Some of you may have seen the article posted at Nola.com this afternoon at 1:56 pm It is information obviously fed to the paper by city officials.
You may have seen the AskNOLA ad in the sidebar at FSJNA dot ORG. It was provided there as a service to our members and visitors to our website. AskNOLA.com is an online way to report items to 311. FSJNA dot ORG is not affiliated with AskNOLA.com
Here is what transpired at this morning’s BlightStat meeting:
Last August, “Tim G.” as he is known on his website AskNOLA.com,
proposed an idea to officials at the City of New Orleans. They
turned him down.
His idea was to have a 311 service on the internet where people
could report all kinds of problems from potholes to perpetrators.
The N.O.P.D. liked it so much they put out an email promoting it.
Neighborhood groups and citizens rejoiced at the easy quick way
to report problems. Neighborhood websites like FSJNA dot ORG
even put a large ad on their website with a link to AskNOLA.com
and encouraged their members to use it.
AskNOLA.com proved successful in its mission. However, at today’s
BlightStat meeting, Ann Duplessis characterized AskNOLA.com as a
“rogue” website and Allen Square met with “Tim G.” suggesting that
the City needs to “take control” of AskNOLA.com
AskNOLA.com is a FREE service to the city and a volunteer effort of
“Tim G.” After turning down the idea last August, why does the
City now feel the need to “take control” of the website now that it
Why not just hire the guy? Then you have control over his actions.
For more information, you can contact “Tim G.” at firstname.lastname@example.org
or leave a message at (504) 656-6311
He also came up with the Citizen Sentry idea you can see below…
How AskNOLA Raises the Bar (and Lowers the Cost) on 3-1-1 Reporting
Imagine you’re driving home from work one evening, on a route that takes you past a malfunctioning traffic light. You’d like to report it for repair, but never dial the phone while driving, so you make a mental note. Moments later you swerve to avoid a huge pothole and, finding no street signs posted nearby, ask yourself “What intersection was that?”
Another mile down the road, you pass the same old water leak that’s getting worse each week. Nobody has called it in because the broken water meter belongs to a blighted property. Your eyes follow the stream as it flows beneath an abandoned vehicle, where a clogged drain causes the water to pond.
A minute later, while pausing at a graffiti-covered stop sign, you observe a stack of discarded tires and used oil cans piled up in an empty lot covered by tall weeds. You add these issues to your growing list of things to report.
Turning onto your own block, you notice it’s darker than usual. Seems a limb of an overgrown tree has knocked against the overhead street light, smashing its lamp. While reaching down to turn on your headlights, you are startled by the loud clunk of your car impacting a protruding manhole in the middle of the road.
Almost home, you pass a small pack of stray dogs, likely the same ones who mauled your vacationing neighbor’s cat last week. Turning into your driveway, you catch sight of a homeless person sleeping on that same neighbor’s porch, and you wonder, “Who can I call to help him?”
In fact, of the sixteen (16) infrastructure problems, safety concerns and quality of life complaints you’ve gathered, only half can be reported by calling 3-1-1 (no less than eight times), waiting for the prompts, and spending at least 30 minutes leaving your information. (Adding to your frustration, you learn there’s no way to track incidents reported this way.)
Not done yet! You will have to devote another 30 minutes calling Sewerage & Water Board (leaking water meter), Operation Clean Sweep (graffiti), the Department of Sanitation (illegal dumping), LA-SPCA (stray dogs), and NOPD’s homeless liaison (sleeping vagrant). And you’re not even sure which department(s) to call about the clogged drain or dangerous manhole! (S&WB? Department of Public Works? Both?)
NOTE: Some residents and neighborhood leaders might try to save time by sending the whole list to their councilmember, or phoning it in to the district’s Quality of Life Officer, but that’s just passing the buck. Visitors and tourists, meanwhile, have no clue where to begin!
