MSNBC.com, which purchased hyperlocal aggregator EveryBlock a year and a half ago, is relaunching the site as a way for neighbors to share information with each other, complete with multiple social networking-like features. While the previous incarnation of the site featured a list of updates — like 911 dispatches, restaurant inspections and local news pieces — related to a user’s location, the new site is topped with a field that lets users post an update that they can automatically share with other users of the site who live nearby.
EveryBlock had introduced a way for users to post their own announcements more than a year ago, but this relaunch gives that feature much more prominence. The site is also trying to encourage discussion by giving contributors “honors” based in part on whether fellow users select to “thank” them for their posts. And users can now build their own profiles, which include photos, bios, and profile questions.
The changes seem designed to rebuild the site as a social network for a user’s neighborhood (there’s even now way way to “follow” specific locations in order to see updates related to a specific neighborhood) and, indeed, EveryBlock repeatedly draws parallels in its blog post on the announcement between its new features and those that exist on Twitter and Facebook. Example: “You’ll now see a big ‘post’ box at the top of all place pages (example) inviting you to post a message to people nearby; it’s like what you see on Facebook or Twitter, except instead of posting to your friends and followers, EveryBlock lets you post to neighbors.”
Key will be how many users will actually share, especially considering the site’s traffic remains relatively low. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) AdPlanner shows that EveryBlock brought in 220,000 unique visitors in the U.S. last month — a figure that is spread out across the 16 cities where EveryBlock is live. If we assume that traffic is equally spread out across all EveryBlock locations — which, granted, is highly unlikely — that means there are 450 unique users a day on average in each of its cities, a number that wouldn’t seem to be enough to drive much discussion right now, especially when it’s supposed to be happening on a neighborhood level. In Seattle, where I live, EveryBlock lists 78 neighborhoods, meaning that each of those pages might get, on average, 6 visitors a day.
There’s also lots of potential for abuse; a search for “conversations” in my neighborhood brought up only two entries, which were both essentially advertisements: My neighborhood local blog put up a message alerting EveryBlock users that they could find the “latest news from the neighborhood” there, while another “neighbor” included a message promoting a daily deals site. Discussion in EveryBlock’s hometown of Chicago seems somewhat more happening.