Back in 2008, I wrote a blog post welcoming the local civic info site Everyblock to the world. Today, just over five years later, Everyblock has announced that their parent company, NBC News, has shuttered the site. Twitter has been awash with people digesting the news and I suspect that this blog post, written while battling a nasty winter cold, isn’t the first nor will it be the last. That’s what happens when you create something with the impact that Everyblock had: People care when it’s gone.
And people should care: 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.
That Everyblock the site never achieved the glory that many expected of it (it was a recipient of over a million dollars in the first year of the Knight News Challenge) is more a reflection of the too-high expectations of the X Will Save Journalism crowd than of the reality of what Everyblock achieved. 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.
That’s as much as anyone who builds something can ask for.
As I wrote on Twitter earlier today: “RIP Everyblock. Long live the huge legacy and hundreds of sites built in the space its founders singlehandedly created.”
We’re all living in Everyblock’s world now. Even if Everyblock itself isn’t.
(Full disclosure: I am lucky enough to count many of the original founders of Everyblock as friends. Even if they were enemies, I’d be writing the same post.)
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