EveryBlock Decides to Stay Close to Home

By Mike Fourcher | Monday, March 29, 2010
The Everyblock.com people who decided not to work from home today.

(left to right) Everyblock's Paul Wilson, Adrian Holovaty and Joseph Kocherhans are the ones who decided not to work from home today. Credit: Mike Fourcher

On Berteau Street and Ravenswood Avenue, a small team is building one of Chicago?s fastest growing technology companies:?EveryBlock.

And most of the team lives in Center Square.

The six-man EveryBlock team, led by founder Adrian Holovaty, is changing the meaning of local news by aggregating public, location-based information, and then making it searchable.

For instance: Want to get automatic updates on crime on your block? Sign up on Everyblock, provide an address, and you can get daily e-mail updates with crime locations, types, and a brief description every day when they are published in the Chicago Police Department database. Now imagine that you can do that for any address, block, police beat, ward, ZIP Code, or neighborhood. Then imagine that you can do that for local business reviews, new liquor license applications, property sales, or any of a dozen other items. That?s EveryBlock.

?We tell you when something new has happened to your neighborhood or your block or your ZIP Code. [It?s] geographic alerts,? said Holovaty.

EveryBlock?s team of six includes three programmers, a managing editor, a web designer, and a ?people person??which is the real title?and they work on pages dedicated to 16 U.S. cities, with Portland, Oregon added last week.

Most of the team lives in or is heavily involved with the Center Square area. Holovaty recently bought a house in Ravenswood Manor, managing editor Paul Wilson lives in Lincoln Square?s Davis Theater building, programmer Joseph Kocherhans lives in North Center, and “people person” Dan O?Neil is on the parish council for Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church on Sunnyside Avenue.

?We?re an odd bunch,? said O?Neil. ?It?s a good vibe.?

It all got started in 2005 when Holovaty designed the one of the first popular Google Maps mashups, ChicagoCrime, which was an early prototype of what evolved into EveryBlock. Holovaty then applied for a News Challenge grant from the Knight Foundation and was awarded $1 million in startup capital.

EveryBlock quickly became one of Chicago?s hottest startups. Then last summer in the midst of a growing recession, EveryBlock was acquired by MSNBC.com. The deal gave the team enough money to get some real office space.

So?they moved to Center Square.

?It wasn?t much of a contest,? said Wilson. ?We thought about River North, but the convenience factor [was important].?

?I?m about five minutes away,” said Kocherhans. ?When I worked downtown it took me about an hour every day?or more [to commute].?

Noise echos like mad at Everyblock.com.

Kocherhans, Holovaty and Wilson relax on the few pieces of office furniture they've bought. Credit: Mike Fourcher

EveryBlock?s Spartan, loft-style offices are barely furnished. Just a few rolling tables and chairs and everyone has laptops. The big news? They just got a conference table, chairs, and a landline phone for the office.?For a troupe of programmers, the landline was a bit more than they?d bargained for.

?It was put in the phone book as MSNBC,? said Holovaty.? ?We almost immediately started getting phone calls from random people ranting about news coverage.?

What do they tell callers?

?We are just an operating unit of MSNBC.com. ?Well how do we reach them?? I don?t know.?

Holovaty is also a bit of a programming superstar. As one of the creators of the programming language Django, which is widely used by Web site programmers around the world, he uses EveryBlock?s big, empty office for ?sprints? of Django programmers.

?A sprint is an opportunity for programmers to come together in person and all contribute code to an open source project,? said Holovaty. January?s meeting attracted 25 programmers who came to work, learn, and contribute to open-source code that can be used for free by anyone in the world. But the event was definitely more work than play.

?We still have quite a bit of beer left over,? said Wilson.

The startup atmosphere is part of why the EveryBlock team chose the Ravenswood corridor.

?There?s a lot of start up activity around here,? said Holovaty. ?It just seems like a really vibrant area.?

O?Neil agrees. ?There?s a lot of tech firms in the area?We don?t get together and hold hands, but we?re aware of each other.?

Other fast growing companies based in Ravenswood include crowd-sourcing T-shirt designer Threadless, nationally known web designers Weightshift, the creators of Gapers Block, and specialty food company Urban Accents.

Besides being close to home, what else does the EveryBlock team like about the area?? Lunch. Their top places: Spacca Napoli, First Slice, and Caf? 28.

?There are fewer [places] than in the Loop, but they are higher quality,? says Holovaty.

Update: The original version of the story reported Everyblock was purchased by MSNBC, which is incorrect. Everyblock was acquired by MSNBC.com, which is a separate company.

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