Since 2010, New York City has strived to become a global digital leader. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and commissioner Katherine Oliver announced NYC Digital last July, with the mission to create a better civil society and stronger democracy with the use of technology – engaging, serving and connecting New York.

Rachel Sterne is the city’s first chief digital officer. Her goal at NYC Digital is to use technology and digital media to improve communication with residents and business and enhance government transparency.

Alongside Bloomberg, Sterne created Road Map for the Digital City, which outlines plans to make New York the world’s leading digital city.

“The state of the digital city was strong in New York when we began developing the roadmap,” says Sterne, who credits Bloomberg’s administration with digital development supporting efficiency, transparency and public engagement.

“But we are New Yorkers, and we don’t rest on our laurels. That’s why the Mayor decided we need a holistic digital roadmap to help New York City realize its full potential and raise the bar even higher.”

The road map is split into four strategic categories: Access to Technology, Open Government, Engagement and Industry.


Access


This year, Digital NYC provided Wi-Fi to more parks and public spaces across the five boroughs. It also strengthened support for more broadband choices. In September, for the first time ever, six different subway stations began to offer cellphone service.

According to the road map, the next steps will be providing education and outreach. Linking with NYC Connected initiatives, the city hopes to provide high-needs individuals with federally funded broadband.


Open Government


Initiatives for the Open Government platform were fully completed in 2011. NYC Digital developed an OpenData API platform, which supplies hundreds of sets of public data produced by agencies and organizations. You can find visualizations and datasets on New York at the NYC Digital Tumblr.

In addition, nine official NYC apps were created for iOS, including NYC 311, NYC City Hall and NYC Media. This year, the Department of Transportation will release an Android version of its official app, which provides New Yorkers with safe transportation choices.

“The mobile web will be a very strong focus for 2012,” says Sterne, “as it is not specific to a platform and helps us to reach even more New Yorkers.”


Engagement


“Reinvent NYC.gov,” the city’s first-ever hackathon, was attended by developers and designers from across the U.S. Since then, there has been an independent hackathon nearly every week, led by experts at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

According to Sterne, this was one of the biggest milestones in the process of the roadmap.

“As powerful as the digital medium is, there is something special about getting together in the same place with a shared mission. In the case of the Reinvent NYC.GOV hackathon, that mission was to imagine the future of how city government can engage with the public through its website.”

Over the past year, more than 250 social media channels were created, resulting in more than 1.5 million followers. When Hurricane Irene hit the east coast in August, the city responded in real time with emergency alerts on Facebook, 311 tweets and live video streaming. During the hurricane, an unprecedented amount of traffic throttled the city’s servers, a range of third-party apps became vital for those in need of locating an evacuation zone.

“By opening up its data, the City enabled developers around the world to help us serve the public, and the results were that we served 10-20 times as many people than we would have otherwise.”


Industry


One of the biggest announcements this year was the partnership between Technicon and Cornell. Together, led by deputy mayor Robert Steel and Seth Pinksy of the New York Economic Development Corporation, a new engineering campus will be built on Roosevelt Island. Sterne says this will be “powering innovation for generations to come.”

Mayor Bloomberg also introduced new immigration services for startups in October at the New York Tech Meetup. The city is currently judging entries from software developers for the best new apps that utilize the city’s open data to help residents, visitors and businesses.

Lastly, NYC Digital forged partnerships that serve the public with Bitly, Buddy Media, Facebook, Foursquare, General Assembly, Google, Tumblr and Twitter.


What the Future Holds For NYC Digital


According to Sterne, the roadmap (as it currently stands) is on schedule to meet all of its goals by mid 2013. However, NYC Digital will continue to introduce new goals as existing ones are achieved, so the timeline will evolve.

The city is starting off 2012 with a comprehensive redesign of NYC.gov, working alongside the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

“We see an opportunity to completely re-think the way New Yorkers interact with their government online, and we are thrilled that we were able to kick off the process in an open, participatory way with the Reinvent NYC.GOV hackathon we hosted with General Assembly in August.”

