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EveryBlock Shuts Down

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 7 2013

The early hyperlocal news and information portal EveryBlock announced its closing today. The site was founded by Adrian Holovaty in 2007 with a $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation. It was bought by msnbc.com in 2009, which was in turn acquired by NBC News last year.

"As we refined our larger strategy for NBC News Digital and dug more into the financials, we came to the conclusion it was not a fit," wrote Vivian Schiller, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer for NBC Universal, in an email to techPresident.

"Hyperlocal is not part of our focus for the future," she added.

Holovaty left the site in August. In a blog post at the time he made the case for EveryBlock's influence on open data, custom mapping, and open source programming. In a blog post today, he says the news took him by surprise:

"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."

EveryBlock's demise has to do with more than shifting corporate priorities.

"I think it's an interesting cautionary tale about tools that have a devoted core following but don't make it through to wider acceptance," says Frank Hebbert, Director of OpenPlans, a nonprofit firm that creates tools for transportation and planning. His own experience speaks to the challenge EveryBlock faced.

In 2010, OpenPlans received a grant of $235,000 to expand and develop an open source version of EveryBlock called OpenBlock. In the same grant, the Boston Globe received $133,125 and the Columbia Daily Tribune $90,500 to install OpenBlock and test it out in the context of larger and smaller newspapers respectively.

"The potential of OpenBlock to be a key foundational tool for local actors turned out not to have been as clear as it might have been when we started the work," says Hebbert.

Today, OpenBlock is something of a ghost town. OpenPlans stopped working on the project when their grant terminated, and the GitHub repository, where developers would post any changes to the source code, hasn't been updated in four months. The Boston Globe's test site for OpenBlock seems to have stopped adding new streams of data last July. The only bright spot is Columbia Daily Tribune's OpenBlock page which is still adding information.

This cloud hanging over hyperlocal projects like EveryBlock might have a silver lining. According to Hebbert, the demise of EveryBlock leaves a large community of ex-users looking for a replacement. Combined with regionally focused groups of civic programmers like Code for America "brigades," or groups of volunteer coders, he sees a chance for the development of novel local replacements.

"You don't need the power of a big news network to make tools like this," says Hebbert. "It's possible for groups at a neighborhood and regional scale."

Here's final blog post from EveryBlock:

We're sorry to report that EveryBlock has closed its doors.

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.

Thank you for having let us play a role in how you get your neighborhood news. Thanks for the contributions, for the questions, and for allowing us to connect you to each other, in many cases to make great things happen in your community. Along the way, we hope we've helped you be a better neighbor.

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