Building community on Everyblock

Everyblock.com is now live, and in online journalism circles, the buzz is up there with the iPhone. Brad Flora at Chicago Methods Reporter probably put it best when he said: (UPDATE: sincere apologies to Brad for not including the link to his post in my original post)

The site’s as close to a “rock star” launch as you’ll see in the online news world. Holovaty and EveryBlock designer Wilson Miner are both alumni of the Rob Curley era at Lawrence.com, where Holovaty co-created Django, a popular open-source Python development framework. In 2005, they created the widely-praised Google Maps mash-up ChicagoCrime.org. I don’t think I’ve been in a conversation about online news in the last year without someone mentioning Holovaty and asking what I thought EveryBlock was going to look like.

Everyblock aggregates a number of different types of data including news stories, and public data about housing permits, crime and liquor licences to name a a few and also ‘missed connections’ from Craiglist, photos from Flickr and business reviews from Yelp. Patrick Beeson says that it ‘brings local back‘. And he says:

I know many print, err traditional, journalists are going to scoff that this isn’t journalism. No, it’s the new journalism; the journalism that users can use for their own purposes — EveryBlock itself is a mashup at heart — because they can drill down to what is meaningful to them.

And Patrick goes into whether this threatens newspapers and their business model. I think it doesn’t so much as threaten a traditional business model as it highlights the different ‘jobs’ that people used to use newspapers for and how those jobs are being peeled away by other businesses. Steve Yelvington describes this concept of ‘jobs’ in the context of innovation and the Newspaper Next project that he worked on.

Adrian Holovaty spoke to folks at Poynter about the project.

Tompkins: You have said that you didn’t consider EveryBlock to be a competitor to traditional media. Why do you say that when everybody is competing for eyeballs and time?

Holovaty: Well, under that definition, YouTube, MySpace and, heck, all Web sites, are competitors to traditional media. I don’t consider EveryBlock a competitor to traditional news outlets because we only include news that has to do with specific, granular locations — not citywide, statewide or nationwide news.

This is my initial reaction to a first step in an exciting project. Looking at this in terms of a larger local media strategy, I would say that it is part of the puzzle. I think that data and aggregation are a missed opportunity for a lot of organisations, especially ones in the US where publicly available structured data is relatively easy to get. I think there is another piece of the puzzle that would be important and that is the community aspect. Right now, this reflects activity in a physical community and on virtual communities like Flickr and Craigslist. I am curious about what plans Adrian and his crack team have for building community around Everyblock. If they do, I wonder if they plan to build a way for the community to self-organise or if they will add people, paid or volunteer, to help seed the community. At the moment, I see social data, and I wonder how the site might develop to foster social interaction. These are just my initial thoughts, and some of the answers might be out there already.

But I still think that news organisations are missing opportunities to socialise their content and their sites because of narrow focus on content, site architecture and technology. I see Everyblock as an interesting evolution in terms of a geocoded mashup, but I still see many more unexplored opportunities in building social interactions and social connections around media.

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