If you are looking for Plings - the service to help you find activities for young people - we are sorry, but due to the Government's changing funding priorities, this service is no longer supported. You can find out more about what happened to Plings on the Substance website or if you want to browse an archived version of the Plings site you can do so here. However, please note that there is currently no further future data contained and you need to look prior to June 2012 to view any activities.

Thanks for your interest in Plings.

Pling-o-matic can now publish your Google Calendar

Avid readers will be aware of the powerful pling-o-matic tool we built with 1UPDesign to process records from the Open Family Services Directory, parse and reformat them ready for upload to the plings web service.

At the core of the pling-o-matic is an application which parses the freetext of the records from the OFS searching for unstructured instances of dates, days and times; Where present the starttime and endtimes are created in a structured format.

It occurred to us we could harness this semantic application to parse data from elsewhere. So, over the last few weeks we’ve been experimenting with collecting data from other sources. Using a dedicated application developed by 1UP we’ve scraped the content from a number of sites and are working to reformat the data ready for plings.

Plings Calendar - Google Calendar - Dorset

A day in Cumbria's Google Calendar

However by far the most effective source of data we’ve found has been Google Calendars maintained by local authorities.

Not only does this lend the local authorities all of the benefits that are native to Google Calendars but it also means the data is available to the pling-o-matic in great quality, well structured feeds.

Jamie Tickner from Cumbria County Council was quick to see the benefits of using calendars to manage his data.

“Prior to storing our events data in a google calendar I just added events details manually on to a web page using standard html.  This was fine but not very dynamic and there were no other uses for the data.  Also it meant that I was the only person who could add events to the website.”

So I decided to set up a google calendar.  The main advantages of this were that the calendar could easily be embedded in to existing websites and activity providers could add their own events with minimal training.”

We’re now processing the calendars that contain all the positive activity data for Cumbria. These calendars have helped us produce in excess of 500 plings during the next four weeks.”

Jamie is “very pleased with the work Substance have done” and is looking forward to taking advantage of the array of applications available now he’s got data live at plings.

We’re on the lookout for other organisations (from a single youth club to Local Authority) who already have Google Calendars full of data and would like to take the opportunity to get their data live at plings. If you’ve got a calendar you’d like us to take a look at please contact us

Alternatively for those of you who haven’t got calendars full of data yet here’s some of the benefits of using Google calendars to collate your data:-

  • Collaboration – Any member of a large organisation can add, edit or remove a calendar entry at anytime and from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Publishing – It’s really easy to publish your events on your own website using the google calendar widget or elsewhere using Google’s range of calendar feeds and the calendar API
  • Mobile – Google’s Mobile service (which links seamlessly into iPhone and Android) can be accessed anywhere from mobile devices.
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Open Family Services Directory and Plings

Pling-o-matic Website

Pling-o-matic Website

As many of you may already know for the last year or so we’ve been working with Local Authorities to publish the data they stored in the Family Information Directory via the many plings publishing channels.  To overcome difficulties with the formats of the data as well as variations in it’s quality and quantity we built a Data Processing application which we affectionately called Pling-o-matic.

What is Pling-o-matic?

Amongst other things the magnificent Pling-o-matic parses freetext looking for instances of days, dates and times, when a day or date and time is found pling-o-matic automatically creates the start time and end time of an event and publishes it at plings.net.   There’s stacks of more specific information on the plings wiki and the Pling-o-matic website.

Quality or Quantity when it comes to data?

When we launched we piloted parsing and publishing all the activities listed under the “Leisure and Recreation” category terms.  This provided us with a huge amount of data, at the height we were parsing in excess of 35,000 records daily.  Although the quantity and quality of the records was great we were concerned that some data didn’t fit into the scope of Plings; Positive Activities for 13-19 year olds.

Our solution was to ask local authorities to tag the records they’d like processed by the pling-o-matic and published at plings with the vocabulary term “Positive Activities”.  Although the quantity dropped we ended up with a smaller data set of high quality data which was perfectly in our scope.

Family Information Directory (FIDy) hit by budget cuts

Our concern was raised in February when the announcement came that the Family Information Directory was to fall victim to the central government deficit reduction cuts and was to be discontinued.  The department saw merit in the open sourcing of the aggregator code and thankfully the consortium of Vantaggio, Knowledge Integration and Kent Family Information Service came to the rescue providing the Open Family Services Directory.

Open Family Services Directory

Open Family Services Directory

Welcome to the Open Family Services Directory

The OFS aggregator was an exact replica of the FIDy aggregator so we simply changed a couple of base URLs and starting parsing data immediately.  We were amazed at the quality and quantity of data held in the aggregator at such an early stage.  We’re really excited about the future of the directory and we encourage local authorities and channel partners to get involved.

Pling-o-matic was developed and is maintained by 1UPDesign for Substance Coop.  To date it has created and published 278,520 plings.  Interested in knowing more about pling-o-matic, contact us

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Blackpool Plings By Numbers

Here at Blackpool Council we’ve just pulled together our end of year Plings statistical report using the Plings Stats Tool. This year we’ve managed to achieve some fantastic increases in the number of activities we are sending up to Plings via the API.

10,000 hours

Blackpool Stats

Blackpool's Stats Spreadsheet

In 2010/11 we have seen the number of hours of provision advertised rocket to over 10,000 – more than 28 hours of provision for every day of the year and an increase of 125% on 2009/10.

However, in some wards we have seen numbers drop but it’s really important to remember how to use the figures in a positive way – even when they aren’t as good as we’d like.

Blackpool Stats Graph

Instances per Month

Plings is also strategic

Sometimes there can be a struggle when trying to get the message across that Plings is not only a tool for young people to find positive activities, but also one for senior management and commissioners to better plan and structure activities both in geographical areas and in the type of activity provided.

For example in Blackpool’s Park ward we saw a 23% fall in the number of activities in 2010/11 from 2009/10. While this information isn’t what we’d like to see, we need to establish the reason behind this fall. Is it that providers had previously been putting on activities in this areas but they weren’t being attended in high enough numbers? If that was the case then the drop is justified but if there is another reason, we need to know what it was and establish whether activities need to be reinstated in this area.

Adding attendance to Plings data?

If we could tie in the Plings Data with management information on the number of young people attending particular activities we could have an even richer picture of what we have to offer. Maybe this is a new development to be looked at in the future.

You can see Blackpool’s Plings at www.rubothered.co.uk!

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