In 2007 at the beginning of the popular emergence of local maps and amidst a changing journalism industry, an innovative platform was launched that provided a uniquely local and up to date view of cities. Everyblock, a news feed for your neighborhood, was built as an open-source platform that used government open data feeds to provide a user friendly dashboard of the various activities, crimes, 311 service supports, and even chat messages and social media posts.
Unlike most other sites, Everyblock really considered how people could access and understand the numerous data that permeated around their home every day. At the time I was working on Mapufacture which took a more abstract view of the same data and I always appreciated the care and experience the Everyblock team put into making the information accessible.
Communities and Their Tools
Unfortunately today NBC, whom acquired Everyblock in 2009, decided to shut the site down without any warning. There are likely justified reasons why NBC did not want to continue to support the site. Adrian shares his views on the shutdown and the community are sharing their suprise and thoughts on the official post. Clearly people that enjoyed and even relied on Everyblock as a way to access important local information are now left without this key resource. This is obviously not the first, nor the last, time that a web site that people loved and expected to work was shutdown and they were required to move to an alternative.
Underlying this particular example is something more concerning. Everyblock was a site that was designed to build community and as an interface to local, civic and government life. In some ways it could be considered as a basic public good that served a need unmet by other official and commercial sources. Additionally it provided a forum for citizens to share their experiences, needs, ideas and issues. I always thought there was a lot more opportunity in Everyblock to create real collaboration for neighborhoods to solve their local issues.
People are generally more mobile. I know very few people that now settle into a single place for decades, let alone in the neighborhood that they were born. We are moving, shifting, and finding ourselves consistently in new areas where we don’t understand the local issues or have an opportunity to meet all of our neighbors. Social networks reinforce maintaining our existing connections independent of distance which subsequently can ‘fill your dance card’ and leave less time to connect with the neighbors.
In addition we are constantly engaged with technology and the web. By providing an avatar for the real world in our online social networks, Everyblock reconnected us to the place where we live and our children are growing up. Perhaps Everyblock didn’t reach a ubiquitous engagement that may possible or desired, but it was a well crafted platform that was useful even if it only had a single user.
Git and go
The Everyblock code is open-source and the OpenBlock Project is an attempt to build a community around the project. However there are many other components that go into a site such as the data feeds, community management, and general infrastructure and monitoring. Creating an instance for a city is a big effort that also requires a long-term strategy. I’m curious if this becomes a government run service or if local technologists such as Code for America Brigade could become reliable and sustainable provides of this type of service.