OpenBlock | FAQ

What it is, and isn’t

Project Info

How To …

What It Is (and Isn’t)

What does it do?

OpenBlock is a “hyperlocal news�? platform. It provides a local news database, with various kinds of news, each with a location and a date and any other information you want. You can use it principally in two ways:

  • As a standalone website where users can browse by location (right down to the single-block level!), by date, or by kind of news.
  • Or as a service you can integrate with other websites in various ways – via a REST API, via custom RSS feeds, and/or via custom widgets you can embed in your pages.

Or both!

How is this different from

OpenBlock actually began life as the codebase.  The two projects are now proceeding independently (but amicably).  For more history, see the documentation.

Can I use OpenBlock to manage all my content?

You don’t want to do that. OpenBlock is not a content management system (CMS). It is good for aggregating and slicing and dicing hyperlocal news. Lots of content doesn’t make sense as “hyperlocal news�?.

Project Info

Is it stable?

As of August 2011, OpenBlock is in beta. That said, the codebase was quite mature when initially released it – after all, they had already been using it to run in production for quite some time.

When will there be a stable release?

The final 1.0 release should be out by September 2011. Watch the for updates.

Who are you guys?

OpenBlock is currently developed by , a 501(c)(3) non-profit, with funding from the

How To …

How can I set up OpenBlock for my city?

Start with the documentation, and if you get stuck, by all means ask for help on the . Note that we are still actively working on making installation and setup significantly easier.

Can I set up OpenBlock outside the United States?

Be warned that there are a number of parts of OpenBlock which assume US addresses. People are currently trying to set it up in Canada and Spain (that we know of), but there are stumbling blocks. You’ll want to ask for help on the .

Where can I download OpenBlock?

Stable packages are on ; follow the installation instructions. Developers can check out the code from .

Where do I get news data to feed into OpenBlock?

If you’re setting up OpenBlock for its API and/or widgets capabilities, and want to integrate it with your existing website, you’ll probably just feed in data that you already have. But if you’re setting it up as an aggregator of hyperlocal news, this may be your biggest challenge. Availability of regularly updated local data varies a lot from place to place. You’ll just have to look around and see what you can find.

What kind of data formats can I feed in?

Almost anything you can find on the web. OpenBlock has infrastructure for dealing with various data formats: RSS and Atom feeds with or without geographic extensions; CSV files; and screen-scraping HTML websites. Data can even be scraped from PDFs. This does require some Python scripting. Have a look at our scraper tutorial page.

Alternatively, we have introduced a simple REST API that allows pushing news into the system via HTTP.

Where do I get streets, blocks, and other location data for OpenBlock?

In the USA, you might consider using TIGER/Line data from the US Census.
See the geographic data documentation.

Do you have a hosted version that I can use?

No. We have no plans at this time for offering OpenBlock as a hosted service.

Can I include data that doesn’t have a date?

OpenBlock is heavily geared toward displaying information that happened in one particular place at one particular time – in a word, news. If you have data that has a location but no meaningful date, one thing you can do is create Places and categorize them using PlaceTypes. These will be optionally displayed as markers on some maps. This is not fully documented yet.

Can I include data that doesn’t have a location?

No, that doesn’t really make sense. If it doesn’t have a date and a location, it’s not local and it’s not news, and it doesn’t make sense for OpenBlock.

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