Remember the “House Rules” that were posted on your childhood refrigerator? Is it just me, or were these rules always daunting challenges despite the simplicity of their request? For example, “If you sleep in it, make it” seemed to always escape my list of priorities when I rushed out the door in the morning; “If you drop it, pick it up” was an easy rule to avoid, thanks to my family dog who was punctual to the point of neurosis when it came to windfall profits at the dinner table. I hated these rules, so I ignored them. While I didn’t appreciate these House Rules at the time, in retrospect I now understand that my parents were teaching me the importance of taking responsibility for my actions and contributing to the household.
A similar lesson is being instilled in Boston residents today, and technology is taking the House Rule “If you break it, repair it” to a whole new level. Mayor Menino and the City of Boston are promoting an iPhone application called Citizens Connect that allows users to report graffiti, request a traffic light fix, report damaging potholes, and clear any other obstruction or infraction they notice. Initiated in October 2009, Citizens Connect remains largely successful, attracting 8,500 users whose reports accounted for 14% of the Mayor’s total complaints.
When I heard about this program, I thought it was awesome; partially because it is a wonderful idea and the city is looking better by the day, but mostly because I found my escape route – I don’t own an iPhone! But fear not, my fellow chore-avoiding, non iPhone- using peers; the latest installment of Citizens Connect will create not only an interactive feature between contributing residents, but is also going to become available on Droid phones, and there will be a webpage accessible by BlackBerry and more conventional computers. Those with the application will be able to view not only the reports they sent in, but they will also view the reports of others and thus can post again to emphasize the problem, or move on to the next blight. The city also plans to make its data available to the public, allowing programmers to build their own apps, make mashups, and have other fun on the Web. These features will be available next month, and there will be a kick-off party November 8th at Ned Devine’s Pub in Faneuil Hall.