Instead, you could visit AskNOLA.com to report everything at once, in just a few minutes. Better still, with AskNOLA’s free mobile app installed on your smartphone, you could have submitted all these reports (complete with snapshot and GPS location) before arriving home! Either way, each report is assigned tracking numbers and added to the Issues Map, then broadcast on Twitter, so others can see what’s already been reported, as well as track or comment on those items.
AskNOLA electronically forwards daily reports to more than 20 different municipal and state agencies, and has recruited a growing army of Sentry Citizens who document resolved issues in their respective Watch Zones.
Issues processed since AskNOLA began: 465
Cost to the taxpayers of New Orleans: $0
Saving everyone time and aggravation: Priceless
Any questions? Want to enlist as a Sentry Citizen for your neighborhood?
Get in touch with us via email (email@example.com) or by calling 504-656-6311
INFORMATION BELOW FROM AskNOLA.com
AskNOLA.com Press Sheet
Please direct all inquiries to:
Tim Garrett, Owner/Manager
Voicemail will not be returned
Q: What’s the point of your website, if the reports it receives aren’t shared with City Hall?
A: Every report submitted to AskNOLA.com is sent directly to a representative of the responsible department(s) at City Hall, and other municipal and State agencies.
Q: Who exactly gets the various sorts of reports generated, how are they delivered, and did you set up this system with the participation of folks at the local and state agencies? If so, when and how did that process happen?
A: In every case, I established one or more contacts with each department and got permission to forward incoming reports – complete with a brief description and GPS coordinates of the problem and its location on a map – to them. Reports are currently transmitted via email. At no time is any personally identifiable information passed along to these recipients. Approximately 20 agencies currently participate.
Q: Have you talked with anyone in the Landrieu administration about linking your resource to their in-house electronic tracking? If so, who, and what’s the disposition of that conversation?
A: Yes, on several occasions, I have spoken with Allen Square about AskNOLA’s built-in ability to interface with City Hall’s Accella CMS system. However, he has repeatedly declined the offer. Therefore, AskNOLA.com remains (as with the City’s 311 help line) a “one-way” service.
Q: What was said this morning in the BlightStat meeting by city officials?
A: I was present at this morning’s BlightStat meeting when, to the surprise of many in the audience, Ann Duplessis stood up and announced that “AskNOLA.com is a rogue website.” What I think Ms. Duplessis did not realize is that more than half of the meeting attendees currently use AskNOLA.com or its mobile app to report infrastructure problems and quality of life issues in all parts of the City. I took Allen Square aside in the hallway, where he informed me that Ms. Duplessis was “not in the loop on this” and that she was speaking out of turn. Mr. Square said he believes AskNOLA “causes confusion” and “is sending everything into the void” but would not cite any specific examples of this when pressed.
I later learned from an article on NOLA.com that Ms. Duplessis further stated that “she has no idea who runs the site or what the operator’s motives might be, but ‘we’re doing everything we can to shut it down.’” This surprised me to learn, as nobody has ever approached me about shutting down AskNOLA.com.
Q: When did you start AskNOLA.com?
A: I brought the AskNOLA website online in early October, 2010, more or less in the form you see today. With the aid of several beta testers, I was able to iron out some remaining kinks in the system, so that reports could be processed in earnest by Thanksgiving. Readers of my NOLAhoods Newsletter were the first to learn that AskNOLA.com was operational.
Q: Are you aware that any problems have been fixed as a direct result of it? If so, what are they?
A: One of the very first reports concerned two homeless people living on church steps Downtown. Within minutes, the report was in the hands of NOPD’s Homeless Liaison director, who was quickly able to locate these individuals in advance of the cold weather, and issue them bus tickets back to Arkansas. This was a great success for AskNOLA, but as with all reported issues, the results rely entirely on the actions and efficiency of the departments fielding them.
Q: What role, if any, do you think the city should play in these websites?
A: With over 300 recognized community groups around New Orleans, many of them with their own websites, one of the key functions neighborhood leaders have taken on since Katrina is collecting and reporting numerous issues affecting their constituents every day. My goal with AskNOLA is to relieve these dedicated individuals of the need to spend hours each week calling all these problem into City Hall, Sewerage & Water Board, Entergy, etc.
