Why I think ‘block level’ news, data is important

By Steve Outing

Earlier today Howard Weaver tweeted the following, which I can’t answer in 140 characters (!) so I’ll respond here. …

“Why do people (@steveouting et al) keep saying ‘block level’ info is best premium opportunity? Seems *most* likely to be citizen generated.” –@howardweaver

I don’t recall saying it’s the “best” premium online content opportunity, though I think it’s important. Why? Because I don’t know what’s going on with my neighbors, other than the ones I know or who are friends. No business, media, or service has yet been able to inform me what’s going on in my little neighborhood (about 120 houses, in my case).

Sure, if a neighbor two streets over murders his family and sets his house on fire, the local media will tell me the details of that. But if that neighbor is not a loony but comes in first place in the Boulder Marathon, I’d like to be alerted that that person lives near me. If a county paving crew is coming to resurface a street in the neighborhood, I’d like to learn about that. If another neighbor’s car got scraped by a vandal last night, I want to know about that.

A lot of the pieces are waiting to be put together; they exist already. Everyblock.com can find data from my neighborhood (well, not actually MY neighborhood, but those in other cities it’s reached so far), by parsing it from public databases and mapping it; it can tell me when a house in the neighborhood is sold and the selling price; it can identify streets in my neighborhood where crimes occurred, and give me the details. I could find photos taken within my neighborhood on Flickr, for those photos that are geo-tagged (a growing number are). I could use Twitter search filters to find tweets posted from within my neighborhood (again, those that are geo-tagged, such as those posted from a GPS-enabled phone).

So to find out as much as I can about what’s happening in my little neighborhood, it’s now more possible than ever before; in time there will be even more news and data about my neighborhood or my block. It’s just not convenient or easy to find it all now.

So where there may be opportunity is in bringing all this together into a by-block or by-neighborhood information service that I might find worth paying for. It would know my address and alert me to new data (neighborhood home sales, crime reports, fires, divorces, marriages, deaths, etc.) automatically. It would identify Twitter posts that came from my neighbors and give me a list of them. It would know who my Facebook friends are (because I permitted the service to look into my account), and pull out status updates and other Facebook submissions from those in my neighborhood. It would identify bloggers who live nearby and show me their latest posts.

Of course, Google might get to this level of information granularity at some point and offer such a service for free. But it doesn’t yet. If a local media entity offered such a service for a modest price, I might pay for it. The value worth paying for is in the service of making all that micro-local and micro-personal news and data come to me in a simple personal digital information stream.

Is that a big business opportunity? I don’t know. I know I’d like to have that information available.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!