Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Shutting Down a Civic Project

It’s never easy to shut down a civic project or app, but sometimes its the right thing to do.

And so it is with a project I started at the original Apps for SEPTA event in Philadelphia during the Fall of 2011. Effective last Friday, SEPTAlking stopped accepting phone calls and text messages for the next available SEPTA regional rail trains.

I’m proud of this little application that I first threw together during an insanely crazy weekend while helping to manage a civic hacking event I organized with my good friends at Devnuts. This application went on to be featured in a groundbreaking SEPTA marketing campaign that saw the agency promote apps developed by outside hackers to regional rail riders. Awesome stuff.

The application was used almost 20,000 times since late December 2012 by transit riders looking for the next available train at regional rails stations in and around the City of Philadelphia. This level of usage was made possible by SEPTA’s promotion of the app and also by the generous suport of my friends and former colleagues at Voxeo Labs.

The code for the app is open source, and I hope it inspires others as they work on transit apps and civic projects. Philadelphia is a city where many citizens face challenges to traditional Internet access and I think it’s important that this influences how we build civic apps. The apps we build must be able to serve the widest community of citizens possible.

Most of all, I’m immensely proud to be a part of the civic hacking community in the City of Philadelphia – a community that has grown by leaps and bounds because of events like Apps for SEPTA.

Not the first civic app I’ve shut down, and it certainly won’t be the last. Nevertheless, more hacking to come.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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