NYC neighborhoods go online

Jeff Merritt, Director of Innovation in the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation in New York City, explains how geodomains are helping the city gather local data and information.

TRANSCRIPT

IN 2014, NEW YORK CITY LAUNCHED THE .nyc DOMAIN, JOINING THE RANKS OF GEODOMAINS LIKE .london AND .tokyo.

A YEAR LATER, THE CITY OFFICE OF TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION HAS ANNOUNCED WEBSITES FOR EACH OF ITS 400 NEIGHBORHOODS.

NOW NEW YORKERS CAN FIND TRAFFIC ALERTS AND SEARCH FOR NEARBY PARKS AND POLLING PLACES ON THESE HYPER-LOCAL SITES, WITH NAMES LIKE soho.nyc AND chinatown.nyc.

HERE TO TELL US MORE IS JEFF MERRITT, DIRECTOR OF INNOVATION IN THE MAYOR'S OFFICE OF TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION.

WHAT IS THE OPEN DATA POLICY THAT NEW YORK CITY HAS TO ENABLE ALL OF THESE NEIGHBORHOODS TO HAVE A STEADY STREAM OF INFORMATION COMING IN?

SO, NEW YORK WAS REALLY ONE OF THE FIRST CITIES IN THE COUNTRY TO HAVE A ROBUST OPEN DATA POLICY, AND SO, REALLY, WE STARTED PULLING INFORMATION FROM AGENCIES AND PUTTING IT IN OUR OPEN DATA PORTAL.

BUT, UNFORTUNATELY, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOOK AT AN OPEN DATA PORTAL IS YOU'RE JUST OVERWHELMED BY THE QUANTITY OF INFORMATION, RIGHT?

AND YOU'RE LOOKING AT TABLES AND TABLES OF INFORMATION.

AND SO WHAT WE'VE BEEN ABLE TO DO HERE WITH neighborhoods.nyc IS TAKE THAT INFORMATION, FILTER IT DOWN BY GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATIONS -- 'CAUSE, REALLY, NEIGHBORHOODS ARE THE FABRIC OF THIS CITY, WHAT PEOPLE IDENTIFY WITH -- AND PUT THE MOST RELEVANT INFORMATION IN FRONT OF RESIDENTS AT ONE CLICK IN VERY SIMPLE, NATURAL LANGUAGE THAT'S EASY TO UNDERSTAND AND USE.

SO, WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF BITS OF INFORMATION THAT SOMEONE CAN SEE WHEN THEY POP INTO A NEIGHBORHOOD?

SO, WE'VE GOT DOZENS OF DIFFERENT DATA FEEDS COMING IN.

A LOT OF THEM ARE COMING IN THROUGH 311.

311's THE SITE THAT NEW YORKERS CALL FOR ALL KINDS OF NON-EMERGENCIES.

SO YOU'LL HAVE INFORMATION THERE ON COMPLAINTS ABOUT A BROKEN STREETLIGHT OR PERHAPS THERE'S TRASH OR ANY SORT OF DIFFERENT COMPLAINTS IN THE COMMUNITY.

BUT YOU'LL ALSO HAVE THINGS LIKE STREET CLOSURES OR CONSTRUCTION.

YOU'LL HAVE REAL-TIME INFORMATION ABOUT TRAIN DELAYS.

AND SO IF YOU IMAGINE YOU'RE A BUSINESS OWNER AND YOUR DAY-TO-DAY BUSINESS DEPENDS ON THESE TYPE OF ACTIVITIES IN THE COMMUNITY, THIS IS CRITICAL INFORMATION FOR YOU TO KNOW, AND YOU NEED IT IN REAL TIME.

SO, HOW DOES THIS CHANGE WHAT A COMMUNITY GATHERS AND TALKS ABOUT, RIGHT?

BECAUSE THERE HAVE BEEN PEOPLE THAT HAVE GOTTEN TOGETHER ON THE STREETS AND SAID BEFORE, 'OH, GOSH, THAT CONSTRUCTION'S REALLY HORRIBLE.'

BUT NOW, WHEN THERE IS A DATA SET THAT THEY CAN ALL HAVE ACCESS TO, HOW DOES IT CHANGE THE INTERACTIONS?

SURE.

SO, ON ONE HAND, ONE OF THE CRITICAL THINGS IS WE WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD HAD ACCESS TO THIS INFORMATION, RIGHT?

BECAUSE WHAT YOU FIND OFTENTIMES IN THE CITY IS SORT OF INFORMATION ASYMMETRY.

SOME COMMUNITIES HAVE REAL ROBUST WEBSITES, AND THEY HAVE ACCESS TO ALL OF THE INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING.

IN OTHER COMMUNITIES, THEY MIGHT NOT HAVE ANY COMMUNITY WEBSITE.

SO WE WANTED TO MAKE SURE FROM THE GET-GO THAT EVERY COMMUNITY HAD A PLATFORM AND THEY COULD BUILD UPON THAT.

AND SO, REALLY, WHAT WE SEE -- THIS IS A STARTING POINT FOR COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS TO LICENSE THESE DOMAINS AND REALLY CUSTOMIZE THOSE TO MAKE THEM UNIQUE TO THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD.

I WAS GONNA SAY -- TO SCALE SOMETHING, IF IT CAN HAPPEN IN NEW YORK, IT CAN PROBABLY HAPPEN IN A SMALLER CITY.

BUT TO START OUT WITH, REALLY, THE 400... HOW DO YOU SEE IT EVOLVING OVER TIME?

I MEAN, DO YOU SEE THAT PLACES WHERE THERE ARE ALREADY ACTIVE COMMUNITY GROUPS MIGHT EMBRACE THIS AND BUILD IT OUT BIGGER?

