EveryBlock, which was first launched in 2008 as an address-based news feed, has been redesigned as a “community-empowered” site.
EveryBlock has been developed so that people can make connections with those living nearby and then share news stories, crime reports and events. It is only available in 16 US cities at the moment but the relaunched version of EveryBlock has expansion on the horizon.
As Mashable reports, EveryBlock has partnered with Groupon in the US for revenue and has plans to integrate Foursquare‘s API in order to make further connections between neighbours with similar tastes and habits.
“We’re shifting from a one-way newsfeed to more of a community-empowered website,” says EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty. “Instead of going to the site to passively consume information, we’re going to offer a platform for posting messages to your neighbors, to discover who lives near you.”
“Following” is the new “liking”: Crucial to Everyblock’s redesign is the functionality of the “Follow” button; users can now follow blocks, zipcodes and even specific businesses. A “Get to Know Your Neighbors” sidebar displays links to the profiles of users who follow the same places that you do, making it super easy to meet new people with similar interests.
Hyperlocal news and information aggregator Everyblock has launched a new location-based widget targeted at local newspaper websites and blogs.
The widget allows third party sites to embed Everyblock’s news and information feeds for specific areas on their own sites.
Posting on the Everyblock blog, co-founder Daniel X. O’Neil, said: “Until today, we’ve had no official way to share content with other sites or to partner with news outlets in the cities we cover.”
The site was created by Adrian Holovaty in 2008 as a hyperlocal news resource for neighbourhoods in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. It has since expanded to 16 US cities and was bought by MSNBC in August 2009.
The panel included: Martin Belam (information architect, the Guardian; blogger, Currybet; John O’Donovan (chief architect, BBC News Online); Dan Brickley (Friend of a Friend project; VU University, Amsterdam; SpyPixel Ltd; ex-W3C); Leigh Dodds (Talis).
“Linked Data is about using the web to connect related data that wasn’t previously linked, or using the web to lower the barriers to linking data currently linked using other methods.” (http://linkeddata.org)
I talked about how 2009 was, for me, a key year in data and journalism – largely because it has been a year of crisis in both publishing and government. The seminal point in all of this has been the MPs’ expenses story, which both demonstrated the power of data in journalism, and the need for transparency from government. For example: the government appointment of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the search for developers to suggest things to do with public data, and the imminent launch of Data.gov.uk around the same issue.
Even before then the New York Times and Guardian both launched APIs at the beginning of the year, MSN Local and the BBC have both been working with Wikipedia and we’ve seen the launch of a number of startups and mashups around data including Timetric, Verifiable, BeVocal, OpenlyLocal, MashTheState, the open source release of Everyblock, and Mapumental.
Q: What are the implications of paywalls for Linked Data?
The general view was that Linked Data – specifically standards like RDF [Resource Description Format] – would allow users and organisations to access information about content even if they couldn’t access the content itself. To give a concrete example, rather than linking to a ‘wall’ that simply requires payment, it would be clearer what the content beyond that wall related to (e.g. key people, organisations, author, etc.)
Leigh Dodds felt that using standards like RDF would allow organisations to more effectively package content in commercially attractive ways, e.g. ‘everything about this organisation’.
Q: What can bloggers do to tap into the potential of Linked Data?
This drew some blank responses, but Leigh Dodds was most forthright, arguing that the onus lay with developers to do things that would make it easier for bloggers to, for example, visualise data. He also pointed out that currently if someone does something with data it is not possible to track that back to the source and that better tools would allow, effectively, an equivalent of pingback for data included in charts (e.g. the person who created the data would know that it had been used, as could others).
Q: Given that the problem for publishing lies in advertising rather than content, how can Linked Data help solve that?
Dan Brickley suggested that OAuth technologies (where you use a single login identity for multiple sites that contains information about your social connections, rather than creating a new ‘identity’ for each) would allow users to specify more specifically how they experience content, for instance: ‘I only want to see article comments by users who are also my Facebook and Twitter friends.’
The same technology would allow for more personalised, and therefore more lucrative, advertising. John O’Donovan felt the same could be said about content itself – more accurate data about content would allow for more specific selling of advertising.
Martin Belam quoted James Cridland on radio: ‘[The different operators] agree on technology but compete on content’. The same was true of advertising but the advertising and news industries needed to be more active in defining common standards.
