NBC closes hyperlocal, data-driven publishing pioneer EveryBlock

NBC News has shut down EveryBlock, one of the early pioneers of data-driven hyperlocal community news and information.

The decision took effect today. Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and chief digital officer of NBC News, told me today by email: “[EveryBlock] is a wonderful scrappy business but it wasn’t a strategic fit with our growth strategy and — like most hyperlocal businesses — was struggling with the business model.”

I asked Schiller about the questions many are raising online — why not turn over EveryBlock to another operator or give supporters a chance to keep it going? She answered: “I understand that the Everyblock community is disappointed. So are we. We looked at various options to keep this going, but none of them were viable. It was a tough call to make.”

The site started under a $1.1 million grant in the first-ever Knight News Challenge in 2007.

After the conclusion of its Knight grant, EveryBlock was acquired by msnbc.com in 2009 and the data-driven site relaunched with a community focus in March 2011. Ownership transferred to NBC News last summer when it acquired full control of msnbc.com.

Adrian Holovaty created ChicagoCrime.org in 2005, when this photo was taken. The site, which led to EveryBlock, displayed searchable data from the Chicago Police Department showing crimes by date, street and type of offense. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

Founder Adrian Holovaty left the company last August. At the time, he reflected upon major points of impact, including jumpstarting movements toward open data and custom maps, strengthening neighborhoods in the 16 cities it served and releasing source code that inspired other projects. The original open-source code predating Everyblock’s acquisition is still available.

Holovaty also wrote last August about the move to msnbc.com:

Over the past three years (EveryBlock’s post-acquisition period), msnbc.com has been a fantastic company to work for. With EveryBlock, it’s managed to do something very rare: not only keeping it alive post-acquisition (which the acquired company cannot take for granted), but achieving the delicate balance of providing guidance/resources and keeping their hands off. Most acquisitions fail, and Charlie Tillinghast and the msnbc.com folks have bent over backwards to avoid that with us. I can’t think of a better place for us to have ended up than msnbc.com.

Today Holovaty blogged that he did not expect this:

I had no idea NBC News would be shutting it down (in fact, at the time [in August], I said I expected it would be around for a “long, long time”). The last time I talked with an NBC News representative, at a conference a few months after I left EveryBlock, he indicated that NBC was optimistic about the site’s future.

… More than six years ago, I wrote a blog post that got some attention about how newspaper (and, really, journalism) sites needed to change. EveryBlock was an attempt at that kind of change — in my eyes, a successful attempt. EveryBlock was among the more innovative and ambitious journalism projects at a time when journalism desperately needed innovation and ambition. RIP.

Despite the acquisitions, EveryBlock always remained an independent brand with a tiny NBC logo on the site the only visual evidence of its ownership.

Below is the full text of a note sent today to NBC staff from Schiller:

Team,

I’m writing to inform you that as of this morning, Everyblock has shut down its operations. EveryBlock was acquired by the Msnbc Digital Network in 2009. I’d like to thank Brian Addison and his team for all of the great work they have done with the site— providing an engaging user experience and an opportunity for people to connect with their neighbors and share hyper-local news and information.

As we continue to grow and evolve the NBC News Digital portfolio, we are focused on investing in content, products and platforms that play to our core strengths. The decision to shut down the site was difficult, but in the end, we didn’t see a strategic fit for EveryBlock within the portfolio.

We will continue to support and expand in strategic areas; whether it’s a flagship like NBCNews.com, a new venture like msnbc.com, a nimble startup like Breaking News, or other businesses with big ideas. As we move forward, I want us to be thoughtful about how we invest, taking a hard look at where we can and should win, and how we deploy the resources to make it happen.

Let’s stay focused and keep up the good work.

Vivian

A “Farewell, neighbors” post on the EveryBlock blog says in part:

It’s no secret that the news industry is in the midst of a massive change. Within the world of neighborhood news there’s an exciting pace of innovation yet increasing challenges to building a profitable business. Though EveryBlock has been able to build an engaged community over the years, we’re faced with the decision to wrap things up.

Here is some of the early reaction to the news:

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/funny.jamieblack Jamie Black

    Not yet, but I’m still looking. No one wants to respond to me

  • Brandi PH

    hey…have you found out anything?

