International Coordination for Local Collaboration

As White House CIO Vivek Kundra joined San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, CIO Chris Vein, and Tim O’Reilly to signal the launch of the Open311 API in San Francisco the work towards spreading an open standard gained huge momentum. Yet we still need continued coordination and collaboration to deliver the vision of a distributed open platform that can be used in communities everywhere.

Both San Francisco and Washington D.C. are preparing to deploy their Open311 APIs within the next week and we will continue to provide updated information on API methods, registering API keys, and the distinction between using the API as a sandbox for testing and using it for full deployment. We will also be sure to clarify any nuances regarding the API implementation in these different cities – such as XML versus JSON output.

This is also a good opportunity to provide more background on the development of Open311. First, the history of the open model:

FixMyStreet was launched in the UK by MySociety almost exactly 3 years ago. This was followed by similar projects in other countries like Verbeter De Buurt in The Netherlands and SeeClickFix in the U.S.. About a year ago John Geraci started a dialog on DIYCity about providing this capability for the 311 system in NYC. This conversation caught the attention of The Open Planning Project which had been developing the idea too. The conversation also caught the attention of Dmitry Kachaev in Washington D.C. who was preparing to launch the second round of the Apps for Democracy contest. As D.C. prepared to open their 311 API, The Open Planning Project began to coordinate this as something that could be made into an open standard and created to facilitate this.

Working towards an open standard: In mid 2009 D.C. developed their initial 311 API spec and SeeClickFix also released a draft spec. D.C. launched their API in the summer of 2009 and had many apps developed around it as part of their Apps for Democracy contest. In October of 2009, we held the Open311 DevCamp to help coordinate the development of this standard and related technologies with many different cities and companies. This also signaled the initial development of the Open311 API spec in San Francisco. The team in San Francisco led by Alissa Black and Jay Nath continued to facilitate development of the spec over several months with the input of many people involved in this effort like Dmitry in D.C., Kam Lasater at SeeClickFix, and myself. The current spec in San Francisco reflects this collaboration and their leadership to convene others. The D.C. API spec has also been undergoing a revision to bring it more inline with the spec that has been developed in San Francisco. The specification will continue to evolve through incremental iterations to allow greater interoperability and a better experience for developers and citizens using Open311 services.

The Open311 API spec coordinated by San Francisco is available on the wiki. Despite the fact that the APIs have not quite yet been deployed and some details of the spec have yet to be fully documented, we can already see some examples of the developer community preparing to work with it.

We look forward to working with other cities in support of this standard. Some cities like Boston and Edmonton are set to open their APIs in the near future and other cities like Seattle and Portland do not yet have a call center and should stand to gain a lot by being involved with this initiative from a fresh start. We also look forward to closer involvement with international efforts like Ushahidi. Ushahidi is a collaborative issue tracker which played a crucial role in the response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Stay tuned for more details about the deployment of the APIs, the release of reference implementations, and code libraries that can help provide integration with existing 311 systems.

Please leave us with your questions and comments and let’s continue to work together.