I Come Not to Bury Everyblock, But to Praise It

February 7, 2013

There’s a whole lot of Everyblock requiems going around right now. That’s justified, since Adrian Holovaty’s groundbreaking and brilliant new interpretation of how news should work really changed the way just about everyone thought about what news really was and how people could interact with it.

Everyblock’s progenitor, ChicagoCrime.com, was what got me first thinking about hyperlocal news. The idea that a person could get such specific information about their community was revolutionary. In Chicago, if you wanted crime information, you had to get it by ward or by police district, an even bigger area. And even then it was usually out of date or incomplete. Everyblock’s beautiful maps and great user interface changed everything. All of a sudden getting information was easy.

Then, the social sharing function changed everything again. My hyperlocal sites saw the results immediately, as commenters were totally drawn to Everyblock’s intuitive interface and rapid-fire discussions. Suddenly, every neighborhood, especially ones with no other digital connections, were connected and talking. Whole neighborhood groups sprung out of Everyblock.

I’m biased, since so many of Everyblock’s founders were/are neighbors, became friends, and did a lot to support Center Square Journal. Adrian, Paul Wilson and Dan X. O’Neill lived in or near Lincoln Square. Paul Wilson has even written some great articles for CSJ. They graciously allowed me to interview them in early 2010, an article that gave CSJ some of its first real exposure (warning: bad writing), and Adrian and Dan have both given me tons of great advice.

And then the current, out-going president of Everyblock, Brian Addison, actually went to high school with me and has talked me through a number of tough decisions with great insight. I owe him more than a few beers.

I think when time looks back, the Everyblock team will be viewed as some incredibly talented supergroup that just didn’t get their due from their corporate masters.

And yet, there’s an important niggling point: Everyblock was not cash flow positive.

Let’s consider that for a minute. This company, with fewer than 50 employees, deployed in dozens of cities and had the backing of a major media organization, could not be revenue positive. Granted, they hadn’t really focused on profit until the last year. And the native ads introduced a month ago were interesting. But still…

If Everyblock, with barely any costs and a sizable user base could not be revenue positive, what does it say for Main Street Connect, Patch and DNAInfo?

The details behind those facts might bring the most important lessons this closure could offer.