I think City Hall’s role, as a big player in the reporting process, is to honor the value of people’s time by expediting the 311 process. For instance, by permitting citizens to direct inquiries in other ways besides dialing a phone and listening to prompts.
I have been promoting the idea of “generic” email addresses at City Hall where people could send complaints, such as “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com” and while some enthusiasm has been expressed toward this concept by Allen Square, such changes have not yet been put in place.
Another way that City Hall can innovate is by adopting the national initiative known as “Open311”, an API which allows third-party services like AskNOLA.com to interact with (and serve as a conduit for) every 311-style reporting service imaginable, well into the future.
Q: Would you make City Hall-requested changes to AskNOLA at no cost to taxpayers?
A: Probably so, depending on what change(s) they request, and I can’t imagine what “costs” would be involved. I pay for the site out of my own pocket.
Q: How do you generate revenue from the site, and how much do you earn monthly?
A: No revenue is generated by AskNOLA.com, unless someone clicks on one of the advertisements placed throughout the site. To the extent that users have done so, I estimate the potential revenue stream at about $2.00 per month (the actual average to date).
Q: If you pay for everything out of pocket and earn $2 a month and would likely do whatever the city is asking, why wouldn’t you just hand it over to City Hall?
A: For a variety of business and ethical reasons, not least of which is that I cling to the hope that The City of New Orleans will aspire to create its own reporting-and-tracking system for use by residents, something the administration claims it will do in 2011. I strongly believe that competition fosters innovation; if someone at City Hall ever develops a reliable system that’s better, faster and more accessible than AskNOLA.com, then my site will naturally fade into obscurity, and I will suddenly have more free time on my hands.
As a web developer, it is not my custom to “hand over” the fruits of my labor, any more than it is the City’s custom to donate their property to private citizens. Clearly, the AskNOLA.com project is not about revenue generation; it’s about saving people time (sending reports), saving the City money (paying operators to transcribe reports), making the data transparent (by offering downloadable reports), and holding tax-paid entities and public utilities accountable (through tracking) for the services we all expect them to perform.
Lastly, there is the question of reliability. AskNOLA.com – because it does not reside on City servers – has not been affected by the on-going outages experienced at certain departments. The site has not lost a single record along the way, and due to its open design, no single point of weakness exists. Anyone can view, download or augment the data at AskNOLA.com as they please, and the entire process remains visible throughout.
 By showing all reported issues both on a map and a (downloadable) list, residents and public officials can monitor AskNOLA traffic in real-time and gauge for themselves its effectiveness.
 In order to make AskNOLA more of a “two-way” mechanism, I have enlisted the assistance of volunteers throughout the City, known as Sentry Citizens, who will be reporting every month on the disposition of issues within their neighborhoods.
 I have posted numerous articles and videos on AskNOLA.com (“How It Works”) detailing how the underlying technology, known as the CitySourced, works and has been adapted in other cities for use alongside their in-house 311 services. This is the same free service I pitched to the Mayor and City Council in August, 2010, in hopes of saving the City approximately $1.6 million in 311-related expenses. I offered the same concept to Mayor Landrieu and Allen Square at a meeting in September, 2010, but was told that Mr. Square is “working on it” and I received no further interest from the administration and pursued AskNOLA on my own as a public service to New Orleans residents.
After AskNOLA.com had been online for several months, Mr. Square called me one Sunday before the Saints game, asking whether I would donate AskNOLA.com to the City for free. This morning, immediately following Ann Duplessis’ unfortunate remarks (calling AskNOLA.com a “rogue website”), Mr. Square reiterated his wish that the City could “control” AskNOLA. He took issue with the fact that the website contains advertising, and conjectured that “someone is getting rich off of AskNOLA.com.” It’s true that the site only generates ad revenue whenever visitors click the ads, but that is a rare occurrence, and the smartphone app is devoid of advertisements (the app is maintained by CitySourced.com in Los Angeles).