MELISSA BLOCK, host:
It has been a really bad winter for potholes. If you've been scraping the underbelly of your car and getting madder and madder about it, maybe you can just point and click and zip - the problem will be fixed. A number of cities around the country now have systems where you can use your smart phone to document a problem. And the GPS coordinates will be sent straight to authorities.
What they do from there, well, that's up to them. Ben Berkowitz is cofounder and CEO of SeeClickFix, an online tool that a number of cities are using. Ben, welcome to the program.
Mr. BEN BERKOWITZ (Cofounder and CEO, SeeClickFix): Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: And how did this get started for you?
Mr. BERKOWITZ: I was trying to get graffiti off my neighbor's building and after talking with him and realizing he wasn't going to help, I had a number of calls to city hall, which went unanswered and I wanted to create a public way of documenting these kind of nonemergency concerns.
BLOCK: So you were mad as hell and you weren't going to take it anymore.
Mr. BERKOWITZ: I was pissed and like a lot of good ideas, this one came from frustration.
BLOCK: And a Web site was born.
Mr. BERKOWITZ: And a Web site was born, right. The first complaints were things like graffiti and potholes. And we started sending alerts about the issues to city government and they started getting fixed very, very quickly. And we decided we should spread it.
BLOCK: Okay, I'm looking at a gallery of photos of various offenses on your Web site, a bunch of potholes, graffiti, garbage in backyard. Some of these are in French.
Mr. BERKOWITZ: Yeah. You know, we left the tool open to be anything that you wanted fixed in the public space, in your community. And as you mentioned, some of those are in French. It has recently spread to parts of Argentina, Australia, you know, every community has different concerns and we don't want to limit those communities from improving their space.
BLOCK: So, say I see some grave offense, a humongous pothole, and I take out my smartphone and I take a picture on it. Then what happens? I need to know where to send it?
Mr. BERKOWITZ: The first thing you'd want to do is you'd want to download the SeeClickFix iPhone app or Blackberry or Android app. You would open our application and you would take a photo of the issue through the application. The application will show you where you are on a map. If you were in Tucson, you will, as an example of a city that's paying us and has put their service request into the tool, you will select from something like pothole or graffiti and you will hit Report, and an email will be sent to Tucson.
If you're in a city that's just receiving free email alerts from SeeClickFix, so we could say Hartford, Connecticut as an example. You take out the SeeClickFix app, you describe the issue, it could be anything. You report the issue with location and an email will be sent to them as well.
BLOCK: Yeah, I'm looking at the SeeClickFix link for Tucson and this little icon pops up. If something is fixed it says, fixed with an exclamation point and there's a little arm holding a wrench. And I guess the city's reporting back, okay, we've taken care of this one.
Mr. BERKOWITZ: Anybody can close an issue when it's resolved on SeeClickFix. But, you know, responsive city employees tend to close it themselves once it's been fixed. But not everything gets fixed by a city employee. So, you know, anybody could pick up litter or shovel their neighbor's walk from snow. And so some of the things that get fixed are actually by citizens themselves.
BLOCK: What do you think, Ben, is this making local government more responsive or do you think it just makes the whole thing more transparent?
Mr. BERKOWITZ: I think both. I think that it is accelerating the willingness to be publicly and transparently accountable at a local municipal level. I also think that there are some forces coming from our federal government that are encouraging this kind of transparent response as well. And so I think the pressure from citizens and the pressure from our federal leaders to be more open in our communication and encourage more participation at a civic level is really making this movement happen a lot quicker than I would've ever expected it to.
BLOCK: Ben Berkowitz, thanks for talking to us.
Mr. BERKOWITZ: Great. Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Ben Berkowitz is the cofounder and CEO of SeeClickFix.
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