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Teaching Online Journalism

My obligatory EveryBlock post

Wired’s Compiler blog covered it:

The site touts itself as “a geographic filter” for your city or your neighborhood. Each of the three city-specific sites serve as an info-hub of sorts, showing the hot stories from local newspapers, radio and television stations as well as local blogs, free weekly papers and independent media sources.

Al Tompkins wrote a Poynter Centerpiece about it:

Holovaty: There are two main ways of reading news on EveryBlock — by location and by type. You can search for any address, neighborhood or zip code in the city (more on the city list in a bit), or you can browse by type of information: restaurant inspections, mainstream media articles/blog entries, crimes, building permits, etc.

Here’s the launch announcement from the site:

We aim to collect all of the news and civic goings-on that have happened recently in your city, and make it simple for you to keep track of news in particular areas. We’re a geographic filter — a “news feed” for your neighborhood, or, yes, even your block. Today we’re launching in three American cities: Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

Cory Bergman at Lost Remote thinks the site has a lot going for it:

I’ve always believed that the hyperlocal nut will be cracked with a technology solution, not a content solution. Why try to convince people to submit content when there’s already a ton of it out there that just needs organizing?

I checked out the page for my old neighborhood in New York, Chelsea, where I lived for 10 years. I can see the surveillance appeal — building permits issued, crime reports, etc. But I’m not sure how often I would check the page if I still lived there. Would it become a habit, a must-see destination in each day’s Web usage? Or would it be a once-in-a-blue-moon stop, only visited when I was killing time?


Categories: data


21 Comments

  1. [...] of quick hit pieces like this: Mindy, Matthew, TechCrunch, Screenwerk, etc, etc, [...]

  2. I wonder whether you felt any sense of place when looking at that Chelsea page. Was there anything familiar about it, anything that reminded you of actually being there?

    Neighborhoods are incredibly personal, and as much as my technical mind is blown by this, I think a significantly different model is required to make it work in the low-density, horizontal, suburban world where most local newspapers do business.

  3. Mindy says:

    I did not, and that kind of gave me pause. I guess a rotating Flickr image box might help with that. It seemed very sterile, very dry and factual. That’s okay, but that’s what made me ponder how often I would be drawn to it.

  4. Digidave says:

    Mindy
    I’m actually glad you had this reaction. I think Everyblock is great – but I don’t see it as a resource for regular readers. In truth, I think it’s built for reporters.

    How often do you really look up liquor licenses in your neighborhood?

    Still: The concept of it, hyperlocal data presented visually – is fantastic. I think if the API is opened up for newsrooms, it would be a new tool. A Google search based on location.

  5. Mindy says:

    I don’t mean to disrespect EveryBlock or the achievement it represents. I think it’s both useful and valuable, but not in an everyday “show me the world” kind of way.

  6. Scott says:

    I’ve started using EveryBlock here in Chicago, and I’m finding it mildly interesting as an RSS feed of stuff related to my neighborhood. It’s a dense neighborhood, though (densest in the city), so there’s a lot of material. Good to see where the crimes are happening, what the new restaurants are like, and what’s on the local agenda, all in one place. Not that this wasn’t possible before, but it’s nice to have these infobits served on a very local plate. Another useful way of getting this material.

  7. Brad Flora says:

    Agreed on the utility for reporters.

    To take that a step further, I think EveryBlock opens up the doors just a little bit more for citizen journalism. It’s all about the supply of info. Here in Chicago there are some excellent public transportation blogs…because public transportation info is readily available.

    Well now there’s a whole new set of datapoints available to the home-in-pajamas crowd to analyze, opine on and blog about. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more consumer info blogs cropping up in these metro areas. Should be interesting.

    Brad Flora
    The Chicago Methods Reporter

  8. Mike says:

    Yes, there’s a lot of content out there, and organizing it is one noble task. But a links compiler is no substitute for boots on the ground. Take the liquor license tracker. Great feature, I thought. You’ll know if a bar is opening up, or if a restaurant is going to be expanding, that sort of thing. But there’s more to the story than bare information; what you really want if you live down the block is an interview with the manager, a review of the new menu, or some explaination of how they’re going to keep the noise down.
    That’s why Cory Bergman’s more or less wrong; what’s needed is more content, and more relevant content, provided either by professionals or amateurs, but people who really know what’s going on. It used to be called journalism.
    So now the question is, how is the potential of new media going to translate into money, which translates into relevant content? That is the missing link so far. Most content scooped up by things like EveryBlock and Digg is actually produced by legacy media outlets. Outlets with fresh local content are in their infancy.

  9. Mindy says:

    @Brad: I like that idea, that EveryBlock opens the door for people who are curious about how things are done, who gets what in a community, and the like. Having the data delivered so conveniently does grease the skids for interested citizens to ask questions — and maybe pry loose some answers!

    @Mike: Look at what Brad wrote — it’s the answer to what you wrote.

  10. City center data is nice – but more people live in the suburbs of Chicago than in Cook County, right?

    So, Adrian, what will it take to upgrade the Chicago service to benefit the larger bowl?

