Tech Talk

The City That Incorporated Social Media Into Everything

Back in 2008, Roanoke, Va., a city of about 100,000, had a modest social media program run by its Department of Communications. But when an unusually strong snowstorm hit the city in the winter of 2014, things changed practically overnight.

Timothy Martin, communications coordinator in charge of social media, planned to use the city’s Facebook page to get information about the storm out to residents and to provide an avenue for people to ask questions about snow removal, among other things. He thought it also would be fun if residents posted photos of the storm. The response was overwhelming. “Those photos were viewed by more than 400,000 people on Facebook,” Martin says. “That was the moment social media took off in Roanoke.” READ MORE

States Start Restricting Police License Plate Readers

Police have a new set of eyes called automated license plate readers, and they're growing in popularity -- and controversy.

Automated license plate readers are mounted either on a police car or a fixed position like a bridge. As their name suggests, they read the numbers and letters on license plates -- even when vehicles are moving at high speeds -- and tag the time and location. Then another program compares the data with a list of license plates associated with criminal activity. READ MORE

The (Hidden) Cost of Open Data

Los Angeles County announced this January the creation of an open data website that would allow anyone to find information on a host of county government programs, from budget information to welfare data to crime statistics. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Los Angeles Times the county was about to become the “largest municipal government in the nation” to make its data easily accessible to the public.

While the data will be free to the public, the county will spend $319,000 in startup costs, and annual expenses are expected to cost an additional $287,000. For comparison, consider this: California lawmakers in June introduced a bill to establish a statewide open data policy that would affect more than 200 state agencies. An analysis of the bill’s fiscal impact showed the policy would cost the state $4 million to $5 million annually. READ MORE

Government Apps Are Popular, But Are They Useful?

Robert Putnam wrote the thought-provoking book Bowling Alone in 2000, which explored how Americans were increasingly becoming disconnected from family, friends and neighbors. Changes in work, family structure and commuting times, among other things, were contributing to the divide and leading to a decline in traditional community social networks such as bowling leagues and parent teacher associations. But then came social media platforms and mobile devices, and many of these activities simply went online.

Soon governments followed, rolling out a host of apps in the late 2000s in an effort to engage citizens. Now about a decade into the trend, cities are beginning to look at how effective these technologies actually are -- and the data coming in so far isn’t all that encouraging. READ MORE

311 Upgrades Make It Cheaper to Connect With Citizens

When Tulsa, Okla., launches its new 311 service later this month, the three-digit hotline will be just one component of what officials have dubbed as the “Customer Care Center.”

Similar to many retail companies, the Customer Care Center will now let people request city services, ask questions and file complaints in a variety of ways. Besides talking with agents over the phone, people will also be able to chat with agents over the Internet, use social media to interact with the center and track the status of their requests online and via email. READ MORE