The Boston globe is among the early adopters of OpenBlock, an open-source platform that offers news organizations the possibility to display local news data on clickable neighborhood maps. The newspaper's move is part of a wider initiative worth a total $450K launched by the Knight Foundation, announced at the MIT earlier today.
Neighborhood Public Data Maps
Other news organizations who stepped in are The Columbia Daily Tribune and Missouri's Tribune. The latter will use OpenBlock as a stand-alone website, while The Boston Globe will experiment a widget integration within its existing digital offering.
The Columbia Daily Tribune was granted a $90K contract to implement the software and enhance it with new features in the context of a smaller newspaper. The Boston Globe received a $133K contract to do the same in the context of a larger newspaper.
The OpenBlock project stems from EveryBlock.com, a $1 million experiment in online journalism funded by the Knight Foundation to offer "geographically relevant news feeds on public records, news articles and other web content for every block in 16 cities." The outcome was rather positive, as aggregated "hyper-local" civic data was well used and accessed by citizens needing and wanting information on their immediate surroundings. The data by neighborhoods included "everything from crime reports to restaurant inspections on easy to read maps."
EveryBlock was developed by OpenPlans, a non-profit organization working with public agencies to develop software initiatives and technology strategies that make cities work better. As part of the initiative, OpenPlans received a two-year, $235K grant to develop the software from EveryBlock and increase its uptake.
Local News Hype
The OpenBlock initiative comes at a time when local search is emerging as a crucial trend to reach today's audience. "Our digital audience increasingly expects more precise and very local news and information from us," said Bob Kempf, vice president, digital at the Boston Globe.
Other organizations, such as YouTube, also understand users' need for local information. YouTube, precisely, is readying to launch its news feed this summer with the support of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. This feed will give instant access to news worldwide as they break but also, at the other end of the spectrum, is likely to provide users with an increased and easier exposure to local news via the searches that will be conducted on this feed. Let's hope YouTube allows for it.
Local Search Potential
In a nutshell, local search is a great opportunity for marketers and there's no doubt that public data by neighbourhood is likely to open new doors to local search engines.
Localeze, for example, is the leading U.S. provider of local search and serves primarily SMBs to help them develop their businesses by bringing more customers to their outlets. Having access to critical local information through OpenBlock will certainly enhance the company already existing offering. Lately, Localeze has been in the news for boosting customer confidence with its Business Registration Manager tool. Better knowledge of neighborhoods as provided by OpenBlock might add value to the company's business.
More recently, Localeze has been in the public eye for partnering with Twitter. It now provides the micro-blogging site with local data as part of what we see as Twitter's new strategy to move into paid search through local data provision. Twitter Places, as it is called, is the first Annotation (read: tagging) facility provided by the social site and functions through the cross-integration of successful location-based services (LBS) Foursquare and Gowalla. Again, local data provided by OpenBlock would give precious information of neighborhoods in which retailers and restaurants are situated. That would help (or not) potential visitors to make their decisions based on a über-local criteria.
Maps Maps Maps
Maps as a way to present data is evidently making a difference as it is both user friendly and extremely handy. By all means, maps are a big thing. Look at both Google and Bing who've been releasing all sorts of new features and enhancements over the past week or so. OpenBlock should therefore have no problem putting forward its competitive advantage - if such a phrase can be used for a non-profit initiative.
I bet lots of for-profit organizations, and not just news, will look into adopting the open source resource.
What do you think?