November 8, 2010 By Lauren Katims Nadeau
Take a city tour that was exceptionally informational? Use a public restroom with graffiti on the walls? Think the annual town talent show needs to tighten its entry requirements?
Users will be able to share feedback on city events and public spaces with fellow citizens, when YouTown, a new mobile app for local governments, is launched in January. Think of it as Yelp for the public sector.
“We wanted to open that information up for the public. … You can learn from people around you,” said Michael Riedyk, CEO of DotGov, the Seattle-based company that created YouTown. “This is very important feedback for government agencies as well.”
Riedyk, a Netherlands native, said the app will be a one-stop government resource for citizens. Links to news feeds, social media, local maps, a calendar of community events and access to government services will all be visible on one screen. “We aggregated all the agencies into one application,” he said. “[Citizens] get access to everything on one screen.”
Such content has been presented online before, but the aggregation of information that focuses on local government could be a fresh approach.
YouTown will offer a free version for governments, which includes limited maps and news feeds. But for more advanced features, like the feedback service, users will have to pay a subscription fee.
Riedyk said he predicts a couple hundred cities — the majority with populations less than 250,000 — to sign up within six months of the launch.
Prattville, Ala., is one of 18 cities and towns participating in the beta test, which will wrap up this month. Teresa Lee, Prattville’s webmaster, opted to use YouTown to promote the city’s Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, various maps of nature paths, historic walking tours and city limits. She plans on adding a feed for community press releases.
“I’m trying to give a variety of information, especially if people are here visiting for events,” Lee explained.
In order to utilize the application, government officials can simply go to YouTown.com, fill out a form and get immediate access to the management interface, said Riedyk. “It’s not a single app; it’s a platform,” he explained. “Within an hour, [governments] already have a mobile app available to the public.” Once signed up, governments can customize their settings based on what citizens want to utilize.
Open to all citizens, the app will be available to download for free on all smartphones, although testing, for now, has been done only with the iPhone.
Riedyk said most cities will post information about the app on their websites to let citizens know their city is participating.
When Lee learned about YouTown at the National Association of Government Webmasters conference this year, she jumped at the opportunity to expand her Web services to smartphones.
Part of the reason was because she hadn’t included any money for mobile technology in the budget this year, and this was a free way to try out the service. But she also saw it as a great way to connect with Prattville citizens and visitors.
She said the program is extremely user-friendly and the vendor provided suggestions to improve usability, including a filter for social media feeds, which Riedyk incorporated immediately.
“We wanted to develop it with close collaboration to these agencies,” Riedyk said.
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