EveryBlock launched yesterday.
Only eight months after winning a $1.1 million grant in the Knight News Challenge, the non-profit site has gone live with detailed data for San Francisco, Chicago and New York. It promises to expand to more places in the future.
EveryBlock gathers freely available data — building permits, crime reports, new building permits, blog posts, restaurant inspections, news articles, Flickr photos, Yelp business reviews, missed connections from Craigslist — and makes it easy to search and browse by neighborhood. As with everything associated with founder Adrian Holovaty, it is artfully done. It sets a standard all data-driven sites should aspire to.
“Sigh, if only newspaper sites were as well organized as this…” Journalistopia said.
Many, including Al’s Morning Meeting, hail it as “the beginning of something big.”
I’m not so sure.
For one, there are others plowing similar ground. There’s outside.in, YourStreet, and Yahoo!’s Our City (which exists only in India, for the moment at least). Everyone wants to be local these days, including Google, where a search for pizza 40205 will get you a map, address, phone numbers, reviews, a menu and more.
None of those sites, which have their own strengths, offer the rich public record data being mined by EveryBlock. But EveryBlock also leaves me a little … cold.
It is data without context, perspective or meaning. A comment on MetaFilter put it this way:
This is a great idea but it certainly won’t replace local news coverage because there’s no way to figure out what the politics of anything are.
For example, lots of politics around building permits, liquor licenses, development, etc.: no way to know what any of the granular stuff really means. it’s nice to know that a restaurant on my block applied for a liquor license: maybe I can go and stop them because I’m afraid of noise.
but how do I know what the backstory is? how do I know who is who? how do I find anything interesting? how do I know if I’m having an impact?
it’s a great tool for an actual local reporter to find info needed for stories– but it doesn’t do the valuable thing that reporters do when they are working well, which is boil down all the boring shit and give you what you need to know when you need to know it.
Here’s another MetaFilter comment:
Much of the other data has too much noise. That a local restaurant has just received a scheduled inspection is too low-level. I dont care. I do want to know maybe if a local restaurant has received an extremely bad report. So maybe the data needs to be filtered.
And while Journalistopia found it praiseworthy, it added:
It’s tough to put all of that data into context and provide more historical information such as a community’s history, landmarks and evolving story. For instance, having a highly detailed view of crimes in a neighborhood is really cool, but how does my neighborhood compare to another? How is crime in the neighborhood trending?
Holovaty has described conventional news as a “blob of text.” “Newspapers need to stop the story-centric worldview,” he wrote in 2006.
Stop? I don’t think so. Go beyond, maybe. I’m ostensibly a data person, but browsing raw data, while it can be worthwhile, isn’t nearly as compelling to me as the sudden, unexplained death of a 28-year-old movie star.
Holovaty’s absolutely right that news organizations — including my own — haven’t even begun to exploit the potential of structured data on the Web. But there’s no evidence in the past, no evidence now, nor will there be any evidence in the future, that the way ahead for the news industry is to feed the world more raw data, however skillfully deployed.
We’ve got too much of the stuff already. What we need is for it to be boiled down. Distilled. Made interesting.
EveryBlock says that’s its goal. It says it exists to answer the question: “What’s happening in my neighborhood.”
For a long time, that’s been a tough question to answer. In dense, bustling cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco, the number of daily media reports, government proceedings and local Internet conversations is staggering. Every day, a wealth of local information is created — officials inspect restaurants, journalists cover fires and Web users post photographs — but who has time to sort through all of that?
Our mission at EveryBlock is to solve that problem. We aim to collect all of the news and civic goings-on that have happened recently in your city, and make it simple for you to keep track of news in particular areas. We’re a geographic filter — a “news feed” for your neighborhood, or, yes, even your block.
Just how compelling will its offerings be to most readers?
Steven Johnson, a writer and one of the principals behind outside.in, called it the Pothole Paradox.
