You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

OpenOakland Invites Citizens To Create An 'Ask Jeeves' for City Services

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, May 28 2013

A group of civic hackers in Oakland is calling on the city's residents to come help it launch a variation of an "Ask Jeeves," kind of search engine for city services this Saturday as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking.

OpenOakland is calling its event "Rewrite Oakland." It's "writeathon," in the sense that Oaklanders will spend a marathon session together on Saturday working to make the city government's Web site more accessible. That means two things: Writing content that's easily understandable, as in the kind of plain English found in the form of "Frequently Answered Questions," and then making the content easily searchable. The end product will arrive in the form of "Oakland Answers," which will be similar to "Honolulu Answers." It will all be newly-published content hosted by the city that will exist as a supplement to the city government's curent Web site. The project is based on the idea that city services should be accessible online through a search query, much like a human would ask a person for information at a desk in a lobby, rather than having to walk around an entire building to discover the help that they need. The city will use an open-source content management system created by Code for America for the project.

Volunteers will be expected to tackle seven to eight subject areas that are popular topics of interest currently at the city's Web site, including business permitting, public safety, information about police services, public works and parking, said Steve Spiker, OpenOakland's executive director.

OpenOakland will have writing style and formatting guides on hand. Volunteers bring their own laptops, log into the system where they will create the content, and spend the day creating readable copy.

The event was organized together with local city officials, Code for America, The Hub Oakland, and PopUpHood. It's one of dozens of events happening across the country from Anchorage to Boca Raton, Florida, as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking.