Governments are asking and citizens are telling.
Through a concept known as crowdsourcing, governments solicit the advice of constituents or the crowd, to help solve a problem. By downloading the San Jose 311 iPhone application, residents in District 1 can help the city clean up by reporting in real time -- graffiti, potholes, broken streetlights, garbage -- pesky problems that 311 officials have a hard time of finding.
The user-friendly Web 2.0 application, called Mobile City Hall, can be downloaded for free at the Apple iTunes store and was launched on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
"When you see a problem, you can take a photo of it, and by virtue of taking a photo of it, we've captured your GPS coordinates," said David Kralik, director of marketing for CitySourced, the company that designed the application. CitySourced has partnered with the 1st District's Councilman Pete Constant to spearhead the project, which utilizes Microsoft and Bing's mapping system.
Reports of neighborhood problems are sent to the councilman's office for resolution. And residents are notified when their requests are received and being reviewed.
By calling upon residents to report these complaints, Kralik thinks reports will be more accurate and will shift the responsibility from public officials to residents.
"If you think about Wikipedia and how accurate it is -- we're taking crowdsourcing -- the same kind of concept that built Wikipedia, to identifying and solving urban blights," said Kralik.
The overall cost to San Jose was only $4,500, Kralik said, since the city is a charter customer, but many factors affect pricing. However, Mobile City Hall will garner accurate reports and save the city money in the long haul.
"We need to embrace emerging technologies in order to more efficiently serve our residents at a time when our budgets are dwindling and deferred infrastructure maintenance costs are skyrocketing," said Constant in a press release. "Using Web 2.0 solutions will help us address seemingly minor neighborhood problems, before they become major ones. Bottom line: It will save taxpayers a lot of time and money."
"The application works in 1,900 cities nationwide," said Kralik. Users can also report problems in other states they're visiting, unlike New York City's and Boston's mobile iPhone apps that are only specific to those regions.
Although Mobile City Hall works in 1,900 U.S. cities, Kralik said these cities can't access the dashboard system that lets San Jose analyze its reports. "San Jose gets a really cool metrics dashboard that they can slice and dice the data. Whereas the cities we work in, but aren't paying us, don't get that -- they get a basic report sent to them," Kralik said.
The application was created in six weeks and is only available for use with iPhones, but Kralik said it's slated to be released on BlackBerrys, Android, Palm and Windows Mobile. So far, San Jose is the first city to work with CitySourced.
"The app is easy to use, and I know my requests are going to the right people," said an iTunes user review, "I even got a response to the issues I've sent in."