EveryBlock’s first major redesign

Mar212011

We’ve just launched the first major redesign of EveryBlock.

Driven by the feedback we’ve been getting over the past year, we’ve not only changed the way the site looks, we’ve also changed the site’s focus. In short, we’re shifting from being a news feed to being a platform for discussion around neighborhood news. A lot of things have changed, so let’s take these one by one.

Community focus

EveryBlock historically has been a “news feed for your block,” basically a one-way funnel of information: you give us your address, we give you a daily email with what’s happened near you recently. There’s a solid and growing audience for this, but we’ve realized there’s a much bigger potential here. Simply put, there’s no great way to communicate with your neighbors online.

The current crop of Web social media tools is focused on people you already know — friends, family, professional colleagues. But how many people become Facebook friends with their neighbors? How many people in American cities can even name more than a handful of their neighbors? Some neighborhoods here and there have their own Yahoo Groups, or old-school ad hoc email lists, but there’s no solid online tool for neighborhoods that takes advantage of modern technology and people actually use. This is a huge opportunity, and because we’ve already got an audience of people who have registered their interest in given neighborhoods and blocks, we’re in a great position to do it.

The second reason we’re doing it is because you, the residents of your community, are the ultimate authorities on what’s happening there. As valuable as automated updates of crime, media mentions, and other EveryBlock news are, contributions from your fellow neighbors are significantly more meaningful and useful. While we’re not removing our existing aggregation of public records and other neighborhood information (more on this in a bit), we’ve come to realize that human participation is essential, not only as a layer on top but as the bedrock of the site.

With this in mind, we’ve changed our site to be oriented around community discussion. The EveryBlock experience is still centered around places — blocks, neighborhoods, custom locations — but we’ve rebuilt it from the ground up to be about participation more than passive consumption. You’ll now see a big “post” box at the top of all place pages (example) inviting you to post a message to people nearby; it’s like what you see on Facebook or Twitter, except instead of posting to your friends and followers, EveryBlock lets you post to neighbors. (Instead of the “social graph,” it’s the “geo graph.”) Likewise, you’ll find ways to discover neighbors near you and easily add information to other people’s posts by commenting.

We’ve unveiled several new features to encourage positive community behavior. Each user contribution to our site has a “thank” button next to it that lets you give positive reinforcement to the original poster for sharing information. We’ve built a lightweight neighborhood honors reputation system that rewards people for making contributions, as determined by their neighbors’ thanks and a number of other factors. And we’ve added classic forum-like features such as user profile photos, bios and profile questions that give you ways to introduce yourself and get to know other people in your neighborhood.

An important thing to point out is that we’re not intending to build yet another social network. We deliberately haven’t added things like “friending” to EveryBlock; we’re sticking to a lightweight community approach rather than reinventing the wheel. If you want to follow your neighbor’s personal life, friend her on Facebook; if you want to talk about neighborhood issues, use EveryBlock.

(Of course, some of you may note that we’ve had low-tech commenting and posting features for a while — but they were bolted on and never felt like an integral part of the site. They’re much more sophisticated and easier to use now, as we’ve given them the respect they deserve.)

Following places

Another big change is the mental model of how we give you your neighborhood news. Of course, we’re keeping our neighborhood news feeds, so you can still rely on us for your daily dose of crimes, media mentions, photos, business reviews and everything else — but we’ve made the process more intuitive based on what we like about other sites, such as Twitter. EveryBlock now has a “follow” model for places.

Previously, if you were interested in the news around multiple places — say, your home and your office — it was very manual. You had to search for your home address, read the news, then search for your work address, read the news, etc. Now, you can log into your EveryBlock account, “follow” those places by clicking the big “follow” button or using our quick follow page, and your EveryBlock homepage will give you all the news from your followed places, in one place, along with an easy way to post messages to those places. From then on, all you have to do is log in to see all of the discussion and news happening near the places you care about.

Similarly, we’ve integrated our email alerts with this “follow” model so that you’ll get a single email with all of the news from your followed places, as opposed to a separate email per place. All existing email alerts have been converted to the new system. We’ve also redesigned, or should I say, designed, our email alerts so they’re no longer plain, ugly text.

Subscribing and top news

Because the new EveryBlock encourages more neighbor discussion, we want to make sure it’s easy to follow discussions of interest, so we’ve introduced a “subscribe” feature that opts you into getting an email whenever somebody comments on that item. Just click the star next to a particular news item to subscribe.

Subscribing to an item also tells our system that the given item is likely interesting, and this conveniently helps solve a long-standing problem for us: showing the most interesting news citywide. We now have citywide “top news” pages (example in Chicago) that list the items that are the most interesting, based on a combination of user clicks, Twitter/Facebook shares, number of comments and number of subscribers.

The design

While we were adding all of these new features, we decided to give the whole site a fresh look. A common piece of feedback we’ve gotten is that our site needs more personality. We’ve taken this to heart and given our site a new design that we hope is more inviting and friendly, while maintaining our high standard of elegant information design. Pretty much every last corner of the site has been reconsidered from a design standpoint, with an eye toward friendliness and community. You’ll see fewer charts and graphs and more faces.

The mission statement

Finally, with this redesign, we’re unveiling a new “mission statement,” so to speak: our goal is to help you make your block a better place. Whether that’s by giving you valuable information, like crime reports or building permits, or giving you ways to communicate with your neighbors, we want to help you increase the quality of life in your neighborhood in the ways great Internet sites can. In the coming weeks, we’ll be unveiling more of our efforts to help you make your block a better place.

Coming up

I’ve gone on long enough, and we’ll be posting blog entries here over the next couple of days discussing specific features in more detail. Now would be a good time to sign up for our blog’s RSS feed or follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts if you haven’t already.

Please let us know what you think of our new site and tell your neighbors. And, as anybody who has ever worked on a Web site redesign knows, there will inevitably be little bugs here and there, so if you find one, please let us know so we can fix it. Email feedback@everyblock.com with your feedback, and share the link with your neighborhood group, if you’re involved with one. The new EveryBlock will reach its potential only if you and your neighbors use it. Thanks for using our site, and stay tuned.

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