Today I helped launch EveryBlock, a Web site that filters an assortment of local news by location so you can keep track of what’s happening on your block, in your neighborhood and all over your city. We’re launching today in the first three of many cities– Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.
My job at EveryBlock is "People Person", and the main thing I’m responsible for is working with people in city government to get moar data. I love it. I was meant to do this. The intersection of municipal politics, civic do-gooding, and powerful technology is a perfect place to park my thought car.
Morevover, I’ve been a cataloger of obscure information for as long as I can
remember. In the 1980s I sent a letter to the tourism board of every
state asking for brochures just to see how long it took them to reply
and what they would send back. (Nevada was first– 4 week response,
heavy on gambling & hotels). I kept all of the responses in a box, in their original envelopes, filed in chronological order. In an earlier life, I was a litigation paralegal, and I reveled in climbing through dirty boxes inside a muffler installation franchise company, looking for just the right document that would knock the case on its head. My collection of wide right turn signs, my John F. Burns archive,
my Wesley Willis Art site, and the NYT Anonymity Project are all
testimonies to my obscurantist bona fides.
In May 2005, shortly after EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty launched chicagocrime.org, I was in a meeting with an official in the Mayor’s Office here in Chicago. He was talking about starting a technology project to create and send a weekly PDF by email to local leaders about all the great things the city was doing in their area. The report would be pulled from the city’s 311 database, and would catalog all the potholes filled, street light bulbs replaced, and graffiti cleaned in their areas.
As an internet consultant working for a technology contractor for the city, my job was to take his idea and make it happen. I showed him chicagocrime.org and said, "what if it’s not a PDF, but a Web site, and what if they could see more than what’s near them, but everything everywhere, and what if not just community leaders could see it, but everybody?". He completely bought into the idea, and the Chicago Works For You project was kicked off shortly thereafter.
To make a long story short, we worked on the project for about six months– me, Eric Etten, and Ben Friedberg— and the site was ready to go. For lots of reasons I’d rather not dive into, the site was never launched. Chicago wasn’t ready for this form.
Many great things came from the project, including my friendship with Adrian. When he started EveryBlock and asked me to join the team, I couldn’t say no. He was giving me a chance that is pretty rare in our economy. To get out from underneath bad technology choices, client/ consultant bullcrap, the vagaries of inside baseball, the crush of political fear– all the baloney that most of us have to deal with in order to maintain shelter, stay clothed, and feed our children.
Working with Adrian, Paul, and Wilson on a daily basis is a dream come true. I’ve never met smarter people. EveryBlock is way more than Chicago Works For You was ever going to be. We have so much more in front of us.
But on the most personal level, our launch today means that I was finally able to finish the thought I had in a conference room in downtown Chicago almost three years ago. And for that, I am grateful.