  • Brandi PH

    has anyone found an alternative? I tried nextdoor but am giving up. it requires a verification process and after 4 multiple attempts it s till has not worked plus cst svs is nice but my last request for assistance took over a week and a follow up email from me for a response and it still didn’t help.

    i personally think EB was shut down bc it was bridging the gaps in communities…it was not about profits

  • http://www.facebook.com/anne.demano Anne Demano

    Everyblock was definitely an interesting avenue for me to explore and learn. But my friend recently introduced me to Romio.com. It’s just starting out, but I think it has a lot of potential

  • hazel321

    just before I saw the bank draft which had said $6988, I didn’t believe
    that my neighbours mother woz like trully bringing in money part time
    from their computer.. there neighbor haz done this 4 only fourteen
    months and just now repayed the mortgage on their villa and bourt a
    gorgeous Chrysler. this is where I went, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • http://twitter.com/leon_leoncarry leon

    Yah! That right Decision they are Doing !!

    my neighbor’s half-sister makes $65 hourly on the internet.
    She has been laid off for five months but last month her pay check was $16738
    just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this web site
    =====>> goo.gl/zVKLG <<=====

  • http://www.facebook.com/psenderova Polina Senderova

    Hey Jena – I’m a student journalist and I’m writing an article about EveryBlock’s close. I’d love to get some input from Chicago residents who used EveryBlock. If you’re interested in being interviewed (should literally only take five minutes – I just need a few quotes) please
    contact me on Facebook or at polinasenderova2015@u.northwestern.edu. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/psenderova Polina Senderova

    Hey – I’m a student journalist and I’m writing an article about EveryBlock’s close. I’d love to get some input from Chicago residents who used EveryBlock. If you’re interested in being interviewed (should literally only take five minutes – I just need a few quotes) please contact me on Facebook or at polinasenderova2015@u.northwestern.edu. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/psenderova Polina Senderova

    Hey Mike – I’m a student journalist and I’m writing an article about EveryBlock’s close. I’d love to get some input from Chicago residents who used EveryBlock. If you’re interested in being interviewed (should literally only take five minutes – I just need a few quotes) please contact me on Facebook or at polinasenderova2015@u.northwestern.edu. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/psenderova Polina Senderova

    Hey all – I’m a student journalist and I’m writing an article about EveryBlock’s close. I’d love to get some input from Chicago residents who used EveryBlock. If you’re interested in being interviewed (should literally only take five minutes – I just need a few quotes) please contact me on Facebook or at polinasenderova2015@u.northwestern.edu. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    What was the community-created content? Commentary on the aggregated content?

    Also, the comment below this one indicates the place had degenerated into the usual cesspool of anonymous (cowardly) commenters throwing stuff at the wall and then daring people to “prove it wrong.” Until these types of sites require some type of ID system or some type of verification of posted information, they have a credibility of zero.

  • vprima

    DNAinfo is an example of a news-only aggregator. Everyblock aggregated government data as well, and thus was a rich source of information for the community. That, combined with the community-created content, is what is being mourned. We all feel like newspapers have fallen short; when we finally had something that actually provided the proverbial “news you can use,” it was taken away. This reminds me of the killing of the first electric cars by the oil industry and auto companies. Hyperlocal will come back, stronger than ever.

  • vprima

    No, I understand quite well, and Shane has expanded on that below. An enormous media conglomerate will never be able to profit from hyperlocal media. Really, everything that doesn’t produce a gushing revenue stream is being pared away from these massive companies. International bureaus? Ditch ‘em. I mean, who cares about the developing world, anyway? Economic coverage? Too dry…or worse–it questions the actions of our and our clients’ financial interests. Local news has to be locally owned, not matter how ingenious the platform.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DylanRSmith Dylan Smith

    Certainly the judicious application of technology can assist journalists at all levels, and EveryBlock was an important experiment in gathering data at the local level. It’s vital that we continue to explore innovate ways to use the power of the Internet to inform and inspire. Open data and healthy community conversations are part of the future of news online, but not the entirety of it.

    NBC’s pulling the plug on EveryBlock points to what Local Independent Online News Publishers see as a central tenet: local news should be reported by local journalists working for local news organizations.

    National corporations aren’t invested in communities; their mission is to pull profits from them in the most efficient manner possible. The publishers of locally owned businesses are those who are close enough to their cities and towns to understand the sort of news they must provide, and who are positioned to focus on that while building healthy businesses for the long term.

