YouTown: Local gov on the go

By / Apr 21, 2011

YouTownYouTown is a mobile application that wants to make it easier for you to access your local government information all in one place. Municipalities can sign up for free, input their open data and RSS feeds and immediately begin pushing updates to citizens’ mobile devices, and 25 U.S. cities are currently using the service. Founder and CEO Michael Riedyk discusses his company’s work.

What is YouTown?

YouTown is an all-in-one mobile platform that allows government agencies to get mobile within a day. Agencies just have to create a YouTown account and can start adding their open data feeds (like their RSS feeds, Calendar feeds, Maps and Services).

When citizens download the app, they gain access to all this published information including local maps, news, events and services. From council meetings to festivals, from sanitation schedules to sporting events, people have the information they need at their fingertips no matter where they are. Mobile is overtaking other forms of communication, so it just makes sense for cities to publish their data this way.

What problem does it solve?

Cost-effectiveness is a top consideration for most agencies in today’s economic climate. Many do not have the time or funds to invest in app development to make city information mobile. For those that have been able to introduce mobility, fragmentation is a problem: an app for public works, an app for the city’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, an app for the Chamber of Commerce, and so forth. YouTown puts it all together on one screen. It takes 60 seconds to sign up for YouTown, and it’s free. Agencies can also opt for one of several affordable subscription fees to get access to more features. Most citizens are already using their mobile devices for weather, e-mail, music, social networking and other day-to-day activities. YouTown integrates local government into that framework.

How does it make life easier for governments?

YouTown makes life easier for agencies looking for the “next step” in open data and mobile government. It takes the guesswork out of providing this mobile information to citizens. Just sign up and begin uploading feeds, articles, maps, calendars, datasets and more. YouTown is simple enough that any agency employee with basic technical understanding can handle the admin. This makes it ideal for small towns and booming cities alike. It is a one-of-a-kind platform that solves the problem of opening government data to citizens in a mobile, intuitive way.

What did you learn during the development process?

The Beta program was organized as a “co-creation” innovation process. From the very beginning, YouTown developers partnered with over 25 government agencies across the US to gain feedback and ideas for the app.

Crowd-sourcing was a key factor as developers reached out to citizens to discover their priorities for mobile government. The beta cities/counties were consulted in every step of the process, from the first sketches till the beta test.

One of the biggest challenges of the Beta process, although YouTown was built on open standards, was the different interpretation and errors that surfaced with the standards across multiple agencies and caused tech issues. After ironing out the bugs, and combining the feedback of citizens and agencies, YouTown emerged as a more intuitive and functional platform to take government/citizen communication to a whole new level.

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I'm the founder of GovFresh, CivicMeet and co-creator of GovPress, the WordPress theme for government. I'm also a strategic consultant for CivicActions and NuCivic, both focused on bringing agile, open source and open data solutions to government. I also serve on the steering committee for Open Source for America. Connect with me on Twitter or email me at luke@govfresh.com.

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