If you think your daily newspaper informs you about the crucial events in your community, you’ve never visited EveryBlock.com.
This site makes the local section of any rag look like a Metro news brief. The all-in-one hub also includes daily news from major papers along with information the public rarely sees.
Available in only three cities so far (San Francisco, New York and Chicago), EveryBlock.com allows those lucky residents to type in their zip code and pull up data from public, police or government databases. Want to know about new building permits in Brooklyn? EveryBlock posts the latest licences, including alterations to buildings. Want to know what’s going on in the San Francisco zip code 94123? The site finds two liquor licence status changes, 11 restaurant inspections and nine crimes within the past week.
Maybe the San Francisco Chronicle won’t report the “food-borne illness at Johnny Rockets,” but EveryBlock will.
Adrian Holovaty, the 27-year-old founder of the site, describes it as a newspaper for your block. The longer definition?
“It’s a website where you can enter any address in those three cities and see all the recent local news and information.”
Launched in January 2008, EveryBlock scours databases that are often on the public record but hidden behind layers of bureaucracy.
“We liberate that information to make it easier to browse and find,” Holovaty says.
For example, police precincts log reported crimes, but the average citizen doesn’t have the time or energy to comb through obscure websites. Using sophisticated engines driving the site’s database-searching technology, EveryBlock finds the crimes and lists them by neighbourhood and type and time reported.
True, EveryBlock remains at the mercy of what details police departments release.
“We have around 10 per cent of the information we’d like to offer users,” says Holovaty, adding that his four-person team manually checks every listing to ensure its accuracy.
Still, the site can post what people may be curious about but are unlikely to find anywhere else. Along with the usual building permits, restaurant inspections and crime reports, EveryBlock also publishes filming locations, excavation permits, public housing listings and reviews of local businesses from Yelp.com.
In fact, EveryBlock relies on content posted on other free sites – lost-and-found listings are pulled from Craigslist, photos of the neighbourhood from Flickr, and graffiti clean-ups from the New York City website.
“News like graffiti reports will only appear in the mainstream media if the story affects a lot of people or if the editor thinks it’s worth having a reporter spend time on it,” Holovaty says. “But we want to redefine news. We want to show what’s happening to your community, because, let’s face it, you live there – that’s your neighbourhood.”
Holovaty has walked the walk when it comes to mainstream news sources. From his Chicago home, he worked at the Washington Post creating applications for the paper’s website. He quit when his open-source EveryBlock project scored a $1 million grant from the Knight News Challenge last year.
“That grant gave us our best shot to tell stories beyond the way they’re traditionally told,” Holovaty adds.
Also impressive is the company’s user-friendliness. The EveryBlock crew want the site to remain free, with no sign-up required. They haven’t thought about monetizing the site yet because of the hefty grant, and Holovaty doesn’t rule out keeping EveryBlock sustainable as a non-profit.
“It’s scary but exciting, because the rules haven’t been written yet for this type of media,” he says.
Might Toronto become an EveryBlock city in the future? Holovaty says it’s too soon to talk about adding cities, but he likens T.O. to a major urban centre like Chicago “because of its sheer density and the amount of stuff going on.”
Sadly, right now Torontonians might not know about all that interesting stuff going on at their closest intersection. But if EveryBlock’s innovative model is any indication of how new media can augment the old, community news may soon be completely redefined.