Why EveryBlock Mattered to Us
The space it made and the paths it opened
Evidently NBC News has shut down EveryBlock. :-( everyblock.com— Adrian Holovaty (@adrianholovaty) February 7, 2013
Yesterday morning, EveryBlock announced its sudden closure by its parent company, NBC. The news developer and civic code worlds reacted with intense sadness and a recognition of the advances made possible by EveryBlock and its founders.
It Defined New Space
The CTO of Chicago wrote about opening data, and Chris Hagen, a reporter in Oregon, talked about the possibilities EveryBlock made clear by example:
There’d’ve been an open data movement without Everyblock, but it wouldn’t be _this_ movement and it’d be a hell of a lot less useful.
— John Tolva (@Immerito) February 8, 2013
EveryBlock helped change what I thought was possible with journalism, sad to see it go. holovaty.com/writing/rip-ev…
— Chris Hagan (@chrishagan) February 7, 2013
Along the same lines, Ben Berkowitz, founder of SeeClickFix, wrote in a message to us:
Everyblock was the only other city-block level entity pushing on cities to open service request data when SeeClickFix started in 2007. They were the first to create new online communities that were defined solely by where someone lived, using the web in many geos at once.
Dan Sinker likewise blogged about the way EveryBlock “bent the world” for good:
The impact of Everyblock goes far beyond the traffic to the site itself. Everyblock is one of those ideas that bent the world in a new way when it came around. One of those ideas that felt both so obvious and so ingenious simultaneously, that it looked *easy* when it was anything but. Back when it launched in 2008, the idea of arcane civic data being of use to regular citizens didn’t really exist. The idea of geolocation-based information gathering didn’t really exist. The idea of (shudder) “hyperlocal” information at the street-level didn’t really exist. And yet today, five years later, these ideas are commonplace thanks in large part to Everyblock proving that they were possible and vital.
Everyblock was never going to be the Apple of local civic data (I was always surprised that a Google acquisition never happened, actually)—the business model for what they did was always the great unknown. But it was absolutely the Xerox PARC of civic data, of geolocation, of information aggregators and civic screen scraping, of developers sitting in the big-J Journalism chair. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of tech companies that have filled the space that Everyblock defined, there are thousands of coders that hack on open government data because Everyblock showed it was possible, and there are millions of people that reap the benefits of the ideas that Everyblock defined.
It Exemplified New Approaches
ProPublica’s Al Shaw and Jeff Larson tweeted about the markup and conceptual advances the team brought to front-end developers, and about the groundbreaking Wilson Miner-Paul Smith double issue of A List Apart from 2008:
Sad to see @everyblock shut its doors. It revolutionized maps and charts in news apps alistapart.com/issue/256 [c.f. blog.everyblock.com/2013/feb/07/go… ]
— Al Shaw (@A_L) February 7, 2013
The idea of divs as charts is the greatest thing ever to happen to news apps. alistapart.com/d/accessibleda…RIP @everyblock.
— Al Shaw (@A_L) February 7, 2013
Best alistapart issue was 256: cl.ly/1t3Z3D303c3y given to us via the dearly departed @everyblock
— Jeff Larson (@thejefflarson) February 7, 2013
(I was an editor at ALA when issue 256 was published, and I remember what it felt like when those articles came in. Then, as now, they seemed revolutionary.)
NPR’s Jeremy Bowers sent in detailed reflections on the way EveryBlock shaped his work:
When Matt Waite and I were working on http://www.tampabay.com/mugshots/, we used EveryBlock as our guiding compass for design and UX. Everything from the charts to the URL patterns were borrowed from EveryBlock. Additionally, the project was architected as a set of scrapers tossing data into a common database — something we borrowed from EveryBlock as well.
Additionally, I can’t say enough about those Wilson Miner CSS charts. I built projects years apart – http://www.tampabay.com/banks/ratings/ in 2009 and http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/ in 2012 — where the charts were one of the main display elements. I’m still convinced there’s no better way to offer readers a peek into how your data is aggregated.
The big mapping app we based on Paul Smith’s map work is no longer on line, sadly. But Neighborhood Watch was our best nod to EveryBlock—a Tampa Bay real estate site that templated out home prices rising and falling in a nifty little paragraph. We had a page for all 300+ neighborhoods in our area. It was great — but we owed a debt to Paul and Adrian for their maps and their idea of localizing big regional data sets.
Where Do We Go From Here?
At the MIT Center for Civic Media, Rodrigo Davies wrote about the potential for crowdfunding projects like Everyblock, and a Change.org petition appeared asking NBC to open-source Everyblock’s code and content.
In a fitting cap to yesterday’s shared mourning, EveryBlock founding team member Daniel X. O’Neill wrote a call to arms:
The municipal government of New York doesn’t think I’m crazy anymore. Anyone can download what I asked for in a single click now. In my role at the Smart Chicago Collaborative, I continue this work, thinking about how to make data useful to humans.
We won the open data movement. Now we have to win the municipal products movement.
There is so much more work to do. Most of this data sits on digital shelves, waiting for people to make businesses and serve residents of cities. We still struggle to find ways to make popular products out of this stuff. Last Friday Smart Chicago launched a project devoted to engaging with Chicago residents to test out new civic apps. Let’s keep working. We’re not done yet.
Editor, Source, 2012-2018.