    I believe the truth of the aphorism “local doesn’t scale” is as readily apparent in the case of EveryBlock as it is with AOL’s Patch. No matter how well they might work in one location, the cookie-cutter, top-down templated play can’t be widely replicated in every market. Central planning works even less well for the news industry than it did for Soviet agriculture.

    Dylan Smith

    Chairman,
    Local Independent Online News Publishers
    Editor & Publisher,
    TucsonSentinel.com

  • scottbrodbeck

    Did that happen before or after Seattle-based MSNBC absorbed Everyblock?

  • http://www.jamieblack.com/ JBlack

    If NBC couldn’t find a way to monetize this site, then they should have been open about it and tried to find someone to take it over. Full disclosure…that’s kind of what the site was all about. I am trying to find out what needs to be done to keep EB going. It was a great source of neighborhood news; the kind of news that you wouldn’t find in the newspapers or tv news, ie. really relevant news that actually affects people. This site was just too important to our neighborhood.

  • Alfred Ingram

    Not only will I miss Everyblock, I’ve decided that I’m going to miss NBC as well. What’s happening in my Chicago neighborhood doesn’t seem important enough for the local media to cover. outrageous murders get their minutes, but the deterioration, the burglaries, the muggings, the dealers setting up on the corners that are murders precursors don’t get covered in my neighborhood. couple of decades ago.a Now we can’t call a 911 on these crimes and we can’t make sure they’re publicized on Everyblock. i’ll miss a show or two, but I won’t miss NBC local news. I stopped watching them

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    “The money comes from advertisers …” Thanks for pointing that out; I wouldn’t have known that otherwise. Wait, I would have. It was covered in the original point that was discarded by the first reply.

    Free news — just like the original point said. Selling ads doesn’t change that concept.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    That argument is sort of a flop. I can go out and grab a print shopper. It will be free. It has ads. If I never look at them or if I never follow up with them, the advertiser gets no benefit from my grabbing the shopper.
    But like the aggregation vs. creating news argument, people here won’t grasp the point. They are used to the Internet being free, and they are used to sites aggregating content that others do the work to get.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    Most of that sounds like aggregation to me. You’re still relying on someone else to provide the original kernel. But just keep pretending otherwise and voting down comments that disagree with your view. Like I said, the people who comment here don’t see the difference between aggregation and PUBLISHING original news. Reacting to it and passing it along to others is not the same as pursuing news and developing it into content.

  • earleyedition

    am truly shocked. I thought Everyblock would continue to be one of the leaders in hyperlocal community data / conversations.

    I’m not surprised NBC wanted out – maybe they’re too big to focus on local or it’s not making the money they want/need – but what I’m really disappointed about us that they’re just shutting it down. Seriously, what a freaking disservice to all the innovation, learning and community ownership/input that’s made it what it is today. Or what it was before today –> A sustainable model. Maybe not hugely profitable, which is what NBC wanted, but at this stage ‘sustainable’ is the best mainstream media can hope for given the outlooks on legacy business models.

  • http://profiles.google.com/shane.selman Shane Selman

    “Free” is not really the problem. The problem is one of – ironically – aggregation. NBC has BIG revenue requirements. A local or regional outfit could support a dozen employees and be quite successful on what it takes for NBC to set up and maintain accounting for the project.

    Also, since hyper local is .. well .. local, its also damn hard for them to effectively leverage their reach with national and global advertisers to generate revenue that way. The only effective way ( so far ) to make local work is to be local or regional, and build your support network at that scale. It’s possible that a local affiliate model could be made to work – as in television, but then, even those are based on a compelling value proposition from NBC( in the form of exclusive programming ), and in Local, they don’t have any such offerings.

    “Free” can be a viable business model if done correctly, because it isn’t really free. The money comes from advertisers – in this case local businesses hitting a very tight cluster, which can be tremendously effective. As a very wise man once said. “If you are not paying for something, then you are not the customer, you are the product being sold.”

  • http://profiles.google.com/shane.selman Shane Selman

    I think the argument is more that aggregation was the starting point, not the end game. It WAS an aggregator, and it was something more. Probably not a revolution in journalism, but something a good deal more interesting than a simple aggregator.

    The real value was not in stuffing it all the streams of information in one place, it was the fact that they then provided a way for people in he community to engage the news, to process the story, and a platform to for them to ACT on it.

