Month: January 2011

Building Gov 2.0 community in San Francisco

Building Gov 2.0 Community in San Francisco: Abhi Nemani of Code for America, Jay Nath of the SF Dept. of Technology, and Chris Heuer, co-founder of the Social Media Club, join Gov 2.0 Radio to talk about building sustainable Gov 2.0 community at the grassroots level.


OpenSF re-launches, San Francisco will hold ‘Third Thursdays SF’ monthly meet-ups


Two important San Francisco open government announcements from OpenSF founders and contributors Jay Nath and Adriel Hampton.

First, the OpenSF blog has a new look. You can also follow OpenSF on Twitter. More about OpenSF from Hampton:

OpenSF is an informal place to share about our projects and thoughts and to dialog with San Francisco residents and the global Gov 2.0, Open Government and Open Data communities.

Second, beginning Feb. 17, there will be regular monthly meet-ups, ‘Third Thursdays SF’, to keep the community active and help everyone better connect. Join the ‘Third Thursdays SF’ Facebook page to stay updated on the latest news.

Listen to Nath and Hampton discuss Building Gov 2.0 Community in San Francisco on Gov 2.0 Radio:


Civic swag of honor: Techies stick to their ideals

Civic Swag of Honor Flickr Group

When art, good-government passion and cool tech kids collide, the inevitable outcome is an army of sticker-emblazoned laptops. Whether it’s the darling civictech-focused start-up, organization or barcamp, these civi-stickers tells us a lot about who you are, where you’ve been, and how you want the world to be. Here’s a few from the superstars of the open government movement.

Share yours in the Civic Swag of Honor Flickr Group

Civic Swag of Honor Flickr Group

Experiments in open data: Baltimore Edition

A lot of my open gov energy of late has been focused on replicating a technique pioneered by Max Ogden (creator of PDXAPI) to convert geographic information in shapefile format into an easy to use format for developers.

Specifically, Max has pioneered a technique for converting shapefiles into documents in an instance of GeoCouch (the geographic-enabled version of CouchDB).

I was thrilled recently to come across some data for the City of Baltimore and since I know there are some open government developments in the works there, I decided to put together a quick screencast showing how open data – when provided in an easily used format – can form the basis for some pretty useful civic applications.

The screencast below walks through a quick demonstration of an application I wrote in PHP to run on the Tropo platform – it currently support both IM and Twitter use.

Just send an address in the City of Baltimore to one of the following user accounts along with a hashtag for the type of location you are looking for:

  • Jabber / Gtalk:
  • Twitter: @baltimoreAPI

This demo application interacts with a GeoCouch instance I have running in Amazon EC2 – you can take a look at the data I populated it with by going to and accessing the standard CouchDB user interface. I haven’t really locked this instance down all that tight, but there really isn’t anything in it that I can’t replace.

Besides, one of the nice things about this technique is how easy it is to convert data from shapefile format and populate a GeoCouch instance. Hopefully others with GIS datasets will look at this approach as a viable one for providing data to developers. (If anyone has some shapefiles for the City of Baltimore and you want to share them, let me know and I’ll load them into

There are a number of people in Baltimore pushing for an open data program from their city government, and I have heard that there are some really cool things in the pipeline. I can’t wait to see how things develop there, and I want to do anything I can to help.

Hopefully, this simple demo will be useful in illustrating both the ease with which data can be shared with developers and the potential benefit that applications built on top of open data can hold for municipalities.

Code for America ‘Labs Day’ Fridays tackle small government tech projects to help make a big difference

Code for America Just received the latest Code for America newsletter and wanted to share info about its ‘Lab Day’ program that happens every Friday in its San Francisco offices.

Here’s the gist:

We open the doors, and work on projects that you and our fellows care about. We’re focused on cool, light-weight gov-related projects, things that could make a difference from just a few hours of work. Coders, designers, and researchers — from inside government and out — are welcome.


In the future, CfA fellows will host labs days in their respective project cities. Contact for more information or to set up one in your area.

