Twitterplan – UK local government mashup for planning applications

I discovered Twitterplan via a posting on Liz Azyan’s excellent blog – Twitterplan: The Newest Mashup in UK Local Government via her Twitterstream @liz_azyan .

Twitterplan is a new service that has been set up by Lichfield District Council with help from the City of Lincoln Council and Planning Alerts. It sends a Twitter direct message to you whenever a planning application is submitted in your area. Go to and follow the instructions on screen.


The service covers 324 local authorities at present and there is a list of participants on the Twitterplan web site. My own council – Reading Borough Council – are included, which surprised me. Reading BC do not seem to be that keen to embrace Web 2.0 technologies and their web site can be a nightmare to navigate. They may be in the list, I thought, but will they actually deliver? A few hours after I had signed up my first two DMs arrived!


I am impressed: click on the link and you are taken direct to the details on the authority’s web site. It beats having to carry out an advanced Google site search on the Reading BC web site and trawling through the local newspaper planning applications.

Internet and Business Information Search Tips – Manchester, 26th March 2009

Here are the Top 10 tips from the Business and Internet Search workshop I ran for a group at Manchester Public Library on 26th March. They are the tips that the participants themselves suggested at the end of the day.

1. Site search

This one crops up again and again, but so many people have not yet discovered how powerful this command can be. Use the advanced site and domain search to limit your search to just one web site or a type of organisation (e.g. UK government, US academic). It is ideal for searching individual web sites which have diabolical navigation or appalling site search engines, and for searching for types of information, for example for UK academic research papers on a particular topic. Use the advanced search screen in Google and Yahoo, or the ‘site:’ command as part of your search strategy in the standard search box on Google, Yahoo, and For example:

carbon emissions trading

If you are searching for PowerPoints or PDFs, use both Google and Yahoo. Google indexes the first 101 K of a document whereas Yahoo indexes the first 500 K so the results can be significantly different when it comes to larger files.

2. Filetype search
There are lots of goodies to be found on the advanced search screens of Google and Yahoo. Think about the type of information you are looking for and focus your search by file format. For example statistics and research data are often left in spreadsheet format (xls). If you are looking for an expert on a subject limit your search to PowerPoint (ppt, and also pdf as many presentations are converted into this format before being loaded onto the web).  Industry, market and government reports are often in PDF format.  Yahoo and Google have the more common file formats in a drop menu on their advanced search screens.  If  the one you want is not listed use the filetype: command followed by the file extension as part of your strategy in Google, and In Yahoo, use ‘originurlextension: ”

3. TripleMe
Enter your search and TripleMe displays results from Google, Yahoo and Live side by side. The fourth column contains the inevitable ads.

4. Google Finance ,
A worthy competitor to Yahoo Finance although it does not have the wide range of stock exchange coverage of Yahoo. It does, though, beat Yahoo when it comes to the share price graphs. The graphs are ‘annotated’ with labels at the appropriate time point and these link to news articles that are listed to the right of the graph. Both offer free, daily historical share prices in figures.

5. and 123 for people search ,
As well as web sites, blogs, images and directories PIPL and 123People search social media and networking sites for a person by name.

6. Slideshare
A service that allows presenters to upload PowerPoint presentations  and make them available in various formats. Ideal if you are looking for information or an expert on a topic, a speaker for an event, or just some ideas for your own presentation.

7. Videos
Use services such as YouTube ( to track down  “how to” videos and news. Also, why not create your own videos to promote your services or business and put them on YouTube?

8. Google CSE
Google Custom Search Engines (Google CSE) at
Ideal for building collections of sites that you regularly search, to create a searchable subject list, or to offer your users a more focused search option.

9. SCoRe Search Company Reports
A catalogue of current and historic printed company reports held in UK libraries. The catalogue does not provide links to digitised documents but is a very quick and easy way of identifying libraries that hold hard copy reports. The participating libraries include London Business School, the British Library, Manchester Business School, City Business Library, Guildhall Library, Strathclyde University and the University of Warwick. A full list is available at

10. Bureau van Dijk’s (BvD) “A Taste of Mint”
A free directory from BvD giving basic information on companies world-wide. One experienced researcher at an earlier workshop commented: “It found the company I have been looking for when every other directory failed!”

Reportlinker: database of free industry reports, but beware the subscription T&Cs

I have been looking at Reportlinker for several months. Their strapline says “Industry reports, Company Profiles and Market Statistics from 200,000 public authoritative reports”. There are two parts to the service: the Public Reports, which “provides easy access to 1.2 million market reports and industry statistics” that are free of charge and the Premium Reports, which cover priced market research. The Public Reports section includes reports from governments, embassies, investment promotion agencies, national statistics agencies and trade unions .

You can search both sections free of charge and it is no surprise that when it comes to viewing reports in the Premium Reports section you have to pay. But you also have to pay if want to view the details of articles in Public Reports and download them. Why pay for articles and reports that you can find free on the web? Because Reportlinker indexes them and enables you to narrow down your search by industry, location and language and that requires human effort – at least I assume that there are real people doing this. Reportlinker seems to concentrate on formatted files such as PDF and DOC and so misses many HTML pages with data that are picked up by Google. I found that one of  my standard searches – gin vodka sales UK  – picked up one useful government document on Reportlinker but failed to retrieve web pages from the UK Gin and Vodka Association that gave me far more up to date information. Looking at alternatives to Google, I found that iSeek also performed better than Reportlinker in both its Web and Educational search on my test searches. See my review of iSeek at

Now to the pricing. There are two rates: a day rate at 39 Euros + 19.6% VAT and a monthly rate at 55 Euros + 19.6% VAT. I first tested the full service with a day rate but then decided to go for a month’s worth as I wanted to demonstrate the service at several workshops and to clients. I skimmed through the terms & conditions and did not register that the monthly subscription was not for just 1 month but a recurring subscription. And there are no refunds when you’ve realised your mistake after spotting the next debit on your monthly credit card statement! Yes you can cancel, but you have paid out for that month and that is it.

I accept the blame for this. I always check the terms and conditions of a subscription and I did manage to find a link to them at the bottom of the subscription page. I did look at them, but obviously not carefully enough. However, at no point in the subscription process is there a box that you have to tick saying that you have read and accepted the terms & conditions with an adjacent link to those T&Cs. By the time you have entered your credit card details it is too late to start wondering where the T&Cs are.

In conclusion, I am not impressed with Reportlinker. If you are a total novice in searching for business information, it may come up with some good reports but you can do a lot better by using the advanced search features of the standard search engines. On top of that, the monthly subscription option is not clearly worded and the T&Cs not explicitly offered to you for acceptance on the payment page. The best I can say about that is “sneaky”, the worst – well, perhaps best not to say what I really think.