February 6, 2013 By Colin Wood
The city of Los Angeles announced the launch of two new projects at a Feb. 6 press conference held in Google's Venice, Calif., offices. Addressing a live audience as well as an online audience of more than 100 Google Plus users, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Joe Buscaino unveiled the city's first mobile app and a redesigned LACity.org. The website redesign features easier access to commonly requested services and information, tighter social media integration and access to live and archived video, such as city council meeting broadcasts.
Though Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the world, some say the city is lagging technologically, having only now released its first mobile app. Villaraigosa referenced “bureaucratic obstacles” several times during the question and answer session to account for the delay, but suggested that the new website and app are a turning point for the city.
“This launch, by the way, is the launch of what is today a national model. There were a number of cities who were way ahead of L.A.," he said. "This app is going to put us in the position of being right there at the top of the heap when it comes to mobile apps and the ability to access services, to report problems, pay bills, and the like.”
Villaraigosa added that the app, which cost the city about $130,000, will soon be upgraded to include a Spanish version and several other features. The website upgrade cost the city about $500,000, according to Villaraigosa.
Los Angeles may be behind some other cities when it comes to implementing technology projects such as these, Chief Technology Officer Steve Reneker admitted, but the city used the extra time to do things right and learn from the mistakes of others. “I think the most exciting part about this is we've gotten away from an old look to a new look,” Reneker said. Making the website simple and presenting information that is easy to find is one of the most important things the website does, he said.
The website and the mobile app both contain a “social media mashup,” Reneker said, a hub that provides access to social media sites for every agency in the city, reducing the amount of searching that people need to do if they want to stay connected. The website's video portal provides live and archived videos from a variety of sources and networks, including the city's own government access channel, LA Cityview 35.
The city chose to broadcast the announcement of the new website and app from Google's offices, leveraging the Google Hangout platform. “We thought that since this is technology focused, why not leverage a technology company that's here in LA and particularly one that we're utilizing for our mail service?” Reneker said. With the exception of the Los Angeles Police Department, Reneker explained, every agency in the city uses Google for email and cloud-based collaboration applications.
The mobile app is completely finished, Reneker said, and will likely be available in app stores within the next three weeks. The app combines functionality that many other cities provide through several different applications, he said. The mobile app allows citizens to find city information, access a social media portal, and pay utility bills. “In the future we expect more city services to be paid with that front end,” he said. Combining many services into one application is an exciting development that he thinks will attract the attention of other local governments. “I think it's really going to be a trend that others are going to follow.”
Photo: LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the Feb. 6, 2013 press conference.
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