EveryBlock and OpenBlock (and something new)

Like many people in the local news and civic tech worlds, we’re sad to hear about EveryBlock’s demise. Lots of nice thoughts on Twitter this afternoon, mostly from people who used it daily, and from developers who found inspiration in the mapping, concept, and beyond.

I’m personally grateful to EveryBlock for bringing me local news, and for being a constant reminder of the extreme difficulty of turning local data into info… and then beyond into action and change. There’s plenty to say about hyperlocal news publishing, open data, community insights, who the stewards should be, and more. But right now, I want to give a quick update about OpenBlock – and look ahead a little.

What we lost today was a powerful (closed) engine for gathering data from many different sources and making sense of it. If you’re a developer who already misses EveryBlock and are considering starting a local site to gather and display nearby data and news, give OpenBlock a try. Python- and Django-savvy Code for America Brigade members in particular should check it out.

After several years of development, we haven’t been working so much on OpenBlock recently. Our focus has shifted towards more direct planning and community engagement tools. But we’re happy to point people in the right direction, so dive in. The code is up on github, and the dev mailing list has good people on it. The demo is somewhat broken, but  the docs are excellent, thanks to great work by slinkp earlier this year.

(In case you’re wondering, “OpenBlock?!”, here’s the skinny: the original EveryBlock code was made open source in June 2009. Building on the work of Adrian Holovaty and the Everyblock team, we worked to make OpenBlock-powered hyperlocal news easier to set up and manage. Our work on this project was supported by the Knight Foundation – who also supported the initial creation of EveryBlock.)

Our time spent with OpenBlock was a continuation of our ongoing passion with tools for local engagement, data work, and community organizing. We’re continuing that work here through Shareabouts, and a variety of other tools. And since we’re talking about such topics, this seems like a good time to share a new OpenPlans project, still in its early days…

Over the past week, we’ve been experimenting with a new tool for communities, where engaged neighbors can swap ideas about making their streets and neighborhoods better — laboring for now under the leaden name of Community Discussions. Beyond a core of effective discussion features, we’re interested in making it very easy to create and share proposals for local change, and for those proposals to be visible to community organizations, like block associations, neighborhood groups and local government. You can get involved on Github and kick the tires on a (flakey) development version.

We’ll have lots more to say about this tool soon (not least, a better name). Until then, find us on irc.freenode.net in #openplans, follow the project on Github, send us an email or a tweet.

As we make progress on this and other projects, we hope you’ll continue to join us in helping to shape and build another piece of open source infrastructure for local change.

And tonight, let’s raise a glass to EveryBlock.