With an aim to connect residents to city happenings, New York has re-launched its website, NYC.gov, as part of a long-term strategy to engage visitors and residents in a customized and user-friendly way.
The site, launched at the end of September, had not seen a major update since 2003 and was included as part of New York City’s Digital Roadmap, a tech overhaul spearheaded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to revitalize the city’s communication and technology sector.
So far, progress on the plan has provided Internet access to more than 300,000 low-income residents, added 40 new online learning programs, and increased the number of companies in the city’s technology sector to more than 1,000.
“Throughout our administration, we’ve taken major steps to bring government and New Yorkers closer together,” Bloomberg said in a city release. “The new NYC.gov is the latest in our efforts to use technology to make it easier than ever before for New Yorkers to get information, request services and find out what’s happening in their city.”
Notable features of the site — that boasts more than 35 million unique visitors per year, more than 1 million pages and 250 million annual page views — include city alerts, mayoral announcements and customized news about neighborhoods and city programs.
Other features of the site target user interaction using NYC.gov as the bridge between city services and city residents. Non-emergency 311 service requests, city job openings, records and other city resources can all be accessed through the site.
“It puts the New Yorker at its center,” said Rachel Haot, the city’s chief digital officer, pointing to the site’s long-term goal, to become the one-stop spot for every possible interaction visitors and residents have with city government.
Photo: Rachel Haot, New York City's chief digital officer. Photo courtesy of the NYC Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment.
Haot said the city envisions one day in the not-too-distant future having one user login for residents and visitors where they can access data on all of their city-related information, such as billing, city applications, 311 service requests and other important data inside a single online dashboard (not too different from Google’s one password move for its Web applications).
Haot said the city sees the update as a potential game changer compared to traditional city sites that require residents to log into multiple websites with multiple user names and passwords to access information.
Despite the big changes to the site, Haot said community reaction has been positive.
“The response has been fantastic and that surprised me because with any change there is some negative feedback,” Haot said, “We expected more of that feedback and overall there has been very, very, little.”
That lack of criticism, according to Haot, is likely due to a community-driven design process. In 2011, the city hosted its first hackathon, a design contest that called in local Web talent to collaboratively produce site prototypes to guide the creation of NYC.gov.
Ultimately, judges Scott Heiferman, the CEO of Meetup, and Mimi Chun and David Tisch, of the New York General Assembly, accepted five of the 14 proposals to be included into the project’s RFP. Criteria for judging included the elements of innovation, usability, social integration, location technology and ingenuity.
“The contest helped us to engage the most talented and creative engineering talent in New York City. It allowed for a fresh perspective,” Haot said.
Brooklyn-based design firm HUGE was awarded the task of taking the project from the drawing board to the Web. To fill in the gaps — and as required by RFP guidelines — HUGE took to the streets speaking with New Yorkers from various demographics about their preferences, likes and dislikes, and how they typically interact with the city online.
On the technical end, Web analytics pointed to specific usage demands while city officials instructed on specific needs. Parking, trash collection and school status took top spots, and as a result, have become featured content on the site.
The website is also fully responsive, making it easy to use whether the user is accessing it from a desktop computer, smartphone or tablet. The website is accessible in more than 100 languages and surpasses ADA requirements, according to officials.
As with most websites, Haot said, minor updates will be ongoing, but there will be a few major updates along the way as well. The next major update will be page templates for city agencies to use for their various programs and services. Haot said these templates will help city agencies tailor their city pages to the needs they serve.
Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway, said in a city release that he hopes the site will ensure the exchange of accurate information between officials and residents, while also answering the need to further bring its services into the digital world.
“Technology is at the center of virtually every city service, and for many New Yorkers, NYC.gov is where the service experience begins,” Holloway said.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.