A Tale of Two Cities: How DC and San Francisco Are Handling Citywide 311

Without a doubt, I am a data whore. I love raw data. I love APIs. I love finding interesting ways to mashup data. With the new found craze in government for openness, led in no small part from the Federal level and work endorsed by the Obama Administration to work pushed forward by Sunlight Labs, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and others, I’d expect the openness to trickle down to state and local levels. And it is.

On one level, you have Washington, DC (where I live) who has been making impressive strides through OCTO (Office of the Chief Technology Officer) with the assistance of iStrategyLabs and the Apps for Democracy competition.

Washington, DC is in production of it’s Open 311 API, a RESTful data API that they are careful to note is in development. (We will be building a PHP library around this API shortly, so keep an eye for that announcement over at Emmense.com).

In using a REST API, DC is opening up the service sector of the DC City government for developers of all sorts to tap into and build applications around. All to meet the needs of city residents.

San Francisco, on the other hand, just announced that they are utilizing Twitter to allow residents to submit issues directly from their favorite web application. Simply by following @sf311 (and being refollowed), citizens are able to DM requests.

Personally, I am partial to DC’s approach but I applaud both cities for pushing the boundaries to bring city government closer to the people. Frankly, I’m a little concerned about San Francisco utilizing Twitter for this purpose, for the same reason that I am hesitant about any business making their business model about Twitter. Twitter has not proved, at least in my mind, that they have the business savvy to keep their service from going out of business. Likewise, they have not proved their technical ability to make a fail-less system. It’s a game of Russian roulette to base a business (or government service) around this application. San Francisco probably has failover plans and this is just another approach though, so arguably it’s not a significant risk.

However, the solution to the 311 problem becomes infinitely more scalable when utilizing a pure API and allowing the pure submission and retrieval of data. And the use of an API keeps responsibility in-house. Twitter is not paid for by taxpayer money, so there is no expectation of quality control. A government owned and maintained API, on the other hand, provides safeguards that make sense.

All that aside, it is clear that both DC and San Francisco recognize that the accessibility of governments to their citizens is an utmost important goal in 2009. They are taking laudable steps to break down the barriers and solve real problems with modern technologies. For that, I can find no fault.

Brian Beutler, Washington D.C. Political Blogger, Shot

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I want to give a shout out to Brian Beutler of Media Consortium who was shot last night in Adams Morgan. I wrote on it over at Washington Hotlist a few minutes ago.

I have never met Brian. I hope to some day and chances are good since he’s in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.

Brian is part of the political blogosphere that those of us covering technology rarely get to see because worlds don’t overlap. However, they should. If there’s anything the recent trip to Washington D.C. by Robert Scoble shows, it’s that our world in tech is very much affected by the policies established by the government. Political bloggers fill that niche and we should be paying attention to them, especially now during the political season.

Tragedy is never welcome. It was only 7 months ago today that my friend and fellow blogger, Marc Orchant, passed away suddenly in his home office. That rocked the entire tech space, as it should have. This hits closer to home, for me, because it’s in Washington, and more specifically Adams Morgan where I spend a good deal of time.

Folks, we cannot live in fear. District officials will point to this and other acts of violence and rattle the cages of people, just like the Bush Administration has done concerning terrorism. We cannot live in fear. We cannot let this control our lives.

Brian, I am praying for a speedy recovery. I’ll be paying closer attention to you and your writing, and I expect you’ll have a great many things to say about this. I’m glad you’re okay. Get better.4781A4CE-A563-4DE6-BF82-8D5E0C8A8AC0.jpg

Photo Credit: myglesias

SxSW vs. CxCC

So have any of you noticed a recent trend on Twitter? 

It seems that our ultra-friendly, tech community has temporarily (well, hopefully temporarily) divided.  We are now those at SxSW and those NOT at SxSW.  I, unfortunately, fall in the NOT at SxSW camp.  I have requested that SxSW folks start their tweets with “œSxSW hi” so that I will know right away to overlook them, as the pain was getting unbearable.  My friend Mike Panetta declared via Twitter that he was going to shut off SMS notifications from people at SxSW until it’s over because “œIt’s too much.”Â  Andrew Wright twittered in three separate posts all of the things he would be doing if he were there in a resigned tone. 

Well, those of still in and around the District are not going to take things sitting down anymore.  We are going to have our own party.  And it might not be as big, glamorous, and internationally recognized, but it’s all we’ve got. 

You are hereby cordially invited to Central by Central Central, or CxCC. (I had no part in that name. Aren’t we Mid-Atlantic?) Monday Thursday evening.  Exact time and location TBD.  But it’ll be great!  Y’know, kinda like how all the cool places to be at SxSW are organized at the last minute and spread virally (or so I hear).  Throw in your ideas of where we should go at my site – DC Concierge, although it looks like we’re thinking BBQ.  Uncoincidentally.