App will let residents zap problems to 3-1-1

Mayor Nutter welcomes Lily Liu, CEO of PublicStuff, which created the new 3-1-1 app the city plans to launch by the end of the summer, in his office Friday, May 4. (Morgan Zalot / Daily News Staff)
Mayor Nutter welcomes Lily Liu, CEO of PublicStuff, which created the new 3-1-1 app the city plans to launch by the end of the summer, in his office Friday, May 4. (Morgan Zalot / Daily News Staff)
Posted: May 08, 2012

EVER WISH it were easier to gripe to the city about that pesky pothole on your block? Soon, there will be an app for that.

By Labor Day, city officials are hoping to roll out a 3-1-1 app that will allow residents to have “the government at their fingertips,” as Managing Director Rich Negrin describes it. On Monday, the city is expected to announce its first major step toward the future of city-service requests — a contract with application-development company PublicStuff.

PublicStuff, which recently signed an $18,000 one-year contract with the city, got off the ground in 2009 in a Philly-based incubator. Since then, it has created apps for more than 110 U.S. cities. Philly, said Negrin and Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid, will be PublicStuff’s first big city.

The app, which will be available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, will allow residents to submit photos and descriptions of nonemergency issues, receive notifications about the status of their requests and track other requests made by residents throughout the city.

It will also boast crowd-sourcing and social-media components that will allow other residents to vote on previously submitted requests and network with other users, said Lily Liu, PublicStuff’s chief executive.

Ebeid and Negrin said they see the app helping to breach the digital divide in Philadelphia, where more than half of the households lack Internet access.

“The vision overall is to really use technology to bring people closer to their government,” Ebeid said.

The app is one of the first steps in “constantly narrowing the gap between citizens and the government,” he added.

Liu said the key aspect that will make PublicStuff’s app unique is how it integrates service requests with the city’s 3-1-1 nonemergency system. Instead of city employees receiving requests and then manually entering service-request tickets, Liu said, the app will automatically create and log requests.

“That time in between [the request being made and the city receiving it] is significant, especially if it’s a weekend,” said Assistant Managing Director Tim Wisniewski, who has tested PublicStuff’s app and others.

Other big U.S. cities like Boston and Los Angeles already have similar apps up and running, and Councilman Bobby Henon launched a similar “CityHall App” for iPhones last month.

As part of the agreement, PublicStuff, now headquartered in New York City, will open a satellite office in Philly.

Contact Morgan Zalot at 215-854-5928 or zalotm@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @morganzalot.

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