YEAH, SO, WHAT WE'RE DOING IS WE'RE LAUNCHING -- LAST WEEK, WE LAUNCHED A 90-DAY BETA PERIOD.

AND SO WE'RE WELCOMING ALL KINDS OF FEEDBACK.

WE WANT TO KNOW IF ACTUALLY THE DATA THAT WE'RE PUTTING ONTO THESE SITES IS THE CORRECT INFORMATION, IF PEOPLE WANT MORE INFORMATION, IF THEY WANT TO PRESENT IT A DIFFERENT WAY.

AND DURING THAT PHASE, WE'RE DOING HEAVY OUTREACH TO COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS, AND WE'RE INVITING THEM TO SUBMIT AN APPLICATION, PUT SOME AFFIDAVITS OF SUPPORT AND SAY, 'I WANT TO LICENSE MY NEIGHBORHOOD SITE,' SO, 'I WANT TO LICENSE tribeca.nyc OR brownsville.nyc.'

AND THEN WHAT WE'LL BE DOING IS, WE'LL REALLY BE HANDING OVER THE REINS TO THOSE COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS TO DEVELOP ON TOP OF THIS PLATFORM.

SO IT'LL MEAN THAT THEY DON'T HAVE TO UPDATE THEIR SITE EVERY SINGLE DAY.

THEIR SITES ARE UPDATED AUTOMATICALLY WITH REAL-TIME DATA FEEDS.

BUT THEN THEY CAN ADD ON TO THEIR INFORMATION ON LOCAL BUSINESSES, LOCAL GROUPS.

THEY CAN ADD DISCUSSION BOARDS.

AND SOMEBODY'S GONNA ASK, 'LISTEN, WHY IS THE CITY INVOLVED IN DOING THIS?

DON'T WE HAVE APPS AND SERVICES NOW, FROM TripAdvisor TO YELP TO WHATEVER, THAT GIVE TONS OF COMMENTS AND REVIEWS?'

WHAT'S SO DIFFERENT ABOUT THE PIECES OF INFORMATION THAT PEOPLE ARE SUBMITTING TO 311 VERSUS ALL THIS OTHER STUFF?

I MEAN, REALLY, WE SEE ALL THE DATA THAT THE CITY HAS AS ASSETS, AND WE WANT TO MAKE THAT AVAILABLE TO RESIDENTS.

AND SO REALLY, THIS WAS A WAY TO MAKE SURE THAT ANY NEIGHBORHOOD RESIDENT -- DOESN'T MATTER IF IT'S, YOU KNOW, A GRANDMOTHER WHO'S 85 OR A STUDENT WHO'S 15 -- WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY CAN ACCESS THE MOST RELEVANT INFORMATION FOR THEM, AND WE'VE GOT IT COMING IN REAL TIME.

SO, AGAIN, WE THINK THESE ARE GONNA BE ABLE TO EVOLVE OVER TIME.

WE THINK THAT THEY MAY BE ABLE TO INCORPORATE INFORMATION FROM PRIVATE SITES OR OTHER COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS' SITES.

BUT WE WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE HAD A STARTING POINT, A BASE, SO THAT EVERY COMMUNITY HAD GOOD, UP-TO-DATE, ACCURATE INFORMATION.

COULD THIS WORK IN LESS DENSE URBAN AREAS?

OF COURSE.

WE'VE PARTLY -- THE REASON WHY WE HAVE 400 NEIGHBORHOODS IS EVERYBODY OFTENTIMES DEFINES THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD IN DIFFERENT WAYS, RIGHT?

SO YOU MIGHT HAVE TWO FOLKS THAT SEE THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD -- YOU KNOW, ONE SEES IT AS 'I LIVE IN CARROLL GARDENS.'

RIGHT?

AND SOME PEOPLE WILL SEE THE NEIGHBORHOOD NEXT TO MINE AS BoCoCa, RIGHT?

I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT EXACT DEFINITION IS.

BUT WE WANTED TO ENABLE A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT SITES FOR EACH NEIGHBORHOOD AS FOLKS SEE THAT NEIGHBORHOOD.

IN SOME CASES, THEY'RE VERY SMALL.

AND IT MAY BE A RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE A GROUP OF HOMEOWNERS END UP BEING THE ONES THAT ADMINISTER THAT SITE.

SO, WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS GOING, AFTER THIS BETA PERIOD, A YEAR FROM NOW, FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?

YOUR-BEST CASE SCENARIO.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO IS REALLY WE HAVE ROBUST COMMUNITY SITES IN EVERY SINGLE NEIGHBORHOOD.

THOSE COULD BE SITES THAT ARE GENERATING REVENUE FOR THOSE LOCAL NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS.

THEY INCLUDE PAGES ON THERE FOR ALL THE LOCAL MOM-AND-POP SHOPS.

AND ULTIMATELY, BECAUSE THIS IS A PLATFORM, IT'S SOMETHING THAT CAN BE REPLICATED IN OTHER CITIES AROUND THE WORLD.

WE'VE ALREADY SEEN THAT WITH digital.nyc, WHICH IS OUR ONE-STOP SHOP FOR THE TECH ECOSYSTEM THAT'S NOW BEING REPLICATED IN CITIES LIKE LONDON, BOSTON.

WE EXPECT THE SAME THING HERE.

IN MANY WAYS IN NEW YORK, WHAT WE TRY TO DO IS ESTABLISH A NEW WAY OF DOING THINGS AND REALLY ESTABLISH A MODEL THAT CAN BE REPLICATED AROUND THE WORLD.

ALL RIGHT, JEFF MERRITT, THANKS SO MUCH FOR STOPPING BY.

THANK YOU.