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San Francisco then launched DataSF.org, which made government data publicly available online. And they were the first city government to premiere a Twitter-based 311 service. Then in March 2010, Newsom's team expanded their tech efforts. San Francisco became the first city to launch Open 311, "the first national API in government history." By reinventing how to collect and share public information, San Francisco, New York, and other digitally savvy cities democratize data and welcome their citizens as collaborators.
To be sure, "Citizenville" presents optimistic solutions based on concepts that have succeeded and scaled in the mostly for-profit tech world. But the public sector and the private sector are different. While a tech company can easily pivot at will, the public sector must answer to taxpayers. And not all citizens will see value in, say, a Yelp-like rating system for the DMV or X Prize-style competitions to address municipal problems.
Nonetheless, "Citizenville" is an important book for anyone who’s curious about tech and civic engagement. As we saw with the crucial role that social media played in New York City government during Hurricane Irene and in the nation as a whole during the recent Presidential debates, Web-based tools are indeed the future of managing the needs of and engaging with citywide, statewide, and national populations.
Newsom is at times overly idealistic about the potential of applying tech startup learnings to government. But "Citizenville" can start a dialogue about how the people have long felt alienated by government – and how technology has the power to change that.
Grace Bello is a contributor to The Christian Science Monitor.