    The “pioneering” part of it was giving communities a nexus to shape the story as it developed. To make cases or mobilize to support their community. If you want to be a little grandiose about it, they provided a nexus for people in a community to MAKE new news, not merely passively consume it.

  • http://twitter.com/lostexpectation steve white

    so what is nbcnews’ strategy what else are they working on?

  • http://twitter.com/lostexpectation steve white

    were there ads, well then it wasn’t free.

  • http://twitter.com/lostexpectation steve white

    so how hard to nbc try?

  • Angela Bolton

    We are using http://www.CircleSavvy.com in the Bay Area and seems to be a great way to connect locals to locals and businesses to locals. It needs some more content which will happen when the word spreads, but its a great place for our neighborhood to use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.rollens Patrick Rollens

    NWsiders, there’s a reddit going to see about possible replacements for Everyblock. Chime in if the name Kenji means something to you: http://www.reddit.com/r/kenji/

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    See above. As long as people equate Internet with free, these types of services will not last indefinitely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    Way to miss the point entirely. Just to get it back on board: As long as people keep equating Internet with free, these types of services are not going to last indefinitely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    So, when you listen to the radio people reading local news in the morning, do you insist the radio people have to be covering all those stories themselves? After all, they’re reading them.
    Again, huge difference between aggregating and publishing original news. Just reading the aggregate doesn’t make it original news. Just hearing a TV news outlet air a story from Everyblock doesn’t make it original news.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    “EveryBlock was an *aggregator.* Not a “news pioneer.”” Good luck trying to get that point across with this bunch. We have been down this road before at Poynter. The people who comment just don’t see the difference between aggregating and publishing original news.

  • Barb M.

    For those who used EveryBlock that are looking for another good option to build community, Nextdoor.com has been a widely used resource in my neighborhood and has been working out great.

  • Tootsie

    Chicago will be a better place without Everyblock. What started out as a great way to share news, events, ideas with your community, turned into nothing more than an online rumor mill, where neighbors were able to spread lies, innuendo, inaccurate information and political agenda anonymously, without anyone moderating to filter out all the B.S. So long EB, you won’t be missed!!!

  • vprima

    I agree with that assessment. How do we (community members) keep local news outlets from being sold, however? It’s worth remembering that television and radio were supposed to serve local communities, but now are nothing but Clear Channel and Jack programming.

  • http://twitter.com/hybridatomsk Stefanie Gudani

    I don’t understand. Why did EveryBlock shut down? Someone please explain…I’m very disappointed that EB shut down so suddenly, as it was truly a reliable source for information.

  • vprima

    Kind of consistent with their terrible Olympics coverage.

  • vprima

    Yes, ’cause media companies are all about paying journalists. Product (note that I did not use the word “news”) has to be immensely profitable for it to be retained by these huge multinationals. Enjoy your 24/7 Justin Bieber alerts!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Lange/100000489723304 Mike Lange

    “..we didn’t see a strategic fit for EveryBlock within the portfolio.”
    Translation: Nobody could figure out a way to sell enough ads to support it.
    Everybody wants free news on the ‘Net; but unless journalists are willing to work for peanuts, someone has to pick up the tab.

  • Megan Griffin

    philadelphiaspeaks.com is a similar forum for local news.

  • SallysRock

    It would have been nice if they would have let us log in to say goodbye.

  • vprima

    Everyblock *was* unique news, not just aggregated content. Problem was that NBC News couldn’t figure out how to monetize it. RIP Local News-multinational media corporations wanted you to die, all the while blaming the internet.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dane.kantner Dane Kantner

    If Everyblock was not a news pioneer and merely an aggregator, why do all of the local politicians and news media read it for information? I’ve been personally contacted by local CBS affiliate at least 4 times and I’ve seen them and other news outlets air stories they’ve found on Everyblock.

    In Chicago, Mayor Rahm does a really good job at burying stories and making sure the news media doesn’t cover them… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an important story go missing from the headlines, only to be picked up two or three days later after it gained steam on Everyblock.

  • Patrick Hughes

    Through EveryBlock, neighbors kindly softened the blows of a significant move for me. They helped me find a different perspective on my neighborhood. Without EveryBlock, I’d still be cowering in my ghetto apartment. Big frown.

