Acquisition Doesn’t Guarantee Strategy, the Case of EveryBlock

EveryBlock is back with no business strategy, what will keep it up and running?  Sheila Willard, senior vice president of Local Media Development at Comcast, is confident that EveryBlock will succeed now that it has been resurrected this January.

There’s no business strategy but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work, Willard says.

EveryBlock was founded by journalist and web developer Adrian Holovaty in 2008 after he received an award of $1.1 million from the Knight Foundation for his new technology.  At the time, EveryBlock was a new, open source software that linked databases of public information to an interface for citizens to use.  One of EveryBlock’s unique features was the ability to find information relevant to you based on your address.  The Knight Foundation granted EveryBlock $1.1 million over four years, from 2007 to 2011, to develop this new technology because, in their eyes, EveryBlock was supporting engaged, informed communities through local data and information sharing.  It was an innovative platform and a neat service for neighborhood specific data.

What came next was a confused business strategy and then no business strategy at all.  MSNBC acquired EveryBlock in 2009 expressing their interest in developing a platform where users view local news in a stream updated in real time.  In 2011, MSNBC relaunched EveryBlock as a community around local news and data.  One of the unique features of this relaunched EveryBlock was the ability to network with other EveryBlock users in the same neighborhood.  But EveryBlock was dropped by MSNBC in February 2013 for not fitting with the company’s portfolio.  MSNBC is primarily a cable news channel owned by NBC specializing in hosted television shows like The Rachel Maddow Show and Morning Joe.  EveryBlock, which wasn’t producing content for cable, was dropped.

It’s possible that EveryBlock’s small team wasn’t prepared for the larger transitions going on at MSNBC–at the time, Comcast was acquiring NBC.  Comcast announced that they would acquire a majority stake in NBC in 2009 and, in March 2013 GE divested from NBC leaving Comcast with full ownership of NBC.  EveryBlock was dropped from MSNBC’s portfolio but Comcast, which now owns EveryBlock, decided to relaunch EveryBlock this January after ten months offline.

The caveat to this launch: Comcast has no business strategy for EveryBlock.  Matt Summy, Regional Vice President of External and Government Affairs at Comcast, was part of the team at Comcast responsible for bringing EveryBlock back.

There is no business model for hyper local news, says Summy, but we believe that if there are more users, business models can come out of that.

EveryBlock, which was in 19 different cities, is only being relaunched in Chicago.  About 10 or 15 people work for EveryBlock, according to Paul Wright who is responsible for Comcast’s relaunch of the site and these employees are scattered among different Comcast departments.  There is no content editor, nor is there anyone at EveryBlock devoted to finding local investors.

Wright, Director of Local Media Development at Comcast, says EveryBlock will be focused on access to information and that he his considering adding a feed of 311 data to the site.  EveryBlock, which isn’t an exact fit for Comcast’s Xfinity on demand network for video, has been relaunched because Comcast is interested in local news.

Some interesting things about the site: Meetup integration puts your neighborhood’s Meetups into your EveryBlock news feed.  Facebook and Twitter integration allows users to share what they find on EveryBlock on other social media sites.  The site also integrates with WordPress, the EveryBlock widget for WordPress will display your EveryBlock feed on a WordPress site.

The content feeds haven’t changed since Comcast’s acquisition of the company, so users can still find data on building permits, food inspections, crime reports, and media mentions.  That said, without content editors and a monetization strategy, it is hard to see what Comcast will make of EveryBlock. ❒

[Video courtesy of EveryBlock]

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