SeeClickFix gets $1.5M investment from Omidyar Network, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures

SeeClickFixCitizen reporting platform start-up SeeClickFix announced last week it has raised equity investment from Omidyar Network and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. According to the Wall Street Journal total investment was $1.5M.

The funding is Omidyar Network’s first government transparency for-profit investment and OATV’s first Gov 2.0 investment, which “reflects both organizations’ belief that technology can scale programs that foster meaningful engagement among citizens, their local government and others in the community,” according to the official press release.

“The funding … will enable us to continue to capture the market we are helping to create. Capital will be used to enhance the existing SeeClickFix smartphone and web platforms as well as increase sales and support to our current and future media partners, government clients and users,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz.

No word on whether investors will use the SeeClickFix platform to openly report issues it has with how well the company is progressing. (joke)

Berkowitz discussed feature updates in a video interview with the Wall Street Journal:

Free open data webinar: ‘Build Your Own Data.Gov Site in 30 Days’

SocrataOpen data start-up Socrata will host a free webinar, Build Your Own Data.Gov Site in 30 Days, tomorrow, January 19, 11:00 a.m. PST. Founder and CEO Kevin Merritt will demo how goverment can leverage Socrata platform to to build their own open government data initiatives.

According to Socrata, attendees will learn how to:

  • Create a configured and branded Open Data catalog
  • Give your constituents a rich, interactive experience for exploring and visualizing data
  • Streamline data publishing and make it virtually effortless
  • Gain real-time visibility into data access and usage patterns
  • Eliminate the need for costly infrastructure and custom development

Details and registration here.

A proactive snow strategy for Cory Booker and other elected officials

Cory BookerThere’s no question Newark Mayor Cory Booker deserves the accolades he’s received for responding to constituent needs during the recent blizzard that hit the East Coast. It’s inspiring to see a politician step out from behind the desk and photo opps to do something tangible and meaningful where people can witness it firsthand. Who doesn’t love a diaper-delivering mayor?

What surprises me most about this story is that our elected officials should have a more proactive plan in place when it comes to something as obvious as snow. Every government should have an established, modern era snow plan that includes both government officials and citizens.

Here’s what we know about snow and people:

  • It will snow (if you get snow where you live).
  • People will complain when it does.
  • People are good and want to help.

Here’s some quick thoughts for public officials on what to do when snow might fall where you live.

Create a centralized reporting platform

Booker’s use of Twitter is a great example of how it can be used to respond to citizen requests quickly and informally, but it’s by no means a great citizen service platform. Whether it’s SeeClickFix or Ushahidi, government needs to establish a centralized, two-way service platform in order to be efficient and effective during a crisis. When the next snow storm hits, people will know a) where to report an issue b) help resolve one or c) have real-time insight into how assistance is progressing.

Other benefits:

  • Shows citizens they’re not the only ones in need.
  • Lets citizens help prioritize.
  • Opportunity to highlight other government Web services and how citizens can leverage.
  • Gives media a powerful visual (they love that).

Encourage citizens to help

There’s something incredible about the human spirit when adversity strikes. Whether it’s patriotic pride or a civic adrenaline rush, people will help if you ask. Leaders should acknowledge they need help, especially in uncommon scenarios like a blizzard, earthquake or any other crisis situation. Having a platform to reference will allow you to manage this civic surplus effectively.

Praise quickly and openly

When government service staff or citizens respond they’ve resolved a request, thank them quickly via Twitter, Facebook or other public mechanism. When people see they’ve been acknowledged, they will work harder and others will begin to participate. Once the snow has cleared, honor these good citizens. Create the ‘Golden Snow Shovel Awards’ and bring the community together. Make it a regular part of your administration’s appreciation agenda.

Booker is the first recipient of GovFresh’s ‘Golden Shovel Award.’ I just hope him and other public leaders get proactive and build platforms in preparation for when the next blizzard hits.

For a more articulate post on this issue, read Patrick Meier’s Why Crowdsourcing and Crowdfeeding may be the answer to Snowmageddon.