An SMS-Enabled Polling Locator

This is a great weekend for civic hacking.

Daylight Savings Time has given us an extra hour, advances in telephony application development have made it dead simple to build text messaging applications and Google has given us the Civic Information API.

With an election on Tuesday, I wanted to build a quick application that demonstrated the ease with which SMS apps can be built and the power of Google’s API.

The address of a polling place is both valuable and succinct – it’s the ideal kind of information to deliver through multiple communication channels. Text messaging (SMS) is a fairly ubiquitous communication channel, and in some cities – like Philadelphia – it’s an important way to engage with citizens that may face barriers to digital access.

The screencast above demonstrates how to use the script I developed using the Google Civic Information API and the Tropo telephony platform.

There are many ways to do this, and there are a large number of text messaging platforms and services to choose from, so if you want to use your extra hour this weekend to help people find their polling location pick the one you like best and get cracking.

It’s never been easier to build useful communication and messaging apps – in fact it’s getting easier every day. And with the richness of information available through APIs like Google’s Civic Information API, it’s never been easier to build an app that will help people get to their polling location.

Election day is just around the corner. Use your extra hour this weekend wisely…

Open Data Needs Champions

If you’ve spent any time on a subway platform or at a bus stop lately, you may have witnessed one of the great success stories of open government data.

All of those people checking the arrival and departure times of trains, trolleys and buses are consuming applications built with open transit data.


It’s a great example of how open data has changed (and continues to change) the way we use public transit, and the role of transit agencies in developing consumer-facing applications.

There is a really interesting post over on the Google “Policy by the Numbers” blog that examines some of the reasons that open transit data has had such a dramatic impact in places where it has been embraced (h/t to O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard for the link).

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