It's with mixed feelings that I announce the end of one of my projects, chicagocrime.org. This site has been serving Chicago residents since May 2005. I hope you'll indulge me in a brief retrospective.
Chicagocrime.org was one of the original map mashups, combining crime data from the Chicago Police Department with Google Maps. It offered a page and RSS feed for every city block in Chicago and a multitude of ways to browse crime data by type, by location type (e.g., sidewalk or apartment), by ZIP code, by street/address, by date, and even by an arbitrary route. The New York Times Magazine featured it in its 2005 "Year in Ideas" issue, and it won the 2005 Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism.
Chicagocrime.org wasn't the first Google Maps mashup. That honor belongs to Paul Rademacher's HousingMaps, which, at that time, was modestly titled "Craigslist + Google Maps." The straightforwardness of that original title illustrates the excitement of it all: just the mere fact that somebody had mixed Craigslist data with Google's maps was new and remarkable. Kudos to Paul for keeping the site up and running for all these years. Not only was it a groundbreaking technical achievement; it remains genuinely useful.
A lot of good has come out of chicagocrime.org. At the local level, countless Chicago residents have contacted me to express their thanks for the public service. Community groups have brought print-outs of the site to their police-beat meetings, and passionate citizens have taken the site's reports to their aldermen to point out troublesome intersections where the city might consider installing brighter street lights.
It's done some good on a larger scale, too. The site helped influence Google to open up its mapping API for all to use. It inspired at least a dozen "spin-off" sites in other cities, from Berkeley to New Haven to Houston most of whose designs were very similar to Wilson's beautiful chicagocrime.org design. And the site's slashdotting forced me to write parts of Django's cache system. (Django itself was released open-source two months later; chicagocrime.org was the first public Django-powered site not run by the Lawrence Journal-World.)
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the folks at Amazon EC2, where the crime site is hosted, saying the server instance that houses the site will be terminated on February 15 and that it will no longer be accessible after January 31. This is happening because I was an early user of EC2 and their network has gone through some changes that require all customers of a certain tenure to rebuild their servers. Instead of going through the hassle of upgrading my server instance, I'll let the Amazon staff shut it down on Thursday. All pages will redirect to the appropriate pages on my newest project, EveryBlock.
In many ways, EveryBlock is the next generation of chicagocrime.org. I've often described it to people as "chicagocrime.org on steroids more than just crime, and more than just Chicago." It's brought to you by the same people (Wilson and me from chicagocrime.org, plus Paul and Dan, who've worked on similar projects), and it has the same philosophies. As we developed EveryBlock, we kept chicagocrime.org firmly in our minds this new thing we were making had to be a superset, an expansion, a significant step forward. So there's almost nothing you could do on the old chicagocrime.org that you can't do on EveryBlock. And, unlike chicagocrime.org, which was always a side project, EveryBlock has a team of four people improving it full-time, meaning we have the resources to add features, such as e-mail alerts (just added yesterday), that chicagocrime.org never had. We hope EveryBlock is a worthy successor.
This story has a fitting epilogue. In just a few weeks after chicagocrime.org goes offline, the site will be featured in an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, called Design and the Elastic Mind. Chicagocrime.org will have ended its life and become a museum piece.