Leigh Dodds pointed out that semantic data was already being used by companies serving advertising.
I asked members of the audience who they felt were the heroes and villains of Linked Data in the news industry. The Guardian and BBC came out well – The Daily Mail were named as repeat offenders who would simply refer to ‘a study’ and not say which, nor link to it.
Martin Belam pointed out that the Guardian is increasingly asking itself ‘how will that look through an API?’ when producing content, representing a key shift in editorial thinking. If users of the platform are swallowing up significant bandwidth or driving significant traffic then that would probably warrant talking to them about more formal relationships (either customer-provider or partners).
A number of references were made to the problem of provenance – being able to identify where a statement came from. Dan Brickley specifically spoke of the problem with identifying the source of Twitter retweets.
Dan also felt that the problem of journalists not linking would be solved by technology. In conversation previously, he also talked of ‘subject-based linking’ and the impact of SKOS [Simple Knowledge Organisation System] and linked data style identifiers. He saw a problem in that, while new articles might link to older reports on the same issue, older reports were not updated with links to the new updates. Tagging individual articles was problematic in that you then had the equivalent of an overflowing inbox.
Finally, here’s a bit of video from the very last question addressed in the discussion (filmed with thanks by @countculture):
The influence of UK-based democracy organisation, mySociety, often gets forgotten, perhaps deliberately downplayed, in the British press. Let’s go back to the MP expenses row, for example. Well before the Telegraph played its central role in exposing the various scandals, mySociety saw a significant campaign victory when Gordon Brown U-turned on an attempt to keep certain MP expenses details private, back in January.
At the time, mySociety’s founder, Tom Steinberg said: “This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellweather for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the internet has seen to that.” But did mySociety’s, in my view, undeniably influential part get reported in the UK press? Not really.
Rusbridger gave three examples that showed, he said, ‘changes in how information is organised, personalised, ordered, stored, searched for, published and shared.’ These sites, he said, have many things in common with conventional journalism, ‘dealing with facts, with statistics, with information about public life, politics and services.’
FixMyStreet (mySociety). Just as the Cotswold Journal draws public attention to potholes, FixMyStreet allows users to identify problems in their local area, and get them noticed. “That to me is essentially what a local newspaper is or was,” Rusbridger said. It’s ‘much more responsive’ and allows a ‘direct transaction between the citizen and the council’ he said. And it’s ‘crucially cheaper than sending out a reporter and a photographer,’ he added. “I don’t know whether that’s journalism or not, I don’t know if that matters.”
TheyWorkForYou (mySociety). This, Rusbridger said, was ‘essentially what has replaced, or will replace’ parliamentary reporting, as he flashed up on the screen an example of the old-style reports from the Times in 1976. It’s ‘better than what went before’ he said. “I don’t know if that’s journalism or whether it matters.”
EveryBlock. It provides information on local areas, just as a local paper does or did. Adrian Holovaty’s US-based project allows one to ‘drill down into every neighbourhood’ in a personalised way, he said. Crimes on your route to work can be plotted. “I don’t know if that’s journalism or whether that matters but I think it’s fantastically interesting.”
One of the more influential figures in British journalism – Alan Rusbridger the editor-in-chief of the Guardian and the Observer discussed his ‘why journalism matters’ at a star studded Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy last night. His audience included Lord Puttnam, Robert Peston, Roger Graef, Bill Hagerty, Felicity Green and Nick Cohen.
In his tour d’horizon Rusbridger chose to refer back to the past and, most importantly, forward to the future. He traced the origins of the recent seminal reporting on the G20 protests by Paul Lewis – which lead to a furore over the death of an innocent bystander Ian Tomlinson, after a phone video came to light. It was reportage taking the Guardian back to its foundations, Rusbridger said, drawing comparisons with its reporting of the Peterloo riots in Manchester in 1819.
That and Lewis’ work was based on simple journalistic principles of observing, digging for the truth and not giving up. “It was a piece of conventional reporting and tapping into the resources of a crowd,” he said. “There are thousands of reporters in any crowd nowadays. There was nothing to stop people from publishing those pictures but it needed the apparatus of a mainstream news organisation for that to cut through and have impact.”
Likewise on investigations. The money and time the Guardian had invested in the major series on tax avoidance earlier this year was, initially, simply the traditional way investigations were done. That story had been transformed by documents which came from readers of the series and were put first on the net before being injuncted by Barclays Bank. His audience had a sneak glimpse of them up on the screen.
