Ambridge blog – The Archers characters online in their own hyperlocal site

We are delighted to see that the Ambridge site has been live for a few weeks.  Given the colossal radio and online listening audience of The Archers, the world’s longest-running soap opera the blog is the biggest thing to happen to rural blogging in the UK.  The scriptwriters and producers have done a lovely job creating a facsimile of a new rural hyperlocal site.  The Archers joins Skins and Dr Who in weaving the trad. broadcast story into the online blog and vice-versa.

We knew that the Archers team had been trying to launch an in-character hyperlocal site and Nicky and I from talk about local had a great chat with Birmingham based Keri Davies Archers senior producer and scriptwriter a couple of months ago.  We ran through loads of sites and specific post angles and characteristics.  The Archers is set in the West Midlands and Birmingham-based talk about local (funded by Channel4 and Screen West Midlands) has worked with many rural sites ‐ supporting and promoting some of the marvellous existing sites and helping great people on the ground set up new ones.  If you would like an Ambridge style site for your village drop us a line at info@talkaboutlocal.org or look at the resources we have on our site.

It’s lovely to see the in-character Ambridge site start to find its feet and Nicky, who has a bit of an Archers habit and I, who was brought up on an isolated farm thought it would be fun to tease the components out and have a guess at what might come next:

  • Overall the team have done a great job of making the site look like a starting-up hyperlocal rural blog.  The content is spot on too ‐ most local rural sites start out with content from the major local community assets such as the village hall and pub.  They then go on to find their own voice as confidence and technical competence improve.
  • The clearest influence on Ambridge seems to be the superb Parwich site in Derbyshire.  Mike Atkinson and the team there have created a remarkable community asset that is the epitome of modern British rural life.  Ambridge seems to have some of the look and feel of Parwich.  There is something also of The Cricklade Bugle in Wiltshire and The Parish Post in Shropshire (two talk about local sites) in the font and higgledy piggledy layout.
  • Simple local ads – posting pdfs of village flyers are a staple of many rural sites.  For all Google’s efforts small local businesses still don’t get online advertising ‐ they know they need to be online but find online ads almost incomprehensible.  So they post a flyer to the local website ‐ or the site owner scans the flyer in.  The Bull harvest supper is a great example ‐ the sort of hand cranked notice that you see on village noticeboards slapped together with clipart ‐ you see quite a few of these on the Parwich site.  No doubt an advert for Tom Archer’s sausages will appear on the site soon.
  • Two line text posts – we can also see some of the Parish Post from Shropshire in the simple text posts ‐ the author there was trained by the Bishops Castle uk online centre as part of talk about local.  Luckily Ambridge has the IT savvy milkman Harry Mason to get contributors up to speed with posting on the website.
  • Email authoring ‐ it’s quite common on local sites for the site creator (Jennifer Aldridge here) to receive fully formed emails from local people who don’t have the confidence to post themselves, paste it in and attribute it – the Deck the Halls post from Elizabeth Pargetter.  We’re sure Jennifer will soon be getting a long email from Eddie Grundy about some special Christmas turkeys for sale…
  • The folksy explanation and basic use of categories at the bottom ‘These are some of the popular topics this blog covers’ I still do this on my non rural Kings Cross blog.
  • There’s only one thing that doesn’t quite sit right ‐ most new sites we work with don’t get RSS feeds this early in their life nor social bookmarking.  And it’s on the BBC platform ‐ in an ideal world it would be in wordpress.com or possibly blogger.  Though the site has a nicely done wordpress-stylee feel.

What next?

We thought we’d have a bit of fun with some guesswork and suggestions about where Ambridge blog could go next.

  • The look will evolve a bit in common with most sites ‐ a better banner, more use of pictures ‐ although with a radio show that will require some dramatic artifice
  • There will be a fight on the blog as one village faction takes on another, probably Lynda Snell ‐ the web empowering people in the community who might not have the confidence to take someone on face to face.  This could alter the village power structure ‐ the antics at the rural KingtonBlackboard talk about local site over Christmas lights spring to mind.
  • There will be a scrap about pseudonyms where a mystery commenter uses the site for some backbiting or truth talking and the community try and guess who it is ‐ again this happened on the Kington site.  My bet would be on one of the Grundys.
  • Linda Snell will create a commenting sock-puppet after coming in for some stick and standing aloof from all this modern stuff
  • Jennifer will come under pressure to take off some unhelpful comments ‐ eg a less than flattering review of food or service in The Bull.
  • The ever-helpful Vicky Tucker will get involved with writing content on the website, no doubt inadvertently offending everyone she mentions and causing even more ructions.
  • Peggy Woolley will use the training she picked up inget online week will also get stuck in
  • Ambridge natives who find themselves far from home, such as Debbie Aldridge, will start checking up on village life online and commenting their reactions to goings-on.  This is common on many strongly place based hyperlocal sites
  • An RSS feed from the Borchester Chronicle will appear in a sidebar – again popular in rural sites
  • Some earthy country issues will feature online that are hard to broadcast about, such as this wonderful discussion about errr, drainage and sewerage issues in the Fenland talk about local site in Little Manea
  • We’d love to see characters commenting on other real rural blogs ‐Linda Snell giving her supercilious views on other villages produce shows for instance ‘Call those five runner beans alike? Not in Ambridge…’ Though this would cause all sorts of problems for BBC journalism policy ‐ they will need a full strategy and months of meetings.
  • Full audience interaction in the comments ‐ whilst this would be marvellous we are am not sure it would be manageable with an online audio audience of 1 million even a tiny fraction commenting would make it like Comment is Free.

Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments, keeping it clean etc…

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william perrin

Founder of Talk About Local, Trustee of the Indigo Trust, member of UK Government transparency panels, former Policy Advisor to UK Prime Minister, former Cabinet Office senior civil servant.Open data do-er, Kings Cross London blogger. Loves countryside. Two kids, not enough sleep.
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