The hyperlocal community news platform EveryBlock launched five years ago with the hunch that people wanted – and needed – a place to talk with their neighbors about neighborhood news, particularly when struggling traditional media outlets were seldom offering that opportunity. Perhaps the best evidence that people truly were eager to connect in this way emerged Thursday when NBC announced it was shutting the whole thing down: 533 commenters (as of this writing) swiftly turned to the site to console each other over its demise.
The site, originally created in 2008 with a $1.1 million Knight News Challenge grant, billed itself at the time as “a geographic filter — a ‘news feed’ for your neighborhood, or, yes, even your block.” And it went on to creatively blend “news” by many definitions, pulling in civic data like crime stats, articles from alt weeklies and radio stations, Flickr photos and restaurant reviews. The site was acquired in 2009 by MSNBC.com, which was acquired last year by NBC News. Word that the media giant was shutting it down came unexpectedly Thursday, with a simple announcement on EveryBlock’s homepage. Just a sampling of the bitter reaction there:
EveryBlock had been celebrated since its inception as a pioneer of local, web-savvy news. But one of its greatest contributions was helping push the movement for open civic data. The hyperlocal news model is still wobbling to this day (see, for instance, AOL’s problems with Patch). But the kind of open data that EveryBlock creator Adrian Holovaty once sought in Chicago is now the standard for every city.
Holovaty left the site last August for other pursuits. At the time, he reflected on his blog back on EveryBlock’s role jumpstarting the open-data movement in 2007:
At the time, city employees responded to us as if we were crazy. "You want WHAT? A daily feed of every crime? How about I give you these paper printouts once a month?" We did a ton of informal lobbying, spoke at relevant conferences and (most importantly) built a product based on civic data that showed municipalities that there was consumer-level demand for their stuff. Eventually, open data became trendy among cities, and these days it seems like every major city has a data portal (e.g., Chicago, San Francisco). And no less than John Tolva, CTO of the City of Chicago, has credited us with helping inspire the city's (awesome) open-data policy.
It’s a sad coda to this story that cities have found so many valuable uses for the kind of data EveryBlock helped unlock, while NBC could find no more viable use for the site itself.