On EveryBlock and the Open Data Movement

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 5.41.42 PMToday marks the end of a website called EveryBlock.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the team that first made that site. Here’s a post I wrote on our launch day explaining what it meant to be a meaningful contributor to the project. I had been obsessed with municipal data for years, and EveryBlock allowed me to put my obsession into action. I am forever grateful.

My four years of work there were seminal. I got to work with amazing people— Adrian HolovatyWilson Miner, and Paul Smith— on something that mattered. I feel very close to them every day. And later I got to work with Joseph Kocherhans,Paul Wilson, Becca Martin, Brian Addison, and (one of my favorite people ever) Sandor Weisz.

From jumpstreet, my job at EveryBlock was about data. Get moar data. Cold calls to Mayor offices, advanced Google searches, complicated queries of databases hidden in plain sight, FOIA requests, follow-up calls, flights on airplanes, knocking on doors in municipal buildings. Whatever. Get moar data.

And I got to be a crazy person from the future, calling up a public information officer of the building department of a city of 8 million people and asking him to send me his building permits. He asked me, “which one?”.  I said, “all of them”. He said “what date?” I said, “all of them”. There was a very long silence on the line, then he told me I was crazy, and basically hung up.

The municipal government of New York doesn’t think I’m crazy anymore. Anyone can download what I asked for in a single click now. In my role at the Smart Chicago Collaborative, I continue this work, thinking about how to make data useful to humans.

We won the open data movement. Now we have to win the municipal products movement.

There is so much more work to do.  Most of this data sits on digital shelves, waiting for people to make businesses and serve residents of cities. We still struggle to find ways to make popular products out of this stuff. Last Friday Smart Chicago launched a project devoted to engaging with Chicago residents to test out new civic apps. Let’s keep working. We’re not done yet.

5 Replies to “On EveryBlock and the Open Data Movement”

  1. I had that exact conversation with the Dallas police public liason twice. Once was for police precinct GIS data – I requested shape files, and what I got, after 3 weeks delay, 5 phone calls, and a trip to the PD HQ, was a CD with PDFs of the maps. I checked it while I was there, reiterated that I needed GIS data, not these documents. A blank stare and literally walked away.

    The other was asking for all crime reports in digital format. “Hello, I work for Pegasus News. We’re an online journalism site for Dallas.”
    “Uh, OK?”
    “We’re working on a feature to make the DPD’s daily work more visible. I understand the DPD makes an annual report for the FBI UCR[1], so you must have crime reports in a digital format. I was wondering if I could get those crime reports?”
    “Who are you again?”

    “Which crime are you reporting on?”
    “I’m not working on a story on a specific crime, I’m interested in all the crime reports.”

    “Look, I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re wasting my time. Don’t call again. *click*”

    We decided to work on Texas education info next…. That didn’t go much better.

    Thanks for your work, Dan and the rest of the EveryBlock team.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_Crime_Reports

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