a comment

Starting this session with retrieving information more effectively.
Exercise so far is encouraging people to use the site:URL version of google search to do deeper into a site and so limit the search results.

Using the * symbol in a missing phrase for example.

Much of today’s session will not be new to UK followers eg. Domain registry, reverse IP address etc. hence lack of updates. (Most could be covered by looking at Google help pages).

However, interesting use of Wayback machine demonstrated to trace former employee of an organisation. For example, someone who was once responsible for an organisation and could therefore be a good source for extra information.

Finding experts
- Use Wikipedia to look for external links and therefore secondary sources
- limit search results to University pages
- with scientists, use Latin names
- use Google scholar

Written by sarahhartley

April 12th, 2014 at 9:37 am

Making of a hyperlocal part four: Competitors

one comment

This is a tricky area and I don’t claim to have all the answers but I have seen a variety of different approaches on dealing with ‘competing’ local services. Even the idea of ‘competition’ in the hyperlocal space can be problematic as many publishers don’t feel they are competing with other existing services but instead come from a starting point of providing something new, missing or complimentary to what was previously on offer.

In the case of the fledgling hyperlocal I’m initiating, that’s certainly my standpoint and I hadn’t expected to be considering this issue so early in the process however, the reaction from a local commercially run website pointed up something different so it’s become something that needed to be addressed.

In fact that’s possibly the first thing to note, even if you’re not running the hyperlocal as a commercial enterprise, it may be considered as competition by those who do seek to make money from local publishing, one of the reasons why there’s sometimes friction between local newspapers and community websites and blogs. Established operators may feel they ‘own’ the local space.

The thinking which underlies that approach often doesn’t take into account the very different way people consume news and information online and via mobile but it is a view still present in some quarters and so may reveal itself as an issue quite early in the life of your hyperlocal.

So what’s the best strategy? Here’s five different approaches to consider:

1. Publish a manifesto
Lay out your stall online. What the site is doing, what it stands for, why you’re doing it etc. This can be around the editorial tone and content but also be extended to any commercial dealings. Greater transparency with everything from traffic figures to ad revenues can help explain the role you see the site fulfilling.This one from the US site The Rapidian is an effective and concise example.

2. Contact possible competitors
Basically the same as the above but on a one-to-one basis.
Introduce yourself and explain what you’re doing, why you’re doing it etc. I’d love to be able to relay experience of this in action but sadly, so far at least, this approach has been without success for several projects I’ve initiated. If you’ve different experience, please do feel free to add to this post via the comments below.

3. Find areas to collaborate
Maybe you have great photography but the other site has the resources to do in-depth reporting – together you could create great slideshows. Or maybe you could provide a feed of information which, properly attributed, could be used in the local community sections?
Taking some time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each proposition could lead to a fruitful collaboration whether on an ongoing basis or a one-off project.
A good example of this in action can be seen in the work Trinity Mirror has done in Birmingham which laid the groundwork for hyperlocal content sharing. (Disclosure: I am connected with, Talk About Local, the company involved in the initiative).

4. Give link love
If you genuinely don’t compete, then this will be a simple but effective step you can take that gives your users the benefit of all the content available locally while taking some of the sting out of any fraught relationships. Linking to stories being carried elsewhere builds your repository of information and can help users understand the difference between your offering and that of your competitor. If the content isn’t suitable on a day-to-day basis, consider a fixed link in the blog roll, ad space or similar to point up the existence of other provision.

5. Go it alone
Not much of a strategy but this maybe what you end up with so be prepared. It maybe you discover there’s no appetite for collaboration and your ‘competitors’ would rather behave as if you didn’t exist. If that happens then – keep calm and carry on as the much overused expression goes – your users are actually unlikely to care one way or the other and you’ve undoubtedly enough to be getting on with.

* Do you have experience in this area which could help people starting out? Please feel free to add to this post via the comments below.

Written by sarahhartley

December 28th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Making a hyperlocal part three – contacts

one comment

Contacts – in the end, they’re all there is. If Mae West had been a journalist, rather than saying ‘keeping a diary will keep you in the end’, I like to think she might have instead spoken about keeping a contacts book with the same reverence.

Any time spent on creating and building contacts is never wasted, which is why I’ve included it so early in the process. It also won’t stop here, this post is simply a process to get started.

