EveryBlock, an especially slick service for discovering local information

everyblocklogo012308.pngEveryBlock is a newly launched site that gathering data about neighborhoods, such as business reviews from sites like Yelp, crime reports from local police departments and online news stories from local publications.

It puts this information together in an online map-based interface, so you can quickly search through events related to your neighborhood and see where they happen. You can also search for an address and get all related information about what’s happening near it. So far, the site includes San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

EveryBlock differentiates itself from its many competitors by aggregating even more different types of data related to neighborhoods and by providing its own, simple map interface. For example, it has restaurant inspection records for the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco going back to 1998 (see screenshot).

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The largest competitors, of sorts, are Google Maps, which lets users edit a business’s map details, and Yahoo maps, which lets users add their own reviews. Both services let third-party developers use their data for their own map applications. Google Maps also includes reviews from Yelp and other sites.

In fact, EveryBlock cofounder, Adrian Holovaty previously developed a site called Chicagocrime.org, that mapped Chicago city crime data on top of a mashup of a Google map. It was one of the first map mashups.

Chicago-based EveryBlock, in some sense, is an extension of that project, although as mentioned, it has its own map interface. It has developed a collection of computer programs that crawl news and information on the web, including algorithms that detect locations — cross-streets and addresses and such, on web pages, as Holovaty tells Poynter. EveryBlock also manually tags information when its software isn’t accurate, and is experimenting with new ways of collecting local data, Holovaty says.

Holovaty is well-known in journalism circles. He started as a reporter and eventually became a web developer for Lawrence.com, a culture-focused web site for Lawrence, Kansas, that’s part of the newspaper The Lawrence Journal-World. There, he helped develop the Django open-source web site development framework, basically a content management system designed for the needs of newspapers.

EveryBlock has received a two-year $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation, a prominent funder of journalism-related initiatives. The connection to journalism is, broadly, that the site adds additional local data to news stories from other sources, helping people to get a more accurate understanding of what’s happening in their own communities. More from the company here.