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NYC's 'Alpha' Invites Public to Help Build Digital Services

A new city pilot website will evolve weekly, with help from its users.

Last week, New York City announced the NYC Digital Playbook, a commitment and strategy to building an interactive and innovative host of digital services. This week, the initiative delivers its first content. An evolving online portal called “Alpha” will give citizens a chance to watch the city experiment with new ideas online and even participate in the development.
Alpha is New York City’s pilot website, explained Chief Digital Officer Jessica Singleton; it's a place where officials can test out new ideas, get feedback from the public and blog weekly on what’s working and what isn’t.

“When we say ‘designing in front of New Yorkers,’ we don’t have someone in the middle of Herald Square actually coding, but there is a destination,, where New Yorkers can follow along," she said, "and then on the blog they can read ways that we’ve incorporated their feedback about what we’re doing well and what’s not working, and the changes we make in response to that."

Alpha’s simple interface contains a search bar, three widgets for the most commonly accessed services: “Find a Job,” “Get IDNYC” and “Pay a Parking Ticket.” Below that, three icons provide status information on parking, garbage pickup delays and school closures. A large green button that reads, “We want your feedback!” invites visitors to participate.

A dynamic and interactive experience is what the city hopes will keep people engaged and checking the progress regularly, Singleton said. Alpha is not intended to replace, she said, but a message at the top of the Alpha website that reads, “Welcome to the pilot version of NYC’s website,” indicates the site may eventually serve as a permanent replacement, if not for the main website, then perhaps for a smaller agency site.

“There are over 340 unique websites that reflect the city of New York’s digital footprint, and yet those websites are difficult for me as the chief digital officer to understand how they all fit together,” Singleton said. “Our aspiration is to ensure that New York City’s digital footprint is reflective of New Yorkers’ needs and identities, not the city’s organizational chart. So we believe Alpha is the first real step toward building out a roadmap for how we might accomplish that aspirational goal.”

Progress updates to Alpha and other NYC Digital Playbook projects will be posted to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Digital Strategy official Medium page.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.