kottke.org posts about 311

311 is not a jokeNov 09 2010

Steven Johnson on what NYC and other cites are learning from services like 311.

But the service also helps city leaders detect patterns that might otherwise have escaped notice. After the first survey of 311 complaints ranked excessive noise as the number one source of irritation among residents, the Bloomberg administration instituted a series of noise-abatement programs, going after the offenders whom callers complained about most often (that means you, Mister Softee). Similarly, clusters of public-drinking complaints in certain neighborhoods have led to crackdowns on illegal social clubs. Some of the discoveries have been subtle but brilliant. For example, officials now know that the first warm day of spring will bring a surge in use of the city's chlorofluorocarbon recycling programs. The connection is logical once you think about it: The hot weather inspires people to upgrade their air conditioners, and they don't want to just leave the old, Freon-filled units out on the street.

The 311 system has proved useful not just at detecting reliable patterns but also at providing insights when the normal patterns are disrupted. Clusters of calls about food-borne illness or sanitary problems from the same restaurant now trigger a rapid response from the city's health department.

Not discussed in the article is an assertion by my pal David that exclusive access to 311 data gives incumbent politicians -- like, say, Michael Bloomberg -- a distinct advantage when it comes to getting reelected. For instance, when campaigning on a neighborhood level, the incumbent can look at the 311 data for each neighborhood and tailor their message appropriately, e.g. promising to help combat noise in a neighborhood with lots of noise complaints or fix the streets in a neighborhood with lots of calls about potholes.

About 311Sep 11 2008

The head IT guy for NYC is taking questions about the city's 311 system over at the Times' City Room blog. Here are his first set of answers. Here he talks about unusual calls they receive:

For a few examples of those we can't ... well, we've received calls from people wondering who won "American Idol," or what the daily lottery numbers were. We've had people ask us why pets can't be claimed on income tax returns, how many planets there are, and whether we can provide various out-of-state ZIP codes. My personal favorite is the call we received by someone asking how to boil a chicken.

NYC plans to allow people to send photos to 911 and 311.Jan 18 2007

NYC plans to allow people to send photos to 911 and 311.

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