Comcast revives EveryBlock in Chicago

Chicago Tribune | Chicago Sun-Times | EveryBlock Blog

After an 11-and-a-half month absence, EveryBlock has returned to the city where it began — but only to that city, Chicago, for now.

Comcast this morning relaunched the popular hyperlocal social site where neighbors share data and crowdsource news. NBC News, which is owned by Comcast, abruptly shuttered EveryBlock last February. It previously had operated in 19 markets.

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EveryBlock could still be sold, says Schiller, after abrupt closing of hyperlocal pioneer

EveryBlock, the hyperlocal news and community discussion site that abruptly closed last week, may be resurrected if NBC can find a suitable buyer.

NBC News Chief Digital Officer Vivian Schiller told me Monday that the network is continuing to talk with potential buyers who had been in touch before the shutdown, and that more have come forward since last week.

I asked Schiller about the prospects for a sale during a broader discussion about NBC’s handling of the EveryBlock shutdown last Thursday, which surprised users and observers.

EveryBlock co-founder Adrian Holovaty, who left the company in August, told me in a phone interview that he was upset with how it ended.

“I am not upset about the concept of a company shutting down EveryBlock because it’s not strategically aligned with them. That’s totally fine — I understand if a corporate giant doesn’t want to have a neighborhood news site, that’s totally cool,” Holovaty said. “It’s how it was done that’s the problem.”

Holovaty said he wished NBC had done more to pursue a sale of EveryBlock before resorting to shutting it down. He said he knew of at least one potential buyer (which he would not identify to me) who expressed an interest and was in touch with NBC but was not invited to make an offer.

He also said that since the shutdown last week, many companies have contacted him to say they would have been interested in buying EveryBlock if they knew it was for sale. Holovaty also said he would have been happy to help seek out a buyer if NBC had asked him for help.

Shorter version: This didn’t have to happen, Holovaty said.

“News media in Chicago would love to have EveryBlock. It’s a force of nature in Chicago. It’s a big deal. In other cities, it didn’t get a ton of traction, but in Chicago a lot of people used it,” Holovaty said.

For example, after the shutdown announcement, The Chicago Tribune immediately placed a teaser near the top of its homepage trying to capture that audience — “Miss EveryBlock? Use our crime maps.”

Schiller said she couldn’t share details of any possible sale negotiations, but that “we did look into a number of different options prior to last week, and we are continuing to look into options very seriously. … We still have live conversations.”

Schiller continued:

I respect Adrian so much that it’s painful to me that he is upset and he is angry at me personally. But he’s not with the organization anymore, so he hasn’t been involved with those conversations. He resigned, and I know he still feels passionately about it, as well he should, but he’s not privy to all those conversations. All I can tell you is there were conversations prior to the shutdown, and there are still very active conversations to this day.

I asked whether those conversations seemed at all likely to lead to a sale of EveryBlock. “It’s hard to say at this point,” Schiller said. “I think that would be a wonderful outcome. I remain hopeful, because I’m a hopeful person. But anything beyond that is speculation.”

Other issues

Holovaty also raised the question of what would happen to the approximately 10 members of the EveryBlock staff who lost their jobs last week. “They’re my crew,” he said, “like family.”

Schiller said in a interview with Street Fight last week that “We’re working with them individually to see if there are other roles for them inside [NBC Universal].”

Holovaty said based on his contacts among the EveryBlock staff, that wasn’t true. “They have not worked with them individually to see if there are other roles. Put another way: If NBCU was helping the EveryBlock team find jobs, that’s news to the EveryBlock team.”

Schiller told me that when she met with the staff last Monday to break the news she also said she personally would be glad to provided recommendations to other employers or to see if they could land elsewhere within NBC.

“I can’t guarantee that people will have jobs in the company … It has to be the right fit. But there are at least three people who I or a member of my team have been in contact with. Nobody is placed yet, but this whole situation is only a few working days old,” she said.

