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San Francisco and Partnering Cities Launch 311 Open Source

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, San Francisico CIO Chris Vein help launch unified open source standard to connect 311 systems to social networks.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mayor Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday, March 3, the launch of a unified open source standard enabling any local government to connect its 311 system to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The Open311 API (Application Programming Interface) project combined the efforts of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and numerous other cities, which will all have access to the Open311 later next week.

For a city to offer 311 services through a site like Twitter or Facebook, IT workers have typically spent months establishing standards that meet security regulations and align with the social networks' own requirements, according to Chris Vein, the CIO of San Francisco.

"We've done all of that work. We've come up with all of those rules and standards and we're giving it away for free," said Vein. "If somebody in another city wants to use this, they can take it and their programmers don't have to spend months going through the protocols and figuring out how to make it interoperable."

With the Open311 API, it might take programmers only one day to tweak the software to fit their own equipement, Vein said.

Newsom related the announcement to his overarching "Government 3.0" vision for San Francisco and, ultimately, the nation. He said he is passionate about making the city's data public -- as in the case of open source -- to enable citizens to feed the information into their own applications.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra flew to San Francisco for the launch in support of the city's accomplishments. Kundra said he planned to spend his time in the area collecting ideas from the private sector on ways federal agencies could operate more efficiently.

"For far too long, the federal government has relied on the same old ideas and the same small group of people to deploy billions of dollars in information technology projects that for too long have not yielded the dividends they promised up front," Kundra said.

"The president has been clear that the federal government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas, and the best thinking is not necessarily within the four walls of Washington," Kundra added.


Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.