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.

BART Goes Wireless

imagesIn a story that we’ve been following in the past week, it seems the survey that was sent out to BART users last week is not simply a “feeler”. When BART users received the email from the Bay Area mass transit service requesting participation in a survey, it suggested that the organization was considering some level of wireless connectivity, but as best as I could tell, it did not suggest such access was imminent.

Thomas Hawk, who I’ve previously referred to as the best photographer on the web and is also a client of mine, apparently got a chance to try an initial pilot phase out and reported some problems logging on.

the San Francisco Chronicle reports that BART has signed a 20 year deal to provide wireless internet access in it’s entire system, but the news does not disclose terms of the deal or who would actually be managing and deploying the service. The story does indicate that access would be provided via fiber as opposed to satellite or cellular.

Will I See you in Boston? Or in San Francisco? Or in Boulder? Or in Vegas?

Just a quick note as I’m getting ready for a meetup in my honor tonight in Boston. If you’re in the Boston area and don’t have any plans for tonight, would love to see you at Boston Beer Works across from Fenway Park. Michelle Wolverton gets all the credit for organizing and pulling the event together on my last night here in Boston (Yes, I did enjoy my first game at Fenway Park the Chapel of Awesomeness, last night!)

San Francisco

Tomorrow morning, I head out to San Francisco for WordCamp 2008. This will be my third trip to the Bay Area for this very special event and I’ll be speaking for the second time (third if you include WordCamp Dallas earlier this year). WordCamp is an exciting event for bloggers, particularly WordPress bloggers. It gives an opportunity for folks to come together and get their geek on with technical WordPress know-how or enjoy the community with other sessions geared toward more generalized topics.

For my part, I’ll be attending on behalf of Lijit along with Micah Baldwin, but will also be speaking on Findability and getting information in front of readers while driving them deeper into the site. I’ll release my slide deck in Creative Commons format after the event so look for it next week.

Mile High, Colliding with the DNC

Though I don’t anticipate participating in the DNC, I will be heading to the Rockies (Boulder to be exact) to work at Lijit World Headquarters. It will be crazy with 50k people coming in to see our next president accept his nomination and all the festivities that are involved. Someone told me there were 400 parties scheduled for the DNC which makes me think that perhaps the political catch-phrase shouldn’t be “Yes We Can” and more “1 Party, 400 parties”. DNC marketing executives have not returned comment on this idea. ;-)

What’s Happening in Vegas Needs to get On Your Calendar

Finally, next month I’ll be in Las Vegas for the annual Blog World Expo. This was one of three events I planned at the beginning of the year to be at. I attended SXSW, but will miss Gnomedex so two out of three isn’t bad.

I was talking to Rick Calvert, the organizer, and he mentioned that August 22 is the absolute drop-dead date for early registration and prices will go up significantly after that. So get registered!

On a related note, I’m looking for a hotel room to crash on the night of the 22nd. Due to Dividend Miles award travel, I ended up extending my stay a day later than most people go home. So if you’re still around Vegas for that night, give me a shout. I am open to splitting a room.

Either that or the fine folks at Southwest or JetBlue, both of whom are doing a fine job in reaching out to the social media community, can comp me a ticket. ;)

So, if our worlds might collide at one of these events, please give me a shout or look me up. My phone number is 410-608-6620.