Everyblock No More: Why Dynamic Archiving of Websites is Needed

Websites and apps come and go, but sometimes people really mourn the loss of these services, especially those that allow for connections with others and are community connectors. We’ve previously written about the sudden end of another popular service — The Short Second Life of Post Secret; or How Griefers, Sexters, and Haters Ruined an App in Only Four Months — but this time, the loss to users even greater.

Everyblock was an

experiment in online journalism, offering a news feed for every city block in [at the time of closure -- 19] cities. Enter any address, neighborhood or ZIP code in those cities, and the site shows you recent public records, news articles and other Web content that’s geographically relevant to you. To our knowledge, it’s the most granular approach to local news ever attempted.”

Everyblock was shuttered suddenly on February 7, 2013, by its owner NBC Universal. The reasons given — “it wasn’t a strategic fit with [NBC's] growth strategy” and that none of the solutions for keeping the site going were “viable”. I foresee the possibility that Everyblock will be talked about in the same breath as Napster and (original) MySpace — where short-term money-making was more important to corporate eyes than community-building, something that doesn’t work every time — and isn’t appreciated enough when it does happen. Many view sites like Facebook and Everyblock as similar to utilities (or email) — and expect them to always be there — until, suddenly, they’re not.

Others have detailed the huge loss from the perspective of journalism — after all, the site was started from a $1 million grant regarding the future of journalism. And Ramsin Canon on Gapers Block says:

So long as the open data/transparency “movement” rests on entrepreneurial models, it will not be a movement, as much as it will be a profit opportunity, and as a profit opportunity, its transformative power as a movement will face important limitations.

My concern is different from either the closing of a money-losing venture or the loss of a community forum: there is no true archive of the site available. Once it went dark, the information is no longer accessible. So what about the cached version on archive.org? All of the search functionality is missing from the archived version. If you have an exact link, perhaps it is available — but likely not. Most of the content was past a login — good for security, bad for archiving. Archive.org’s page from the day of the shutdown has a login-protected version.

This means that unless users have a specific link archived (and it was on the open internet — not password protected), all of the information that they would want to find out is gone forever. And the dynamic API information unless archived by individuals is also gone. Google cache? Gone. Archive.org does good work, but in regards to entire websites, it is difficult to find information beyond linked menus and direct links.

I hope that this here-and-gone website will encourage granting organizations, non-profits, and those interested in making information accessible to have a true backup plan — to make information available post-death of websites. However, this wouldn’t have saved Everyblock, considering that the information sharing purpose was less important to its corporate owners than its money-making purpose.

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