EveryBlock, the six-person Adrian Holovaty “micro-local” project funded to the tune of $1.1 million by the Knight News Challenge, is preparing to go “for profit” when the two-year Knight grant ends in June. The Chicago-based site, always registered as a “for profit,” now serves news feeds on a block-by-block basis in 11 cities: Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Holovaty, the pioneer of “journalism by computer programming,” and prior creator of Chicagocrime.org and numerous map-oriented projects for The Washington Post and LJ World in Lawrence, Kansas, says the site is studying numerous options to retain its sustainability. Among them are open-source licensing to newspapers and other local media and commerce companies, such as real estate firms. It is less likely that the site will opt to sell advertising — a good thing perhaps, as hyperlocal sites such as Pegasus News have concluded that while news is relevant at the block-by-block level, ad sales won’t support it on an active basis.
Block-oriented media can attract two kinds of audiences, notes Holovaty: people discovering things, and people who want to research a location for real estate or other purposes. People will still want to have a major media property like CNN or The Washington Post for core news and a local newspaper. But EveryBlock is for where they live, he says.
Of course, things have changed since EveryBlock initially launched. Community blog sites like Outside.in and Placeblogger have aggregated local blogs on a street-wide basis. Topix has brought in user-generated content to supplement news feeds. On a more granular basis, sites like CleanScores.com are even tracking restaurant sanitation ratings.
The widespread popularity of GPS has especially made an impact, with sites such as Where.com enabling friends to track local news and friends on mobile phones within feet of their location. The addition of GPS to the iPhone has even enabled users to GPS-enable their photos (and creepily, be tracked back to their photos’ location, as this month’s Wired details).
But even with all this, Holovaty says his site remains “totally unique.” None of the others is entirely news-oriented, he emphasizes. That’s what keeps people coming back, not directories. Moreover, EveryBlock aggregates an incredible amount of news data, while the others typically have “just one thing. You can’t build a sustainable level of interest that way.” Yelp isn’t going to be competition, and neither is Flickr. EveryBlock cuts across everything.
Among the news data that EveryBlock tracks are crime scores, police calls, bike rack locations, foreclosures, street conditions and liquor license applications. And the list keeps on growing. The rise of RSS has made EveryBlock especially relevant. There are millions of RSS feeds enabled by the site, says Holovaty.
One of the site’s core features is that it enables people to choose news feeds around them for one block, three blocks or eight blocks. Holovaty says it makes sense for less dense cities like Charlotte to be set for eight blocks. But a major city like Chicago is going to suffer from information overload with such a wide radius.
A new feature enables users to get a general overview of news items on a block rather than simply rely on “timeline” presentations, with the most recent news story on top. That could be especially effective for people wanting to learn whether a street has a vibrant culture, for instance, or is a perennial crime hazard.