Holovaty also questioned why the site had to be closed so abruptly and completely. Why couldn’t the community of users who were heavily engaged in the site have some advance notice or access to archived data?

“Just look at the way the site went down — it was a complete surprise to the users. You wake up Thursday morning, check the site, and there’s nothing there anymore. There’s no archives, there’s no downloadable data,”  he said. “The people working for EveryBlock are some of the best techies in Chicago. They’re world-class. They know how to run a website correctly. If it were up to them … they would have treated the community right.”

Schiller said the decision to shut down the site all at once was discussed with “senior members” of the EveryBlock team in advance. She didn’t go into detail about those discussions, but said: “I understand that different people could take a different point of view, but all I can tell you is that’s what we decided was best.” Read more


In EveryBlock’s legacy, the promise and limits of hyperlocal success

Hyperlocal news and community discussion site EveryBlock closed Thursday, as NBC News announced it struggled to become profitable and was not a “strategic fit.”

The closing was a surprise to everyone outside the company, and many people immediately began discussing the journalism and technology legacy of EveryBlock and what, if anything, might succeed in its wake.

Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, says “we’re all living in Everyblock’s world now“:

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.

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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)

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.” Read more


Adrian Holovaty leaving EveryBlock after 5 years

Holovaty.com | EveryBlock
Adrian Holovaty is leaving EveryBlock five years after launching the site with the help of a $1.1 million Knight News Challenge grant.

There was no single event, person or experience that swayed my decision — just a gradual realization that I’ve done what I wanted to do with EveryBlock and am hungry for the next thing. I’ve really enjoyed building the site, collaborating with talented people and breaking ground in several areas, from open data to mapping to local news — but I’ve realized lately that I don’t have the passion for it that I once did.

Msnbc.com bought EveryBlock in 2009; unlike most acquisitions, Holovaty writes, this one has worked.

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.

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EveryBlock names new president; founder Holovaty to focus on product side

Chicago Tribune
Chicago-based EveryBlock, which was founded in 2007 by Adrian Holovaty and acquired by MSNBC.com in 2009, has hired Brian Addison for the newly created position of president. “I’m going to be in charge of the product side of things, which is frankly what I care about the most,” says Holovaty. “I’m a coder at heart, so it’s a really nice change for me.” Addison, who most recently was general manager of digital advertising firm Band Digital, says:

In my role, I feel as though I’m coming into a fantastic situation where we have an absolutely incredible product, and I will layer in additional business and marketing strategy and overall leadership to help accelerate the growth of the site.

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Holovaty: ‘EveryBlock is a radically different product than Patch’

Street Fight
EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty is asked what separates his site’s mission from other major players like Patch.

Just look at the two sites, and the difference will smack you in the face.

Patch is essentially like a local newspaper website – it is heavily oriented around staff-produced articles and “static” content like business directories. It’s trying to do a lot of different things, much of it not necessarily very well.

EveryBlock is much, much more focused. You tell us which places you’re interested in following (your block, your work neighborhood, whatever), and we give you a simple timeline of what’s happened in those areas recently

At Westword.com, AOL Ventures president Jon Brod discusses Patch and other AOL properties.

Patch has been unbelievable. We’re now in over 800 communities and over nineteen states. It’s really about digitizing towns and communities. We built it from the ground up for the express purpose of a community news/information program.

We hired over 1,000 people last year, including over 800 journalists. You’re going to start to see us integrating the blogging platform of Huffington Post and commenting platform into Patch, so you’ll start to see more blogging, more aggregation, in addition to the professional journalism that is very much Patch’s main stay.

Patch is looking to sign up 8,000 bloggers, reports Jeff Bercovici

[This update corrects the spelling of Adrian Holovaty's name.] Read more


Poynter chat: Holovaty to discuss EveryBlock’s new focus on community discussion

EveryBlock announced Monday that it’s shifting its focus from a geographically-based, hyperlocal news site to a “platform for discussion around neighborhood news.” Founder Adrian Holovaty will discuss this shift in a Poynter chat at 1 p.m. ET today. Read more


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