City Hopes to Connect With Residents With Site Touting Digital Initiatives

By Quinn Ford on January 6, 2013 9:20pm 

 A screenshot from the new "Chicago Digital" website that city officials say will be a "one-stop-shop" for everything city government does online.
A screenshot from the new "Chicago Digital" website that city officials say will be a "one-stop-shop" for everything city government does online.
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Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration launched a new website Sunday that city officials say they hope will be a "one-stop-shop" for everything city government does online.

The site, Chicago Digital, aims to highlight the city’s technology initiatives, data releases and social media outreach all on one site, according to the city’s director of social media Kevin Hauswirth.

Hauswirth said the city has spent the last couple months creating the site.

“There’s no reason why a Chicagoan should have to dig around to different websites and different social media pages in order to find out what the city is doing,” Hauswirth said.

In addition to touting initiatives like the city’s broadband challenge, the website also highlights mobile and web applications private developers have made that residents might find useful.

The city has released a number of data sets over the past year and a half as part of Emanuel’s pledge to make city government more transparent, Hauswirth said. He said publishing the data has made it more accessible to private developers who can then make that data more useful for city residents.

“We’ll put out a data set that looks like an excel file, but a developer can take that excel file and create an iPhone app or an Android application or a new web tool,” Hauswirth said.

The new website features applications like “Sweep Around Us” that notifies users when their street will be swept. It also features “Chicago Lobbyists,” a website that shows lobbying activities in the city of Chicago.

Derek Eder, a Web developer and owner of Chicago-based DataMade, created the Chicago Lobbyists website.

Eder said he believes the new website will create a “feedback loop” that will encourage developers to make civic-related apps.

“They’re shining a light on this stuff, and I think it only encourages more of it to happen if people see that if they work with the city they’re going to get credit for it,” Eder said, adding the website is an incentive for developers because it can promote their applications and web tools.

“I don’t have a press room or anything as big as the city does to promote these things,” he said.

Hauswirth said the website also seeks to increase transparency in city government, a pledge Emanuel made during his mayoral campaign, but Eder said the website itself does not increase transparency.

“What it does do is add a lot of context,” Eder said.

Eder said the average citizen probably does not get a lot out of the city’s data portal because of how it is presented, for example, in the form of spreadsheets.

“And that’s cool but not very insightful,” Eder said. “You don’t really understand what’s going on in the data you just see a bunch of raw numbers.”

But Hauswirth and Eder said the idea is that developers take that data and present it in ways that city residents can use more easily.

Hauswirth said he wants the new website to be the home for how residents interact with city online.

“We hope that this empowers Chicagoans to find more ways that they can interact with their government, whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites,” Hauswirth said. “And we need to make it easy for Chicagoans to find us and then come interact with us across those platforms.”

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