NY mayor: Info to the people will improve gov't

Michael Bloomberg kicks off the Personal Democracy Forum conference by suggesting that governments will run more smoothly by making information more readily available to the people--the same concept that made him a billionaire.

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
3 min read

NEW YORK--The state senate in Albany was in a bit of a shambles Monday. So instead of speaking in-person at the Personal Democracy Forum as planned, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg used Skype to make his keynote address.

"Through the miracles of modern communication, we're essentially together," Bloomberg commented to the audience at the Frederick P. Rose auditorium here in midtown Manhattan. He then spoke about how New York is using the assets of the digital age to make more information available to the city's residents--something that Bloomberg can pitch well, considering he made a fortune as the founder of the business news and information company that bears his name.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg NYC.gov

Bloomberg's new initiatives include Skype and Twitter accounts for NYC 311, the city's information hotline that Bloomberg launched several years ago; a partnership with Google to get more detailed information about exactly what people are searching for on municipal government sites (and what they can and can't find); and "Big Apps," a new contest for developers to crunch and remix city data into Web or mobile applications for the masses.

The economy, however, may get in the way. Any ambitious new city projects are taken with a grain of salt these days, and with good reason.

I, for one, was scrambling to get to Bloomberg's talk on time because cutbacks and delays on the B-D-F-V subway line had added literally an extra half-hour to my commute from downtown to the conference venue at Columbus Circle. Griping about the city budget is pretty commonplace around here these days, and Bloomberg himself is no exception.

"If any of you from around the world wants to move here," Bloomberg quipped over the Skype connection when conference organizer Andrew Rasiej commented that a thousand people were on hand, "we would love to have you. We need taxpayers."

The official information available on the Web to New York residents includes public school progress data and citywide performance reporting. Beyond that, Bloomberg's administration has chosen to support new and more efficient ways of doing business: it has given the thumbs-up to collaborative workspaces and launched a venture fund for tech and finance start-ups, among other things. These are all part of a way to combat the fact that the Wall Street meltdown has left scores of the city's professionals out of work.

With "Big Apps," Bloomberg is encouraging developers to participate in a contest that "will challenge all of you, and the whole tech world, really, to come up with new applications using city data."

"We'll be releasing a huge volume of data from a number of agencies," Bloomberg said before the Skype connection briefly cut off. Rasiej re-dialed in, and Bloomberg continued that he hopes the fruits of Big Apps contests will "create the connectedness that will benefit the city economically, civically, and socially."

If developers aren't willing to act solely out of a desire to help the city, Bloomberg said that Big Apps will indeed have cash prizes, as well as an even bigger incentive.

"I'll up the ante by taking the grand-prize winners out to dinner," he said.

Good to hear that's still in the budget.