San Francisco Launches Its Own App Store

San Francisco Applications

Taking a cue from Apple’s wildly successful App Store for the iPhone, the City by the Bay today announced the launch of DataSF App Showcase. In a blog post, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the idea is to highlight and centralize programs created using city data.

“This has worked for Apple and Facebook, at last check; there are 60,000 apps available in the Apple App store and more than 350,000 different Facebook apps. Why not create a government app store as well?” he said in the post.

The initial phase of DataSF includes more than 100 datasets from a range of city departments, including Police, Public Works, and the Municipal Transportation Agency.

Newsom said his staff is working with the various city departments to free up as much data as possible, which should lead to many more applications in the Showcase.

“In San Francisco, we are trying to turn government into an organizing platform for civic engagement by giving our residents the tools to build the kind of government that works for them,” Newsom said.

The news comes at a time when the Obama administration is also promising a more open, interactive government, part of the broader Government 2.0 movement, as it’s sometimes called.

There’s an app for that

Among the more interesting applications already available at the Showcase are San Francisco Crimespotting, EcoFinder, EveryBlock and CleanScores.

Crimespotting shows an interactive map of crimes in San Francisco. You can also enable an RSS feed to track crimes in specific areas of the city.

EcoFinder, currently for the iPhone and iPod Touch, is designed to help people find out where to recycle and dispose of a wide range of materials. Select the material and the program displays relevant businesses and services closest to your location.

EveryBlock publishes a news feed for every city block in San Francisco. Enter a street address, neighborhood or ZIP code and the site will display recent mainstream media and blog coverage, police calls, building permits, restaurant inspections and more.

CleanScores lets you find the health inspection scores for restaurants in the city.

“The Department of Technology is excited by the opportunity to work more closely with the technology community to lower costs and drive innovation in government,” said Chris Vein, CIO for the city of San Francisco, in a statement. “The success of civic tools like the EcoFinder iPhone app clearly demonstrates the value of opening government data.”

Newsom said the idea for the App Store grew out of discussions last month with Gov 2.0 advocate Tim O’Reilly, WordPress developer Matt Mullenwig and others, following the launch of the city’s Web site. That launch took place in San Francisco at the headquarters of blogging tools provider WordPress.

San Francisco has been ramping up its use of social networks as part of its move to make government services and operations more transparent. For example, earlier this year the city launched a 311-Twitter service. With 311-Twitter, the city can receive real-time reports on the needs of specific city services and depending on the device, users can accompany their tweet with a photograph for added clarification.

In one example of a 311-Twitter use, Twitter user bolinasgirl tweeted last month to report a malfunctioning streetlight.

“@sf311 streetlight at the corner of Diamond and Alvarado keeps flickering on and off. Needs to be replaced. Thanks,” the user wrote.

In response, SF311 tweeted back: “@bolinasgirl – request has been submitted to PUC – Electic/ Power Division. Your SR# 493132. Thank you, ^BM”

A spokesman for the Mayor said the effort to employ more social media started in earnest about 18 months ago.

“The city has an extensive presence on Facebook, with more than a quarter of a million fans, Twitter, YouTube and other sites,” said Brian Purchia in an e-mail sent to “City Departments like the Dept. of the Environment, the PUC, and the Dept. of Emergency Management are using the sites to communicate and get feedback.”

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