Lost Springs, Wyo., population four, does not appear to have a municipal website. But it might be able to get one for free.
That’s the ambition of the local government-facing startup ProudCity, anyway. The company is reformatting the way it does business, shuffling its various digital government offerings into tiered plans and working on some nationwide benchmarking data for which it wants to develop an application programming interface (API).
The lowest tier, “Community,” is free. It comes with a ProudCity-hosted secure Web portal, complete with a city services map and directory.
“We want ProudCity to be able to serve every single city in America, and make it quick and affordable for them to do that,” said Luke Fretwell, chief executive officer of the company. “And if that means the smaller cities are paying little to nothing because they just can’t afford it, then it’s our job to do that.”
There are more than a few municipalities in the U.S. still lacking websites, he said. And most vendors who build local government Web portals have some kind of baseline cost owing to the need to put together a team and build something. But spending of thousands of dollars on a website isn’t in the cards for some smaller governments, so they’re stuck without a real Web presence.
“Their website is their Wikipedia page,” Fretwell said.
Above the “Community” tier are three more packages, rolling in features such as digital citizen services, customer support and new payment options for city customers. The price for the “Standard” package is one cent per resident per month — so, for a city of 10,000, $100 per month.
The new approach goes hand in hand with another project ProudCity is getting ready to roll out: an API for a data-gathering project it’s been working on to benchmark what kinds of digital presence local governments already have. Using data sources like Wikipedia and the U.S. Census Bureau, ProudCity has been pulling together information about which cities don’t have websites, which cities have websites that use secure domains, which ones don’t, which ones are mobile-friendly, and so on.
They got the idea from the U.S. General Service Administration and 18F’s Pulse portal, which monitors the number of federal agency websites that are in compliance with an HTTPS mandate.
“Basically I think we’re seeing a general movement in the industry toward people wanting more out of government when it comes to technology, so putting this information out, making it public, making it transparent, will do the public a favor," said Chief Product Officer Alex Schmoe. "And I think maybe some smaller cities might not realize how many people are doing mobile devices."
According to Schmoe, the idea is to turn to people in city government to help verify certain data points over time. There are more than 19,000 municipal governments in the U.S., according to the National League of Cities, and it wouldn’t make sense for the company to go through verifying every data point on its own.
In the aggregate, Fretwell expects the resulting API to be useful for city officials looking to understand trends in American local government and where they fit in with those trends.
“A lot of people don’t know what the standards should be, they don’t know what they are,” Fretwell said. “They don’t know what mobile-friendly means, or what [Internet Protocol version 6] is, or HTTPS.”
The company will likely try to figure out some way to “productize” the API, Fretwell said, though the details aren’t settled just yet. But it’s on its way.
“We’re not too far off,” Schmoe said. “The technology is all there, but we need to build the interface.”