How did newspapers lose Everyblock?
If ever there were an application designed to fast-forward newspapers into at least the late 20th Century, then this was it.
The fact that the leading hyperlocal website was snatched up by a multimedia partnership operated by NBC and Microsoft shows a dismaying lack of imagination, foresight and, perhaps, economic resources on the part of the companies operating the nation’s struggling newspapers. Terms of the deal, first reported here, were not disclosed.
Everyblock is a clever online compendium of all sorts of community data that enables users in selected cities to drill down to, well, every block to see what crimes have been committed, what property has been sold, what zoning cases are on the docket, what liquor licenses are pending, what restaurants have been cited by health inspectors and much more.
In Chicago, where the site originated, Everyblock covers 233 distinct neighborhoods and maps information in a simple but elegant format. Everyblock even pointed me to a 2-for-1 coupon for dinner at a restaurant near my old address in Chicago.
If the last, best hope for print and interactive newspapers is unmatched domination of local news, then the information and advertising opportunities provided so efficiently by Everyblock were strategically essential to newspaper publishers.
Instead, the franchise seeded with a Knight Grant and developed by Adrian Holovaty and five-man team, will be owned by MSNBC, which intends to operate the site as an independent business that will be rolled out in far more places than the 15 cities it serves today.
With Microsoft, NBC and MSNBC feeding Everyblock resources and traffic, the site has the opportunity to take as big bite out of local news and advertising as Craig’s List took out of classified advertising.
While newspapers could make a belated attempt to catch up to MSNBC by building me-too sites, they will be late to the party. If they take their sweet time, as they usually do, the party may be over before they get there.
Newspaper publishers should have seen this coming. How could they have let this happen?