So where to start?

Setting up a website or blog from scratch is just like starting a new beat as a reporter. You’re looking for contacts who know everything that’s going on in their field. Well-placed people. Some of those will be people who are paid to communicate with the public eg. Press and PR but many will be people who hold a position of authority, or have volunteered for a role and who don’t necessarily know about public participation. Your contact with them will need to be handled slightly differently to explain clearly the context of what you are trying to set up.

Begin by listing any personal contacts you have as these will always be the strongest ties – family and friends. Then start with the main institutions in your town. Here’s a fairly typical list I’ve started for my town:

Mayor and councillors
Council press office
Police, fire and ambulance press offices.
School principles and heads of governors
Existing bloggers/tweeters
Leisure facilities – cinema, theatre, operatic society, sports centre
Museums – Green Howard’s , Richmondshire
Neighbourhood policing panels
Town council clerk
Church representatives
Trading groups
Local MP’s constituency office
Existing campaign groups – Friends of Richmond CCTV
Civic Society
Allotments organisation

Having identified some of the local structures, time to put some research into finding the people behind the organisations and starting to build that contacts book.

Back in the day this meant a succession of well-guarded index tabbed notebooks – these days it means a database.

Taking the time to set up a spreadsheet right at the start of the process means an invaluable resource that can be easily updated as you progress. If there’s a group of you working on a project, it also makes it easy to share resources too. One word of caution on that – do ensure you understand the implications of the Data Protection Act when dealing with any data which isn’t in the public domain.

Using excel, googledocs or similar, layout your new contents database with column headings something like this.
Organisation. Name. Email. Phone. Notes. First contacted. Response.

If there’s a group of you doing this, you’ll need a column for who is to make the 1st contact too.

The heading ‘notes’ is for anything useful to know about contacting the person eg.’ Don’t call on Thursdays as child-minding’ or ‘strict vegetarian’ if you’re likely to be arranging a venue to meet.

The column first contacted is for recording a date so you can easily set a date for follow up conversations to track without bombarding someone with annoying repeat information.

All set – time to hit the phones and introduce yourself. Far better in person or over the phone as these are people you need to build relationships with.

If you do find a need to email to many people, just remember not to reveal people’s email addresses to everyone else in the list (without their prior permission). Use the BCC field of email to keep those addresses private.

The next instalment in this series will be some ways to approach ‘competitors’.

Written by sarahhartley

November 8th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Making a hyperlocal part one: Why?


This the first in a series of blog posts where I shall document the hyperlocal initiative as a step-by-step process that is intended to be helpful to anyone setting about a similar project – shared experiences and tips most welome.

n0tice‘Why?’ really does have to be the very first question for anyone setting up a hyperlocal website or blog. The reasons for getting involved in any community publishing venture vary widely and I’ve come across many over the years – maybe there’s a specific issue that needs addressing locally, perhaps there’s a lack of news provision generally in the area or poor local information? maybe it’s a business opportunity you’ve spotted in these freelance and DIY days?

All valid reasons and ones that it’s important to understand and be able to articulate before setting about any enterprise which could become a passion, a profitable enterprise or a lot of fun on one hand but, if it all goes wrong, a depressing timesink or costly mistake.

I’ve come up with the five questions below to think through the ‘why’ before getting started. There’s no correct answers, it’s as much about the process of answering the questions to help establish the way your hyperlocal proceeds and provide a framework or bare bones of the project.

Producing this basic list can be a vital piece of documentation to return to in the future as things develop and can help stop you getting blown off course.

My answers in connection with my own new venture are in brief below.

Five questions to consider before starting any hyperlocal project

1. Is there a need? This could be a general need ie. nowhere to find what’s going on or a specific need eg. The dog fouling in this town is appalling or why does no-one ever stand for council election?

2.  What is the site to be for? Events? news? conversation? photography? It can be all of the above, or a combination, but it’s important to think through the primary aim as there will substantial differences in the decisions taken down the line between, for instance, a site set up to express a sense of place and one investigating local issues or a forum for conversations.

3. What existing provision is there? Relates to point 2 – is there already activity locally and in which aspects? Identify who else covers the patch in terms of blogs and twitter as well as mainstream media in print, broadcast or online. There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel so if there’s some good content out there, understand where to find it.

