NBC cockblocks EveryBlock

When we bought a Dyson vacuum a number of years ago, it came
with a user’s manual as well as a brief history lesson on how Dysons came to
be. One of the things that stuck with me was that James Dyson had pitched his
design to several major players in the vacuum world, only to be rejected.

he finally broke through on his own, one of the vacuum executives noted that
his company should have just bought the patented design and dismantled the
damned thing. In other words, something that worked well had become a headache
because it would force other people in the business to think differently.

Journalism and vacuums have very little in common, other
than the fact that they both suck. However, when it comes to this bit of news,
it’s clear the owners of these businesses have a lot more in common than that.

NBC, which purchased EveryBlock.com, a
hyperlocal/microlocal/nanolocal site that was once hailed as being the next
phase of digital journalism, has decided to shutter the project.

EveryBlock, the brainchild of a journalism grad named Adrian
, grew from an idea of layering data into a searchable, map-based
mash-up. Holovaty’s earlier project, chicagocrime.org, used police and crime
data to show people how certain areas stacked up in terms of police calls, fire
calls and more.The upgraded approach
that earned EveryBlock a $1.1million Knight grant
took this a step further,
augmenting the site with links that showed people news stories associated with
their neighborhood, issues pertaining to their area and so forth.

The merits of EveryBlock are, as everything is, up for
debate. I had heard from people I knew in the company that the data wasn’t
always as perfect as it could be or that some of the details tended to get
glossed over in the rush to keep growing the product. However, whatever
shortcomings were attached to the project, Holovaty clearly tapped a nerve that
needed tapping. As giant metro newspapers had struggled, often outstripping
their usefulness, Holovaty went small, believing there was value in each flake
of gold and that if he piled enough of them together, a richness would emerge.
Whether it was going to be the “next big thing” or not, we’ll never know.

That said, the most depressing commentary on the issue, and
the most telling as well, comes from this piece on Poynter, which quotes Senior
VP Vivian Schiller:

I asked Schiller about the questions
many are raising online — why not turn over EveryBlock to another operator or
give supporters a chance to keep it going? She answered: “I understand that the
Everyblock community is disappointed. So are we. We looked at various options
to keep this going, but none of them were viable. It was a tough call to make.”

The answer underlying this is pretty
easy to see: we couldn’t make money on the deal using our traditional media
model/lizard brain approach to money making, so we’re killing this thing. Sure,
we could hand it over or sell it or something, but if we did that and someone
ELSE figured out a way to make money, we’d look like the bunch of idiots we
probably are.

Could Holovaty (or someone like him)
have pulled off a Steve-Jobs-Rides-Back-To-Apple-And-Saves-Its-Ass move with
EveryBlock? I don’t know, but it was probably worth the try.

Could NBC have tried to think outside
of its “MUST CAN HAZ IMMEEEDEEATE CASH” model and tried to learn something?
Probably not without a lobotomy and a few high colonics in the ol’ C-Suite.

Might this thing have died on its own
somewhere along the way anyway? Anything is possible. Even the best, most
perfectly, bulletproof products for a time (read: NetScape) make a sharp, ugly
turn and die.

The point is we’re never going to know
the answer to these things because when a major entity is faced with something
that might be good and that forces them to think, their first and only answer
seems to be: “buy it and dismantle the damned thing.”

And that’s a big loss for all of us.

5 thoughts on “NBC cockblocks EveryBlock

  1. Sure, we could hand it over or sell it or something, but if we did that and someone ELSE figured out a way to make money, we’d look like the bunch of idiots we probably are.
    Which I will NEVER understand. Jesus God, at least offer it back to the people who sold it to you. And give it half a freaking chance. We are panicking because nothing has arisen in the past decade to take the place of media that had centuries to establish their brands (and destroy them, too), but we can’t give something a second to breathe and figure itself out?
    I’ve been screaming about employee buyouts for newspapers for YEARS. When it’s yours, nobody can take it from you.

  2. Why do all you libruls hate the free market so much? Once you’re a big enough player in a market or an industry, it’s your sovereign right, so help you Ayn, to crush anything smacking of competition. If a new idea was really any good, it would have emerged in the first place to squash every other business case. Q to the E to the D, you moochers!
    Keep it up, and just maybe all those newspapers will go Galt.Then where will you be? I’ll tell you: Crying your days and nights away! “Why, oh why, didn’t we appreciate what we had? Come back, Jennifer Rubin! We’re soooo sorry.” But it will be too late.

  3. Happens all the time in science. Papers that get published tend to shore up the status quo (after all, if an article is truly groundbreaking it shows something that we know is impossible.) A recent Discovery mag article was quite interesting in studying the last few years where they thought they found the XMRV virus for Chronic Fatique Syndrome but later found that it was a contaminant. Article was really interesting in how people who made the discoveries were received.
    I’m not familiar with Chicagocrime.org and Everyblock. But if I’m getting the idea right, this would be a goldmine for someone who is moving into the area and is worried that the house that looks good but doesn’t know the safety of the areas in the city- or just wants to get a feel for the block they are thinking of buying on. There are usually stats for city-wide crime and education. But even a high crime city has some stable areas while even stable towns have their unsavory neighborhoods. Same goes for tourists to an area (the hotel will always tell you the area is safe).
    Of course, seeing those micro-climates of the city could mean big headaches for realators trying to sell houses in unsavory areas and for city officials being confronted with evidence that a given area isn’t safe.

  4. Pretty much like the original electric car. Sometimes the big boys don’t buy things to be profitable. They buy things to keep the paradigm from changing. Makes one wish that the railroad barons had had the foresight to buy up all the car companies and shut them down.
    Since they own the patents, I expect that they’ll be able to keep anyone from doing anything similar to EveryBlock. The Failing Media Paradigm is preserved.

  5. Same as it ever was. The biggest obstacle to innovation isn’t taxes and gummint regyoulations, it’s the fucking big fish in the pond trying to keep the little fish from competing. Atlas didn’t shrug, he stomped on the competition with his ginormous foot.

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