Archive for June, 2007

How to create a free searchable listings site

June 20, 2007

It is a constant source of annoyance to me that I have to pay for TimeOut, the London listing magazine, and they don’t have all their listings on the web. So I’ve been thinking for a while on how a newspaper could create a free listings and reviews site. I think this could be done very easily by introducing your community of bloggers to microformats. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated, here’s how you can do it.

Obviously you’ve already engaged the bloggers that write about your community. Bringing bloggers into the fold is nothing spectacularly innovative. These people should be your eyes and ears, reporting on things you can’t get reporters to, and providing leads for stories.

Now you want to aggregate the events that your bloggers are going to. After all they have been chosen as thought leaders and taste makers in your community. If you’re able to pull it together in a nice way – hey presto! – free listings. The problem is that simply searching blog posts and lumping them together will not produce a format that is as easy to use as the TimeOut listings page.

Luckily this problem can be solved by microformats. With microformats information is entered in a certain computer recognisable format that makes it easy to search and display. (The whole formatting of data is linked to Web3.0 and the semantic web – if you like using annoying zeitgeisty words). Let me explain how this would work:

i) Your approved blogger is writing about which band they will see in a week.

ii) As opposed to just writing a post about it the blogger also enters the information into an ‘Event’ microformat. Imagine it as an online form you fill in, with certain boxes for certain information.

iii) This information is entered under a certain format. Now, as opposed to searching for information by key word, your aggregator can simply can bring back all information labelled ‘Event’. Standard data to be entered could be Date, Location, Band, Genre, Preview, Band website.

iv) As this data is entered so clearly it can now be retrieved by a machine in a far more easily searchable, flexible and readable format.

v) Users can now search by Date, Band, Genre as the machine can splice and display this information easily. Want to search all bands in your area in the next week? It could display the information by Location. You get the picture.

vi) Reward bloggers who enter content in this way. You might have to give them cash, though recognition and traffic might be enough.

The ‘Event’ microfromat doesn’t yet exist, but it could be very similar to hCalendar. This is already used by some bloggers to format event information they put on their blog. It doesn’t have the Genre or Band website labels we spoke about, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that difficult to change. (By the way, I have run this idea past Stew our developer guy and he says it makes sense).

This would be especially easy if blog platforms incorporated microformats within them as most bloggers don’t know HTML, but I’m sure there could be a way round this.

And there we go – a TimeOut killer.

ps. If there are any sites out there that already do this, then apologies, but I haven’t seen one.