OU News Tracking

A couple of days ago, Stuart pointed me to Quarkbase, a one stop shop for looking at various web stats, counts and rankings for a particular domain (here’s the open.ac.uk domain on quarkbase, for example; see also: the Silobreaker view of the OU), which reminded me that I hadn’t created a version of the media release related news stories tracker that won me a gift voucher at IWMW2008 ;-)

So here it is: OU Media release effectiveness tracker pipe.

And to make it a little more palatable, here’s a view of the same in a Dipity timeline (which will also have the benefit of aggregating these items over time): OU media release effectiveness tracker timeline.

I also had a mess around trying to see how I could improve the implementation (one was was to add the “sort by date” flag to the Google news AJAX call (News Search Specific Arguments)), but then, of course, I got sidetracked… because it seemed that the Google News source I was using to search for news stories didn’t cover the THES (Times Higher Education Supplement).

My first thought was to use a Yahoo pipe to call a normal Google search, limited by domain to http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/: OU THES Search (via Google).

But that was a bit hit and miss, and didn’t necessarily return the most recent results… so instead I created a pipe to search over the last month of the THES for stories that mention “open university” and then scrape the THES search results page: OU THES Scraper.

If you want to see how it works, clone the pipe and edit it…

One reusable component of the pipe is this fragment that will make sure the date is in the correct format for an RSS feed (if it isn’t in the right format, Dipity may well ignore it…):

Here’s the full expression (actually, a PHP strftime expression) for outputting the date in the required RFC 822 date-time format: %a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S %z

To view the OU in the THES tracker over time, I’ve fed it into another Dipity timeline: OU in the THES.

(I’ve also added the THES stories to the OUseful “OU in the news” tab at http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/.)

Going back to the media release effectiveness tracker, even if I was to add the THES as another news source, the coverage of that service would still be rather sparse. For a more comprehensive version, it would be better to plug in to something like the LexisNexis API and search their full range of indexed news from newspapers, trade magazines and so on… That said, I’m not sure if we have a license to use that API, and/or a key for it? But then again, that’s not really my job… ;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

4 thoughts on “OU News Tracking”

  1. Hi Tony

    This is probably more my job :-) – I’m in the OU media relations office.

    Really interesting stuff, I’m not techy but I like the way you traced the release/coverage timeline relationship on the Aberdeen Uni post. Just to clarify, does the tracker automatically populate if you provide the news feeds? Trying to work through in my mind how this works in practice!

    WE’re currently re-evaluating our evaluation so this is all good to throw into the mix…

  2. “does the tracker automatically populate if you provide the news feeds?”

    In the pipe I described in this post, and in the Aberdeen related post, the corresponding media release RSS feed is hardwired into the pipe.

    The pipe then tries to identify what each media release is about, generates some keyowrds, and searches, once for each news release, on Google news for “open university” AND .

    The idea is that the pipe gives an output of the original media release feed, along with any news stories that are about the OU and the topics mentioned in the news releases.

    I’m working on a couple of other ideas (eg extracting the names of people mentioned in posts) but the major weakness is the corpus searched by Google news; (err, the other weakness is the keyword extraction… which can be a bit iffy at times…)

  3. Right – that sounds interesting and potentially not masses of work once it’s set up.

    I think it’s something I need to come back to once we get up to speed with our revised reporting systems – I’ll be in touch!


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