But the days of journalists behind castle walls sending out articles ‘like mortars-some hit, some missed’ to readers were now gone. The process was thanks to the internet firmly a two-way one.
He quoted Jemina Kiss, the Guardian technology reporter, who has over 13,000 personal followers on Twitter and uses them to help research, shape and comment on her stories. Rusbridger admitted to being an initial Twitter sceptic, before his conversion: ‘I didn’t get it’. “Sometimes you are too old to keep up with all these things and Twitter just seemed silly and I didn’t have time to add it to all of these other things – but that was completely wrong.”
The Guardian editor looked back – all of 30 years – to the days of long and dull parliamentary reports in the broadsheet British press and compared them to the likes of EveryBlock on the internet, the US-based site which aggregates information in micro-areas to help plan journeys to work, and to avoid crime and other hazards. He’s not sure if it’s journalism, but ‘does it matter?’
But it was on the death of local news – on TV and in newspapers – that he was at his most challenging. ITV had all but retreated from the provision of it, with a final surrender due next year; local papers were feeling the economic heat severely and cutting back on the essential reporting of council, council committees and the courts – to the dismay of some judges. He called it the ‘collapse of the structure of political reporting’.
This ‘public information journalism’ should not be allowed to disappear, he said. It needed public subsidy. Rusbridger posited that it could be, but would not be, done by the BBC. More hopeful were the trials currently being run by the Press Association where they would act as a print and video agency / aggregrator for the country and syndicate those services to local papers/websites.
“This bit of journalism is going to have to be done by somebody,” Rusbridger said. “It makes me worry about all of those public authorities and courts which will in future operate without any kind of systematic public scrutiny. I don’t think our legislators have begun to wake up to this imminent problem as we face the collapse of the infrastructure of local news in the press and broadcasting.”
Rusbridger said local public service journalism was a ‘kind of utility’ which was just as important as gas and water. “We must face up to the fact that if there is no public subsidy, then some of this [public service] reporting will come to pass in this country,” he said. “The need is there [for subsidy]. It is going to be needed pretty quickly.”
Whilst modern journalism was evolving and being transformed by the new media, it still firmly mattered as did journalists, he said. “There are many things that mainstream media do, which in collaboration with others is still really important. The ability to take a large audience and amplify things and to give more weight to what would [otherwise] be fragments. Somebody has to have the job of pulling it all together.” All was not gloomy in Rusbridger’s digital crystal ball.
More to follow from Journalism.co.uk. The event was tweeted live via @journalism_live.
John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He is currently editing a special issue of the journal ‘Ethical Space’ on the reporting of the Great Crash of ’08. He will run a world-wide video conference, supported by Journalism.co.uk, on ‘Is World Journalism in Crisis?’ in Coventry on October 28.
Can ultralocal news and information site EveryBlock’s data-driven model be adopted more widely, asks Steve Mollman.
Related models could see success in Japan and Scandinavia, he suggests.
“The EveryBlock revenue model would play into building local economies perfectly as well, by helping disseminate more localized advertising,” says Japanese market entry and strategy consultant, Tei Gordon, in the piece.
“In this down economy, I think anything that might stimulate local economies would be welcome.”
The Bivings Group‘s recently released Bivings Report of the top 10 US newspaper sites in 2008 consisted of:
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
St Paul Pioneer Press
The study, which picks the list based on usability, design and web features of the US’ 100 largest newspapers, is purposefully limited to covering US-based, newspaper sites.
But as one commenter on the Bivings blog says, ‘No Mention of any of MY best news sites’ – he then goes on to list his own top 10, including Huffington Post and EveryBlock (which another commenter then takes as the Bivings’ list).
Is comparing like-for-like really that useful – newspapers aren’t just competing with each other – or other mainstream news organisations – anymore. What the Bivings Group rates the sites on may be completely different from the readers’ criteria – particularly if these comments are anything to go by.
Users’ online agendas are different (and that’s not to say news organisations should completely adhere to UGC inspired schedules – that’s a debate for another day) and influenced by a plethora of different online sources. As such their expectations of newspaper sites will be shaped by the other tools and information websites they use. Ranking newspaper websites against each other won’t deliver the kind of comparisons that these sites can take away and use.