A conversation with Adrian Holovaty about EveryBlock.com

For this week’s ITConversations show, Adrian Holovaty joins me to chat about EveryBlock, a new website that gathers and publishes “address-specific” information such as crime reports, building-code violations, and restaurant inspections.

Acquiring this information isn’t frictionless and raises questions about how this kind of data can be published usefully, as opposed to merely published. EveryBlock also raises broader questions about news gathering and reporting. The project, which is funded by a Knight Foundation grant, has attracted some criticism for not being journalistic in spirit. But Adrian Holovaty suggests that EveryBlock actually redefines news.

The previous criterion for something being covered in the newspaper was that it has to affect a lot of people in the readership. But if the pothole is fixed on your block, it’s news to you, just like what your friends are doing on Facebook is news to you. Instead of a friend feed, we’re making an address feed.

More broadly, as information that used to yield only to investigative shoe-leather starts to flow freely on the Net, journalists will be able to divert energy from data collection to analysis.

I get a little frustrated when the high-falutin’ journalists look at EveryBlock and say ‘How is this journalism? Why do you think this is replacing newspapers?’ Well, this isn’t intended to replace journalism at all, if anything it’ll help you find trends going on in the world.

There’s also an open question as to which social institutions can best organize and curate these sources of information. Governments? Newspapers? Libraries? Self-organizing groups of citizens? I’m really curious to see how it plays out.

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