EveryBlock: One-Stop Shop for Local Info

With bags of air already on the market, you might think that people are starting to run out of genuine million-dollar ideas.

Tidbits contributor Adrian Holovaty, who received a $1.1 million grant in the Knight Foundation’s first News Challenge, would prove you wrong. He’ll be developing a hyperlocal information aggregation and distribution system called EveryBlock. (And, in doing so, he’s leaving washingtonpost.com — to the apparent disappointment of Executive Editor Jim Brady at the recent Editor & Publisher Interactive Media Conference.)

This site will pick up where his earlier project, ChicagoCrime.org, left off by bringing together several databases of information. He said this will “allow citizens of a large city to learn (and act on) civic information.”

EveryBlock is a great application of a good idea. That, plus Holovaty’s successful track record as an innovator in online news, may well have tipped scales in Knight’s grant-making decision.

What makes this idea truly new, however, is not just that it will aggregate local information. Holovaty explained, “The concept of aggregating local information is not new, but I think our particular implementation will be, because we’re focusing on a wide variety of information that doesn’t tend to be available in a one-stop-shop format.”

Over the next few months Holovaty will be busy recruiting a team of about five developers and fleshing out the system. So far there aren’t any specifics on what EveryBlock will offer — although it seems likely that public records databases will be included.

Said Holovaty, “It’s too early to tell what the main focus will be. We’ll be throwing around lots of things and seeing what sticks on the proverbial wall.”

Regarding citizen journalism and EveryBlock, Holovaty noted: “One thing we certainly won’t be doing is adding citizen journalism for the sake of citizen journalism. If it makes sense, we’ll do it; if not, we won’t.”

I asked Holovaty how he expects people to use the system — considering that EveryBlock’s source code will be publicly available (in accordance to the terms of the News Challenge grant). He replied, “There are two big experiments here. The first experiment is to find out whether EveryBlock is actually something that readers want. The second experiment, once we’ve released EveryBlock’s code, will be to find out whether news organizations or citizens will want to take on the responsibility of publishing similar sites in their own communities. I’m hoping the answer to both questions is yes.”

For any local newspapers that might be shaking in their boots right now: Don’t worry. Holovaty intends for EveryBlock to supplement existing news sources, not replace them. “If anything, EveryBlock will send more people to read newspapers. To see EveryBlock as a threat to existing news sources makes the wild assumption that there will be some people who use EveryBlock but don’t read their local newspaper.”

Once EveryBlock is officially launched, Holovaty will have more specific information about the project. So far, even the list of cities has yet to be determined (although he knows Chicago will be one of them).

Are you interested in joining the EveryBlock team? Holovaty said he would be glad to hear from journalists who want to partner in some fashion. “The possibility of a partnership in a given city could help us decide whether to enter that market.”

Daniel Schultz, another News Challenge winner, is an undergraduate studying information systems at Carnegie Mellon University.

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