    Would be a much better model going forward to consider that regions like Chicago are actually defined as a six county region by data collectors and news gatherers.

    Plus, if you looked at the pie this way – you would also get the No. 2 and No. 3 cities in Illinois in your data set and be far more valuable to all users.

    I would rather see a more useful service for all of “Chicago” first before expanding to other cities because I think it will test the model in more realistic terms.

  11. Anyone hear where they’re scraping the content from? Did some of that $1 million go to paying for the content?

    -kpaul

  12. Matt says:

    I am blown away by EveryBlock’s breadth of information and I think it will redefine (or energize) citizen journalism in a lot of ways, but I think the design of the site and presentation of the information will need to change significantly for the general public to digest EveryBlock as a source of neighborhood news.

    While EveryBlock is neat and clean enough for curious, data-minded citizens and reporters, the various feed pages are no more engaging than an RSS feed in my Google Reader. Holovaty describes the site’s content as “news” and I would probably agree with him. Much of this content is “relevant” to these neighborhoods in the same way that actual journalistic content is relevant. The key difference between EveryBlock and any other news source is the lack of a clear priority for the information. The media (print, online, broadcast, whatever) must present complex-yet-important information to the public in a way that is engaging and easy to understand. In its current form, EveryBlock bowls me over with the amount of information that is now at my fingertips, but does nothing to prioritize the data or even aesthetically draw me into it.

    If the information were presented in a more visually appealing way (Flickr photo box with recent photos from the neighborhood, as alluded to above) or a more familiar news-oriented way (with a neighborhood home page divided into sections like a well-designed online news source, not a sterile RSS Feed text list), I think it would be much more engaging. Right now, every block you browse looks like every other block and I doubt that’s what the site’s name is meant to imply.

    I’m also curious about EveryBlock’s ability to link content from its various data sources. If a restaurant recently passes an inspection, there should be a link to a review of that restaurant on Yelp. When one source of data relates to another, it would be useful (and probably not too difficult?) for that data to be tied together on EveryBlock. I think the site has a lot of potential and I’m sure it will continue to evolve as it grows and gains more data sources.

  13. [...] are several interesting comments on my EveryBlock post from yesterday. Feel free to join [...]

  14. Thanks for all of the comments, guys! This is exactly the kind of feedback we’re looking for. Obviously we have a long way to go, in terms of organization/prioritization, linking related items together, adding context, and, yes, even enabling readers to make connections on their own. Each one of these is a challenge we look forward to solving.

  15. The lack of place, the lack of presentation, the general lack of user ownership that Matt and Mindy describe is exactly right. The solution is to create a more effective home page. I’ve summed up reaction across the Web and added my own about the home page here.

  16. A few of my thoughts:

    Should a local newsroom tag its information so that EveryBlock will pick it up and send readers to it, or will EveryBlock eventually get Peoria restaurant inspections and police blotter directly?

    Should a newsroom say, we won’t wait for EveryBlock to get to Springfield or Syracuse, we’ll do our own (Easier said than done, I know)?

    After saying that newspapers need to format their information into database-able pieces, Adrian now seems to be saying, He’ll take care of the database, you go write the stories. (He was probably right both times.)

    I love the clean look and I disagree with those who want more of a designed, hierarchical homepage. In an age of streams and feeds, I want the news, not the page. In fact, I’d like to see it stripped a little more. I’d be looking at one block each day, or more often. The latest news item about my block is more important than the header that says Business License. If it becomes such a heavy information stream, I might want some ordering, but mostly, I want a news alert, not a designed homepage. “New on EveryBlock today” for my block would be my homepage.

  17. Everyblock is a handy hyperlocal news reader. When Chicago msm and blogs reported on citywide school closings, it culled the stories that mentioned my local school. It’s also a handy filter for police blotter and licensing data in jurisdictions that already post to the Web. But if a record is locked in a file cabinet or even behind a CAPTCHA filter, it’s not here.

  18. Thoughts in defense of EveryBlock…

    This entry points out some of the flaws in the negative comments about the innovative new data-driven site EveryBlock….

  19. Mindy says:

    Nice post, Patrick. I like your point about the wave of vandalism in your old neighborhood — I never thought about it, but it’s entirely true that if a bunch of neighbors realized soon enough that their area had become a target, they could rapidly organize a citizens’ crime watch. Even people who read the local newspaper faithfully would probably not find out early about a mini-crime wave of that type.

  20. Stephen Rynkiewicz said: “But if a record is locked in a file cabinet or even behind a CAPTCHA filter, it’s not here.”

    Stephen, we go beyond crawling Web sites. A few of our sections, such as Chicago film locations and San Francisco restaurant inspections, include data that has never been published on the Web. In fact, one of the people on our team works full-time on building relationships with government officials, submitting FOIA requests, etc.

    We have MUCH, MUCH more coming in this area — not all government agencies could meet our launch deadline (understandably), and we’ll be posting more data that has never been on the Web.

    Adrian @ EveryBlock

  21. [...] are lengthy compliments and complaints here and there about issues of Everyblock.  I do think their web structure has a little problem of [...]

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