On the Relaunch of EveryBlock

Today marks the relaunch of EveryBlock, six years to the day after its first launch. Here’s what I had to say:

“Chicago is a national leader in civic innovation, and the return of EveryBlock is an opportunity for deepening that leadership.  We’re especially interested in the development of EveryBlock as an open platform for developers and community members to share and act upon city data and other community information,” said Smart Chicago Collaborative Executive Director Daniel X. O’Neil, who was one of the founders of EveryBlock.


PANEL: Turning Data into Narrative at “The Story & The Algorithm: 2012 MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference”

Today I participated in an interesting panel at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference. Here’s my bit:

PANEL: Turning Data Into Narrative from Daniel X. O’Neil on Vimeo.

Here’s relevant snips from the conference live blog:

Dan O’Neil is the Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, which funds and fosters civic and municipal innovation.

Next is Dan O’Neil of Smart Chicago, an organisation which aims to improve lives in Chicago through technology. He helped start EveryBlock. He shares tips on using data.

Up first are strategies for finding data: He emphasizes using search. Search is your friend, he says. “ I prefer it to asking”. He was responsible for data acquisition for Everyblock. Dan reemphasizes the importance of searching for data on your own. “Asking people for data never got me anywhere,” he says. He gives the example of Dallas crime report, which has several years of data on its website, but you need to look for it. If you look hard enough, it has the best crime data. And it has narrative. After all, cops record everything that happens. Data has more structure than what you would imagine, he says.

Dan created data using text to see why sources were granted anonymity. This is an idea he has been working on since 2005, after the Jayson Blair episode at New York Times. Dan shows a slide that shows a list of reasons for allowing anonymity. He also points us to the Data Journalism Handbook — lot of people helped create it here. On a lighter note, he says it is highly focused on asking for data.

Dan makes the point of how context is important in data. Publishing data without context is not super-useful. Why is most data is boring? Dan says it’s because data is made by people, and most people are boring most of the time. Hence the need for a new model of presenting data: ” I use data to tell stories.” He tells us the story of his incredibly detailed post on a Walgreens in Milwaukee, including information from 10 different data sources.

He gives details of how he developed the story and how he got the data. You have to get as much data as you can, he says. For instance, in this case, he even got building permits from the city of Chicago. There could be many interesting details in this data. Building permits is boring data but there could be exciting details embedded in it. He found a building closed for 20 years and open for three days.

He talked about other resources. Sanborn maps are amazing resources on land use and building use. Original photography is data. He looked in New York Times archive found materials there. He looked for the word JImmied in advanced search and found it was useful data . Police had used it several times. This could be used for further search.

Dan argues that we need to start embedding data in stories. We also need to take personal responsibility for our own data. In the crime records, people call the police and lie. Crime data full of amazing lies. Abstraction of data that is not useful.

He gave an example of relationship between human beings and data. If you are looking for how many planes are struck by birds? The data available is terrible. Reporters wrote about this and then data on these details was released and it was found the San Francisco International Airport was terrible because they had good data.

Other resources:

Launch: EveryBlock Widget

Today I led the launch of a new feature on EveryBlock. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject: Introducing the EveryBlock Widget. Here’s a snip:

One of the best things we liked about developing this feature is the conversations we’ve had with bloggers, newspapers, and other news outlets to ask them what they’d like to see in a tool like this. For years now, we’ve been heads-down on the tasks of creating our infrastructure, obtaining content, and expanding to new cities.

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. If you’ve ever thought about partnering with EveryBlock, we’d love to hear from you. E-mail me directly at danx at everyblock or just call 773-321-8146. We’re specifically interested in how to make this widget better and encouraging adoption of it, but we’re wide open to all sorts of partnerships around news. We’d love to hear from you!

Launch: SeeClickFix on EveryBlock

Today I helped launch a new data type on EveryBlock: Reported issues. Here’s a snip from the announcement:

Our friends at SeeClickFix run a site where you can report non-emergency community issues, like potholes, graffiti or street light outages. They’ve shared their data with us so that EveryBlock users will get notified whenever an issue has been reported nearby. Here’s an example in Chicago.

My role was partner relations and helping out with data descriptions.

PRESS: The Day EveryBlock Came to Town (EveryBlock Launch in Portland)

Today I was quoted as part of a story covering the launch of EveryBlock Portland. I worked with city officials to help create the standards for their data publication as well as working to understand the data.

To be honest, I like reading that kind of stuff. Maybe you do too. As O’Neil says, “we do have a wider definition of what news is.” Not everyone feels satisfied with the level of detail being provided or the absence of filtering the signal from the noise. It’s hard to imagine machines replacing the human storytelling that journalists provide. The machines could augment that journalism, though, and there’s lots of room for them to do an even better job of it.

The violation text has “Yet to come!” because he was working on some other part of the schema and he didn’t want this text blob to mess the formatting up.

EveryBlock hyperlocal strategy and government data

I lead the effort to obtain government data at EveryBlock. Here’s msnbc.com President Charlie Tillinghast talking about our local strategy:

Tillinghast says that demand can be met by EveryBlock, which is attempting to become a hyperlocal resource by gathering and organizing info from government agencies, and then tasking local users to provide block-by-block news. “We’re going after the truly local stuff, the messy part of local. The potholes.”

Reporting / Community-Building on EveryBlock

Here’s a post I made after reviewing EveryBlock during a breaking news story today:

URL: http://seattle.everyblock.com/announcements/by-date/2009/11/30/906031/User: danx@everyblock.com (Daniel X. O’Neil) (#4601)Headline: Connections among police killings and arsons?Location: 32nd and YeslerThe suspect in the Tacoma police ambush killer was believed to be holed up two blocks away from the site of another police ambush killing on Halloween.Here’s the EveryBlock block page for the street where police killed the guy suspected of murdering four Tacoma police officers:http://seattle.everyblock.com/streets/yesler-way/2900-2999e/Here’s the EveryBlock block page for the same address on November 1, 2009– the day after the murder of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton: http://seattle.everyblock.com/streets/yesler-way/2900-2999e/?start=11/01/2009The police arrested someone else in connection with the Brenton murder: http://spdblotter.seattle.gov/2009/11/07/spd-statement-regarding-brenton-murder-investigation/. They are treating that incident, as well as the attack on the Charles St. Depot (http://seattle.everyblock.com/streets/charles-st/700-799s/?start=10/23/2009), as “domestic terrorism”: http://www.centraldistrictnews.com/2009/11/07/spd-murder-is-a-case-of-domestic-terrorism.The proximity of all these locations, as well as the similarity of the attacks, makes me wonder if they are all related.Trying to make more connections.

MSNBC.com Purchase of EveryBlock

Here’s a snip from some of the news coverage of the sale of EveryBlock that focuses on the public data work that I spearheaded:

MSNBC.com Buys EveryBlock as Interest in Local Content Grows | Kara Swisher | BoomTown | AllThingsD.

EveryBlock takes a slightly different approach, scouring a mass of publicly available data in a variety of U.S. cities from a variety of public records–such as crime stats, building permits and restaurant inspections–and reassembling them into more comprehensible and geographically relevant news feeds, depending on what a user asks for.