Beyond Service Requests: NYC Takes Yelp Approach to New 311 App

NYC 311+ allows users to write reviews on the conditions of government services and rate them based on a five-star scale.

New York City launched a new mobile 311 service request tool with a format that's been compared to the restaurant and service review website Yelp.

Earlier this week, New York City Comptroller John Liu’s Office launched NYC 311+, a mobile civic engagement app that allows users to report traditional 311 service requests but also write reviews of city government services and facilities like subway stations, libraries and playgrounds, according to the official announcement.

“New Yorkers are a passionate, opinionated bunch, and ‘NYC 311+’ is a great way to connect people so they can work to improve their neighborhoods together,” said Liu, in a statement.

New Yorkers sound off on NYC 311+

Response to a subway station on 60th St.:

“They just redid the platform and it's falling apart. Passengers can slip on to tracks from chipping cement. Manhattan-bound platform is worse.” –Anonymous

Response to the condition of the bathrooms in Chatham Square Library:

“The condition of the bathroom is satisfactory.” –Anonymous

Reviews can be submitted anonymously or publicly by category with the option to submit a photo. Others can support or comment on the review, and like Yelp, the platform offers a five-star scale to rank a service. Both the free mobile app and the Web-based version were developed by PublicStuff.

The Comptroller’s Office launched the app to help increase transparency and be more responsive to the public by leveraging technology, said Connor Osetek, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office.

“We can’t be everywhere all the time, but New Yorkers actually are in the city,” Osetek said. “That’s a powerful tool that we’re excited to start harnessing.”

Unlike the city’s existing 311 app, which is only available in English, NYC311+ is available in 17 different languages, a feature that Osetek said will hopefully provide a more comprehensive representation of feedback from New York City's population.

PublicStuff Founder Lily Liu, (no relation to John Liu), said the Yelp-like review feature on NYC’s new 311 app expands on what traditional 311 service request platforms offer. The review feature, Liu said, is an additional layer that’s been missing from 311 engagement in the past, since it’s challenging to provide a platform that allows users to submit a request and/or submit a comment or opinion on city services. Oftentimes, the public would rather only submit feedback.

“In many cases, people don’t have a service request to report. They’re not reporting a pothole or a missing street sign, but how do they get their feedback to the city on quality of their library services or the safety of their playgrounds for their kids?" she asked.
Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.