Citizen complaint app finally fires up TechCrunch50

One of the most impressive debuts thus far at the conference has been Citysourced, an iPhone app for civic engagement, which announced an investment from Palm and a deal with San Jose.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
A screenshot of the back-end dashboard of Citysourced, as displayed at TechCrunch50. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--It's about time people got excited over here.

It's not that the smattering of fresh new companies presenting at the annual TechCrunch50 start-up launch conference was boring, per se. Most of them, in fact, had an extremely practical slant to them, like the array of job- and car-hunting sites that take something Craigslist does and make it way less sketchy. And therein lies the problem: Sometimes, those sorts of productivity and next-gen enterprise start-ups simply aren't that cool and shiny when you stick them into a PowerPoint demo.

But it was on the morning of the second day of the conference that the judges, audience, and organizers seemed thoroughly impressed by an app that they could actually use. Meet Citysourced, a new iPhone app that lets the residents of an individual city log complaints and inquiries--graffiti, potholes, neighbors who go streaking--and send them straight to City Hall.

They had two announcements accompanying the launch: first, that Palm had made a research-and-development investment in Citysourced to build an app for the Pre handset; and second, that the city of San Jose, Calif., had signed on board to use Citysourced as its official mobile 311 system.

You might be thinking that this sounds familiar. That's because it's not the only player in the space: Open311 has gotten some buzz for applying the open-standards model to building civic feedback systems. Also, earlier this year the city of Boston commissioned a mobile development company called Connected Bits to build a complaint-filing app called Citizen Connect.

But none of the existing civic-engagement apps have caught on yet, and Citysourced's mix of no-brainer efficiency and easy-to-read maps seemed to impress both the judges and the audience. So did the back-end Web interface for mapping and tracking inquiries and complaints. Digg founder Kevin Rose, one of the judges, called it "an amazing idea" and started offering suggestions: he wanted to be able to subscribe to a feed of updates from his neighborhood, for example, as well as see volunteer opportunities and vote on the priority of issues, Digg-style.

Citysourced "just seems that it's one that's sort of a no-brainer," TechCrunch founder and conference organizer Michael Arrington said after the presentation, asking for a show of hands in the audience to see how many iPhone owners in the audience would want to download the app. Many arms were raised.

The challenge, as panel judge Tim O'Reilly pointed out, is that Citysourced can only beat its competitors if it has the best approach to the market, namely its effectiveness in getting new cities on board. The start-ups' executives said that they're already in talks with some more of the 10 biggest cities in the country and should have more announcements soon.

In either case, the laptop-wielding masses at TechCrunch50 seemed to think that this new mobile start-up is one to watch.