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, rabbit75_ist

More About: features, innovation, Mobile, new york city

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On Wednesday, The New York Times and public radio station WNYC launched SchoolBook, a website to provide news, data and discussion about New York City schools.

The site aims to increase communication and understanding among parents, teachers, administrators and students. As many school websites are rudimentary and infrequently updated, SchoolBook’s creators hope to fill a gaping hole. It creates a page for each of NYC’s 2,500 public, charter and private schools with student population information, community discussion threads and more.

“In conversations with parents, principals and teachers, we kept hearing how fragmented the conversation was,” said Tyson Evans, an assistant editor on The Times‘s interactive news desk who helped develop the project. “We’re hoping they’ll see this as kind of a place to explore.”

If it’s numbers SchoolBook users are looking to explore, they’ll have plenty to discover. The site’s extensive database is comprised of information from thousands of public records from numerous sources, including city and state departments and non-profit organizations, Evans said. Much of the information was already housed in internal search and reporting tools for Times journalists built by Robert Gebeloff, a computer assisted reporter who specializes in education.

The challenge for SchoolBook, like many numbers-driven reports, was how to present the information in a useful and easy-to-understand way. Evans said he and his team wanted the site to provide more overall context than a tool that produces charts and visualizations. They chose to standardize the data and group scores into three categories: performance, satisfaction and diversity.

SchoolBook’s developers created custom software for the site with Ruby on Rails and were ambitious about writing data validators and imports. This will help ease the process of updating the database when schools come out with new information.

Some may argue SchoolBook is ranking schools based on scores. Gebeloff wrote an extensive guide to the site’s methodology, in which he says, “What we have not done, quite purposely, is grade or rate schools.”

The numbers are only part of the story. It’s the site’s ambitions for building community around education as an entity that sets it apart. Users are asked to log in with Facebook, an experiment The Times wanted to try to out with a standalone site. “We’re curious about the next phase of web identity,” Evans said.

It will be interesting to see how this affects conversation, especially as education can be a sensitive topic. With the controversy about how students and teachers should interact on Facebook, the single sign-in method will likely see challenges and complaints.

Participants can contribute on individual school pages in three ways: ask a question, post content (photos, student newspaper articles, etc.) or suggest an idea. This could be particularly useful for parents considering a new school for their student. If the school has an active community page where the user feels comfortable contributing, it may shed light on whether it’s a good fit.

The Times and WNYC worked with a handful of schools when brainstorming for the site. Evans expects those communities will lead the charge on SchoolBook and it will grow from there.

“We have ideas for how conversations will work but we’ll ultimately be learning from how the community uses it,” Evans said. “The more activity we can see at individual schools, the more we’ll be convinced it was the right project.”

Times and WNYC education reporters will be regularly updating the site with original articles, discussion threads and aggregated news posts from local sources GothamSchools and Inside Schools. Mary Ann Giordano, the site’s editor, will manage content from contributing writers, which may include teacher diaries, Evans said. The news and community aspects of the site were built on WordPress.

Overall, SchoolBook is leading the way in building community around the topic of education. Though projects like The Opportunity Gap from ProPublica and The Washington Post‘s D.C. Schools Scorecard were pioneers in data collection and presentation, they do little to bring readers together to share content and engage in debate. As Evans said, the purpose SchoolBook provides is up to its users — but it’s the site’s empowerment of its community members that will give people a reason to visit.

More About: education, new york city, the new york times





About 75 developers from across the United States (and at least one from Canada) accepted New York City Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne’s invitation to spend 36 hours of last weekend envisioning a better nyc.gov.

The city’s first ever hackathon offered little incentive: There were no cash prizes, no iPad giveaways, and the city has not committed to using any of the designs to replace the website it launched in 1996 and last redesigned more than five years ago. Five of 14 teams whose designs were chosen by judges for various honors will be thanked personally by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in meetings this week.