The Pothole Paradox goes like this:
1. Say you’ve got a particularly nasty pothole on your street that you’ve been scraping the undercarriage of your car against for a year. When the town or city finally decides to fix the pothole, that event is genuinely news in your world. And it is news that you’ll never get from your local paper, or TV affiliate, or radio station.
Obviously this is a great opportunity for a site like outside.in, where news of pothole repairs might easily trickle up from neighborhood bloggers. But it’s not that simple, alas — there’s a flip side to the pothole paradox:
2. News about a pothole repair just five blocks from your street is the least interesting thing you could possibly imagine.
The other complication here is that the correct scale of hyperlocal news varies depending on the nature of the news itself. Pothole repair may die out beyond a few blocks, but many happenings — crimes or political rallies or controversial real estate development — reverberate more widely. Going local sometimes requires that you zoom in all the way to the block level, even all the way to the individual address. But sometimes you need to zoom out too.
EveryBlock promises to keep adding new features, so we don’t know what it will eventually become. But I don’t see it appealing to the masses the way it is now. Knowing that there was a construction violation (“34627269N”) issued for 35 East 32 Street on December 27, 2007 isn’t likely to be interesting even to the people living next door at 37 East 32 Street.
FAILURE TO POST DOT PERMIT FOR PLACING MATERIAL ON STREET.AT TIME OF INSPECTION SKIDS OF CMU "CONCRETE MASONRY UNITS" ARE STORED AT ROAD INFRONT OF 33 E 32 STREET.THE GC HAS STORED THIS MATERIAL ON THE STREET
Gotcha. But just between you and me, did Heath Ledger live nearby?
p>Newsroom101.com offers “exercises in grammar, usage and Associated Press style”:
These free, self-instructional exercises are based on issues of grammar, usage and AP style that arose at a daily newspaper and in a course in journalism. They are offered here for journalists, professional writers, college students, high school students, and others who are learning or reviewing journalistic language.
p>On my first visit to the site I clicked on the first exercise and was greeted with a confusing pop-up that asked for an ID. ID? You mean I have to pay?
p>I then went back to the home page and it took me a while to find — after scrolling down past the Google ads — the introduction that explains how the site works.
It is indeed free, but I was too annoyed to go on. My grammer and english don’t need no work, anyways.
MAPLight.org now offers widgets that summarize fundraising for more than 1,500 congressional candidates across the U.S. You can easily embed the widgets in Web sites and blogs, picking and choosing the candidates to show.
Here’s a widget showing Kentucky candidates:
There are also presidential widgets the non-profit released last summer.
Out-Of-The-Box Lawyering notes that “there’s a lot of hidden information in digital photos”:
You’ve probably learned about all the metadata that can be found in word processing files. The metadata may show when a document was created, what editing changes were made, and all sorts of other potentially valuable information.
I recently learned that there is also some extremely valuable information hidden away in the digital version of digital photographs. And Microsoft has a free – that’s free – program that allows you to discover from the digital version such information as the date and time when the photo was taken.
James Verini of Vanity Fair writes about “Big Brother Inc.”:
Knowing your business is big business for Aristotle Inc., whose Orwellian database of voter records has been an essential campaign tool for every president since Ronald Reagan. As the 2008 race heats up, the company’s shadowy founder, John Aristotle Phillips, unveils his most powerful personal-space invader yet.
I remember reading about Phillips during my days as an undergraduate at Boston University studying political science. Phillips won fame back then for drawing up plans to make a nuclear bomb while at Princeton and for nearly winning a race for Congress while in his early 20s.
The article notes that in 2003 he sued Kentucky for access to its voter list. The writer’s point of view (or at least the editor’s) is obvious from the title, “Big Brother Inc.” and the use of words like “Orwellian” and “shadowy,” but my thought throughout was: What’s so wrong with making it easier for candidates to find like-minded voters? Isn’t that the essence of democracy? For me, the article didn’t make the case that this is a bad thing.