Media had such an innovative year in 2010, and “hyperlocal” is now becoming a more ubiquitous word across the country since legacy names like Allbritton Communications and AOL launched TBD and Patch.com, respectively.
EveryBlock, which was originally funded by the Knight Foundation and was most recently acquired by msnbc.com, began work in 2007. Just six months later, it launched the first three of its hyperlocal sites across the United States.
Prior to the redesign, EveryBlock served merely as a newsfeed as to what was happening in the various neighborhoods within the 16 cities it served.
Before, according to a recent blog post by Adrian Holovaty, “leader” of the team, EveryBlock was a “one-way funnel of information.” Those interested in what was happening in their neck of the woods could send the EveryBlock team their address and they would be on the receiving end of email blasts about what had happened in their areas.
Now, the vision goes beyond that.
Sure, there is still the feed of information. Individuals can go onto EveryBlock’s site and choose to follow various “neighborhoods” in their selected city. The Washington, D.C, EveryBlock has every imaginable version of a neighborhood one can follow. The site boasts four quadrants, eight wards, approximately 100 “neighborhoods” and countless – and when I say countless, I mean countless – zip codes and streets.
But aside from the general news and deals of the day in the areas, Holovaty sees social media as playing a major role in what EveryBlock – and perhaps the future of other hyperlocal ventures – could become.
The blog post goes on to read, “The current crop of Web social media tools is focused on people you already know – friends, family, professional colleagues. But how many people become Facebook friends with their neighbors?”
Roy also saw this as something that would catapult the site to the future. Embedding widgets into the site lets users to log in through their already established social media profiles and allows for interactivity between users, but EveryBlock also has profile settings where, as Roy puts it, users can populate profiles with “local-heavy” details.
And, according to a just released report from Edison Research, over 50 percent of Americans have Facebook profiles, and in an April presentation investigators will break down the “year-on-year growth” of the network’s users, especially focusing on those ages 35 and older.
With 51 percent of the American people on the social network, certainly EveryBlock users can sign in using that account and then further connect with others outside of the neighborhood site.
But why must the neighbors hook up off the EveryBlock network?
Holovaty stresses this is not just another social media site. EveryBlock is a place to discuss neighborhood issues, he goes on to state in the blog introducing the redesign. These profiles were specifically designed to not allow neighbors to “friend” one another. Individuals can simply supply others with information about themselves while also having the ability to inform their online community about what is happening around them.
So EveryBlock is not just a hyperlocal news venture; it is a hyperlocal news venture with a citizen journalist element.
Not only can users sign up for email alerts and a feed of what is going on in their neighborhood, but also through this redesign users can hear from others living in, or at least “following,” their same communities.
But this can be risky. Before, the EveryBlock team was the curator of the news to deliver. While this should be an interactive site for the people of the various neighborhoods within the 16 cities the site has a presence, there is a question of how will this information be monitored – if at all.
Will the EveryBlock team just allow users to post comments and items of interest willy nilly without fact-checking?
Holovaty does not exactly directly address this in his blog post; however, he does say that each user has a “thank” option next to his or her name. Others can “thank” a user for posting information, a comment or tidbits he or she believes the “neighbors” need to know. Holovaty calls this a “lightweight neighborhood honors reputation system.” So, in his mind, the neighbors will hold each other accountable for the information posted.
Or, like in some real-world neighborhoods and apartment buildings, people might just mind their own business.
This is a feature, that as the redesign is absorbed across the 16 cities, the EveryBlock team will be able to evaluate the best way to deal with the comment ability on the site. The media industry has been grappling with how to deal with the digital age since the boom of the Internet and Web 2.0, and a lot of startups – and legacy news launches online – have been privy to trial and error stages. A smart journalism entrepreneur will troubleshoot as they go along and figure out what works for his or her audience.
So is EveryBlock’s redesign the future of hyperlocal media?
Besides having to review how the consumer comment posting ability will affect the site and how it will be dealt with in the future, EveryBlock is headed in the right direction.
Roy makes some excellent points in her post.
Now users have digital incentives, like earning badges – part of a new social media upswing in “gaming mechanics.” This allows users to gain rewards in their most-visited spots in their neighborhoods. Foursquare offers the same type of technology.
Roy also touches on the “getting to know your neighbors” aspect of the redesign. Once a user has created a profile, there is even an easy way to do this under the tritely named “Get To Know Your Neighbors” sidebar along the right side of the site.
Roy also says “’following’ is the new ‘liking’.” What she means is by simply choosing to “follow” a certain area of one’s city, a consumer is putting out there that he or she “likes” that area; he or she frequents that area, and he or she would like to know more about what is going on there.
But one point I think Roy definitely missed out on making was that now the “neighbors” are the agenda setters. Instead of simply receiving a list of hyperlinks to outside sources, they can add their own content, pick and choose the areas the follow and what type of news they want to follow in that area. Crimes? Photos? Apartment listings? Business reviews? Media mentions?
Interactivity goes beyond having users comment on a story now. The consumers curate the feeds. They choose what is important on their block.