“Really the goal was to bridge the worlds of government and technology and having a dialog,” Sterne says. “This really showed what people want.”

So what do people want? Most of the winning designs’ homepages focus on search, mirroring Bing and Google. Sterne saw: StackOverflow-like forums that encourage users to help each other, as well as gamification, location and social elements. In other words, these are the trends you’d expect from coders working with APIs from Google, Bit.ly, Foursquare and other popular web services.

New York City also introduced two new APIs at the event: one that works with 311 and another that constantly updates apps that use the city’s more than 400 open data sets with the latest changes.

Here are the five winning designs. What changes would you like to see on your city’s government website?

Best Use of Social: @NYC

Ask NYC.gov

Best Use of Local: nyc.gov Redesign

A location feature pulls in data based on the user’s zipcode.

Best Use of Location: nyc.gov Local Filtering

A feature pulls in data based on the user’s zipcode.

Best User Interface: Team Apple Seed

For comparison, here is a photo of NYC’s current website:

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nyc image

Rachel Sterne is Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York, where she focuses on the City’s digital media strategy. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelSterne or follow the City @nycgov.

Today is the last day to sign up for Reinvent NYC.GOV, the City’s first-ever hackathon. Civic-minded designers and developers who want to help improve NYC government are encouraged to apply at: reinventnycgov.com.

Why have we decided to invite the best and brightest of NYC’s tech community to help us improve NYC.gov? Here’s the backstory.


Improving Our Digital Footprint


When we asked New Yorkers for their input on New York City’s “Road Map for the Digital City,” one of the biggest topics of feedback was NYC.gov, the City government’s main digital presence.

Some New Yorkers praised the scope of information offered and ability to pay bills and look up records online. Others suggested we had room for improvement. Comments included: “NYC.gov is a little hard to navigate/search,” “NYC.gov could use a refresh” and “NYC.gov is just too unwieldy.” The refrain was clear: The site was muddy, but we had an opportunity to make NYC.gov more cohesive and user-centric while integrating it with different communication channels in social media.

Last week, New York City Government and General Assembly announced Reinvent NYC.GOV, our first-ever hackathon to help solve this challenge in an open, transparent, participatory environment.

Taking place July 30 to 31 at entrepreneurship-focused community learning space General Assembly, it’s an important step in our our Road Map to realize NYC’s digital potential. Here are a few reasons why we’re doing it:


Why NYC Is Hosting a Hackathon


  • 1. It will bridge sectors and connect the government and technology communities around a shared challenge.
  • 2. It will encourage collaborative problem-solving and a more open government. We’ve invited developers to share their ideas for improving a major digital “public space.” NYC.gov has almost as many visitors each year as Central Park and should be similarly cared for.
  • 3. It will create a mechanism for the public to share feedback and ideas for a website that exists to serve them.
  • 4. It can serve as a model for other governments, helping to affect national and international change.
  • 5. It will introduce creative and innovative concepts that could help to evolve NYC.gov to be more efficient and effective in serving and empowering New Yorkers.
  • 6. It will provide both individuals and teams with face-to-face access to the City’s decision makers.
  • 7. It creates a precedent and platform for evolving government through open innovation and participation.
  • 8. It will serve as the first step in a transparent design process. We want to gather as much input as possible. This is a way to move quickly to achieve our goals.
  • 9. It helps remove subjectivity from the design process by clearly showing what the public wants and needs.
  • 10. It equips developers with the internal data they need to make user experience decisions, such as analytics, as well as support from our tech partners, including DonorsChoose, ExpertLabs, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Meetup and YouTube.

We think this model is an important part of New York City’s digital Road Map and feel that it can be an effective piece for other cities, as well. What are your ideas for the future of NYC.gov? Tell us in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #reinventnycgov.


Image courtesy of Flickr, houyin

More About: dev, developer, government, hack, hackathon, new york, new york city, NYC, nyc.gov, Politics, Social Media

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