Boston Plans "Citizen Connect" iPhone App...But Will Anyone Use It?

The City of Boston will soon launch a new, free iPhone app, called "Citizen Connect," meant to help residents notify city officials of streets or public properties that need repair, graffiti, malfunctioning street lights and other gripes. The problem: There's already a city-wide tip-line for such matters...and unhappy senior citizens aren't exactly toting the iPhone yet.

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Tue, July 07, 2009

CIO — Boston is one of the nation's oldest and most respected cities. It's a cradle of technology; a national center of higher education; and generally a nice place to rest your head--I know because I lived in Beantown for nearly a decade.

Image of Boston's Zakim Bridge on iPhone
Image of Boston's Zakim Bridge on iPhone

It's also now home to the nation's first iPhone application for municipal complaints, according to the Boston Globe. The mobile app, "Citizen Connect," expected to be released for free in Apple's iTunes App Store in the very near future, lets Boston residents instantly send complaints -- about anything from potholes in the streets and graffiti on buildings and storefronts to malfunctioning street lights, all directly to City Hall.

Bostonians will also be able to snap pictures of specific problems, then use their iPhones' internal GPS to pinpoint exact locations and send the information on to City Hall.

The initiative is meant to expand the existing Boston municipal complaints hotline, (currently 617.635.4500) and to give younger or tech-savvy Boston residents a more efficient way to file municipal complaints. Citizen Connect also gives users a complaint tracking number so they can monitor issue resolution progress.

The Citizen Connect iPhone app is based largely on the ideas of Boston Senior Advisor for Emerging Technology and Mayoral Aid Nigel Jacob, according to the report. New Hampshire-based Connected Bits developed the software for the city, and it will receive roughly $25,000 for first-year technical support, after which Boston will reassess the situation to determine if such support is necessary, The Globe reports.

Jacob says the city choose the iPhone for its new app instead of the BlackBerry or another smartphone platform due to its "sex appeal."

I've never personally filed a complaint via Boston's City Hall hotline, but I've heard horror stories over the years about folks calling repeatedly only to receive little or no response. That's largely why I've never even considered filing a complaint. The new iPhone app should at least be an improvement because of the ability to track progress made on specific complaints.

While I think the idea is an interesting one, it really seems, to me, more of a publicity stunt than anything else. The iPhone is cool and exciting. So what better way to associate Boston with that vibe than to associate it with the iPhone? And you're reading about it here on CIO.com because I decided to cover the announcement, which means the "stunt" is working.

Still, I'm not sure the application will get much attention after its initial release, because it's not really the young, chic, iPhone toting Bostonians who frequently take the time to file formal complaints, at least the way I see it. It's the older Boston residents who actually live there filing the complaints, as opposed to the iPhone equipped college kids and young professionals just renting space while they finish school or attempt to find jobs.

It's worth noting, however, that a similar issue-reporting system has seen some success in the U.K.'s Lewisham.

The app certainly can't hurt the situation in The Bean--and it could potentially help. But I do I think Citizen Connect is the "killer app" Boston's City Hall tech aides say it is? Not by a long shot...

AS

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