  • http://twitter.com/nambachsi satcong

    The problem is, MSNBC acquired Everyblock, and that was the death knell for this ingenious little site. It seems everything goes to crap when MSNBC gets hold of the idea. I mean seriously, you tell us it is closing with absolutely no adequate notice. Really NBC?!
    Sorry to see you go little community.

  • mike richardson

    This is disheartening. The citizens of Chicago had turned to Everyblock as a resource to communicate with each other and with local officials, when all other methods were failing. People were actively involved and using EB to reduce crime, and in some areas there were noticeable improvements that originated from EB chatter. Rahm Emmanuel and McCarthy are unable to solve the crime problem and keep making matters worse, so without this resource I fear for where crime will head.

    Just this weekend the Chicago police announced they will no longer respond to anything that’s not life threatening (even burglaries) where the suspect was not on site. We’re in trouble here folks and we need something to step up in its place.

  • scottbrodbeck

    It’s my understanding that EveryBlock struggled to gain user traction outside of its home city of Chicago. As proof, most of the people mourning its loss today seem to be from the Chicago area.

    I think this speaks to the extreme difficulty of building “hyperlocal” success on a national level. Ask AOL about that — its early NY/NY/CT Patch sites have been quite successful but after building out 850 of them nationwide it’s clear that the new sites are generating mixed results at best, and not enough revenue to support the organization as it exists right now.

    The fine folks at West Seattle Blog are right — this does NOT mean that hyperlocal is doomed. Rather, I think it’s more confirmation of what indie news sites have been saying for years: that those who are building local sites IN local communities FOR local audiences (not shareholders) will be the ones who ultimately win the day.

    Sorry to disappoint Wall Street, VCs and the Knight Foundation, but the future of local news will have to be built one community at a time.

  • Jerry1000

    MSNBC + Vivian Schiller (NPR) = $$$$$$$$$

    You’re some progressive Schiller. Face it, you’re just another corporate hack.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.rollens Patrick Rollens

    Hmmm. The neighbor conversation that permeated the site was very much an example of original content. I appreciated the data-driven aggregation, but I visited EB every day for the neighborhood conversation. Let’s not overlook that.

  • Ryan_Williams

    So much for non profit innovation (the $1.1 million grant by Knight Foundation) and software aggregation replacing community reporting. It’s clear that the drive by media executives is to spend as little money as possible and see the largest possible return. And the community be damned.

    How many millions of dollars did Everyblock vacuum up from the non-profit and investment community while journalists were being laid off by the thousands? How much money did Tribune co. spend on Journatic ($3 million) while claiming they couldn’t afford journalists and photographers to tell stories?

    There’s no great sea change in the way people consume their news. The sea change is in the way corporations like NBC are now fully invested in the myth of unlimited growth.

  • http://twitter.com/jenawithonen jena kehoe

    Very sad to see this go. Everyblock was a really great resource. NBC, not everything needs to be about money. 90% of the crimes I learned about in my neighborhood were on that blog, not on the news. But, I suppose the saying goes “ignorance is bliss.”

  • ChicagoWay

    Vivian Schiller is a real piece of…er, work. This “media executive” came to national attention for her ham-handed role in the Juan Williams dismissal at NPR http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivian_Schiller#Juan_Williams_controversy. Like the tagline on her business card: “Have Broom & Hatchet – Will Travel.”

  • SC91

    This wasn’t just an aggregator- This was my (and many others) place to learn and share what was happening in our community. I learned about new restaurants, new real estate, new locally owned business news, all from people who posted the discussions……. very sad day…..

  • http://www.atlasomega.com tang

    “We will continue to support and expand in strategic areas; whether it’s a flagship like NBCNews.com, a new venture like msnbc.com, a nimble startup like Breaking News, or other businesses with big ideas.” – ouch, no mention of Newsvine? I hope it’s not next on the chopping block.

  • http://twitter.com/westseattleblog West Seattle Blog

    Just to be REALLY clear before this leads to another round of “hyperlocal news is doomed” hand-wringing – EveryBlock was an *aggregator.* Not a “news pioneer.” The news it featured was aggregated from sites like mine (and not much of a traffic driver, but then again, few aggregators are). It did pioneer the concept of aggregating valuable information beyond news organizations’ headlines relating to your area – building permits, liquor licenses, fire calls – but all too often we see aggregators mislabeled as news publishers. That aside, best wishes to anyone who has to look for a new job as a result of this – hope you all land on your feet.