4. Do you seek to receive any income from it? Again, some of the decisions coming up will be dependent on this answer. Even which platform to use for publishing, as well as business structures and status.

5. What does success look like? Yes, a cheesy management line in some instances, but this will help form the guiding principles for your site and is a vital conversation to have if a group of people is involved. A lot of potential later friction can be avoided by thought and detailing at this pre-launch stage.


My answers in brief

  1. The need I identify in the town is primarily around the transparency of local decision-making with a secondary one of finding out what’s on. There are already some sources of information (identified in point 3) but nothing specifically aimed at people using digital tools and platforms who are empowered to participate online or via mobiles. I have noticed very few members of the public turning out for meetings on important local issues and local elections are poorly attended. On a parliamentary basis, the constituency must be one of the safest Tory seats in the country, currently held by foreign secretary William Hague.
  2. The site is for sharing. That’s a simple aspiration but one I know from experience it will be hard to achieve. The last thing I want to prompt is a top down service – this is to be a set of tools to enable people to share the local information important to them. As an engaged local person myself, I’m also keen to participate where I can but, it is not MY site!
  3. As far as mainstream news provision goes, the town is one of those places that’s on the edge of everyone’s patch – a factor I’ve noticed in quite a lot of other hyperlocals. In print,  two regional dailies , The Northern Echo and The Yorkshire Post both have the town in their sights – occasionally. Reductions in staff, budgets, offices etc. have inevitably taken their toll as their readerships have fallen to 38,479* And 37,833* Respectively. Richmondshire  has a population in excess of 47,000 and each of those publications includes several large and very newsworthy cities in their patches. The free newspaper, The Yorkshire Advertiser has a distribution of 23,716* but again, has much larger places within its patch and so provides a limited number of stories relating specifically about the town. The excellent weekly paper, The Darlington and Stockton Times fights a good fight and publication is still eagerly awaited by many in the town but even that only serves : 21,829* (down 5.2%) across a large geographical patch. Broadcast-wise, the town falls into the BBC Tees are which has its heart on the industrial towns and cities of Teesside and the forces radio provides a good community serice for those based at nearby Catterick Garrison. TV is again, on the edge of everywhere with residents likely to choose to receive Tyne Tees or Yorkshire regions depending on work or family background. There is another online service, RichmondOnline which provides a good what’s on service in addition to producing a local business directory. (* Newspaper figures from latest ABCs.)
  4. No. I intend this to be a project for the benefit of the local community and will be doing this as part of my other activities in the hyperlocal publishing sphere so I don’t need it to provide me with an income.
  5. Success would ultimately look like something that can exist and thrive without me. Although I am very keen to participate in the life of the town (and love doing the sort of local reporting I’ve been involved in for 20+ years now), if the site isn’t valuable enough for people to also want to engage in and contribute, then it won’t have succeeded in the terms I measure it.

Written by sarahhartley

October 1st, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Your first blog post using Movable Type

leave a comment

I had to very quickly bash out this ABC of doing the first blog post on MT today for one of our new bloggers.

Thought it might help someone else out there too so here it is. After all, it’s only simple when you know how!

To post;

1. Click on “new entry” in the left hand navigation.

2. Put a headline – simple and descriptive in the “title” field.

3. Paste, or type, your blog post into the box marked “entry body”.

4. Scroll to the bottom of the page – click preview to check.

5. Once happy with it, change the status from “unpublished” to “published” and click save. That’s it, all live on t-internet!

A few pointers

  1. The main benefit/point of blogs is that they are easy to link to other sources of information. To do this, highlight the text you want to link then click the icon that looks like a chain link that will open a little window where you paste the URL of the site, blog etc that you want to link to.
  2. To add a picture or audio clip. Click on the upload file on the left hand navigation panel. That will open the panel below. You then need to browse to the location of the file you want to upload – and click upload.


The next screen gives you these options;


  1. Select: “Show me the html”
  2. Check “create a thumbnail image”
  3. Change the pixels size – 300 at the max is about right for our page width.
  4. Click embed image.
  5. This will give you a string of code which you need to cut and paste into your blog post.
  6. If you want to position the picture left or right, add in this additional piece of code <img align=”left”> or right etc. otherwise the image will sit centrally.

Written by sarahhartley

December 1st, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Posted in Journalism

Tagged with , , , , ,