IPhones Take on Potholes with City Reporting Tool

CitySourced, a startup formed by well-connected political action site FreedomSpeaks.com, will let citizens use a smartphone like Superman's phone booth and help save the day in their city.

CitySourced, a startup formed by well-connected political action site FreedomSpeaks.com, will let citizens use a smartphone like Superman's phone booth and help save the day in their city.

With apps to become available on the Apple iPhone and Palm's WebOS, CitySourced will let people instantly report problems such as potholes and graffiti, take pictures, and upload them to notify their elected officials and local agencies. The product, demonstrated Tuesday at the TechCrunch 50 conference in San Francisco, has already been sold to the city of San Jose, California. Palm has invested in the company and plans to do co-marketing of its phones with the software.

CitySourced is now submitting its iPhone application for approval and plans to have a WebOS version out by the end of October. Android and BlackBerry versions should follow by the end of November, the company said.

CitySourced will contract with city governments to provide them with citizens' notifications and reports derived from them, said Jason Kiesel, founder and CEO of FreedomSpeaks. The mobile applications will take advantage of phones' GPS (Global Positioning System) to show where the problem report was made, which is important when distinguishing one city's jurisdiction from another. People visiting another city can make a posting there too, which that city can view if it has signed up to receive data from CitySourced, Kiesel said.

San Jose signed up last week and the system should be running there in about two weeks, according to Pete Constant, a member of the San Jose City Council who participated in CitySourced's demonstration. Initially at least, the offices of councilmembers will act as the front end for the system at the city, with staffers looking over reports and alerting the correct department to address the issue, Constant said. The data eventually may go directly to the agencies.

Councilmembers are the traditional channel for complaints by residents of their districts, and CitySourced should allow citizens to notify them more quickly, Constant said. Currently, people typically wait until they get home to report a problem and may not do it for a few days, he said. The tool should also save city workers some of the time they now spend looking for problems, he said.

Posting a problem report is a simple process of opening the mobile application, taking a picture, choosing a report type from a menu, typing a few words in the report box, and sending it all off over the 3G network. There is also a Web interface for reporting problems. CitySourced plans to implement a rating system in which users can increase the priority of a certain problem by voting, Kiesel said.

CitySourced can send each posting to the city as an e-mail message with a photo, or output the data in whatever format the city needs to bring it into internal systems, Kiesel said. The company could also do custom integration work to get its data into legacy systems, he added.

The problem postings can be filtered by type and used to produce maps and time-oriented graphs to show where and when a certain kind of problem comes up most often. Cities can choose which types of data to make public. Consumers will be able to use CitySourced information in Web mashups with maps and other components.

Freedomspeaks describes itself as a nonpartisan political social network. It runs a Web site designed to help citizens write to all their elected representatives. That site is supported by advertising and selling demographic information to political candidates and companies. The company recently hired David Kralik, an ex-staffer of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as its chief marketing officer.

CitySourced was founded with about US$65,000 of initial funding and is looking for venture funding. It also signed an investment deal on Monday with Palm for an undisclosed sum. Palm will join with the FreedomSpeaks Foundation, a nonprofit now being formed by FreedomSpeaks, to promote its WebOS smartphones at event booths where the foundation is promoting citizen involvement.

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