May. 10, 2012 11:12 am

PublicStuff: NYC firm with Philly ties wins long-delayed city 311 app contract, due Labor Day, with real-time API

The deal is a $18,000 one-year contract and is scheduled for an initial release by Labor Day.

The City of Philadelphia has chosen New York City-based PublicStuff as the vendor to produce its long-delayed 311 mobile application, and its release will include a real-time API.

The deal is a $18,000 one-year contract and is scheduled for an initial release by Labor Day.

Why choose a NYC shop for a Philadelphia project? Two reasons, says city 311 project manager Tim Wisniewski: PublicStuff, which has a client list of more than 110 smaller cities, “provides the most intuitive user experience of all the apps we tested” and no Philadelphia firm applied.

“The company was chosen through a competitive process by a working group comprised of representatives from the Office of Innovation and Technology, 311 and the Managing Director’s Office,” said a city press release, noting that four proposals were originally received. Typically, all city contract work must be posted online, though if no local firm applied, a hole in communication between the city and a technology community may be gaping.

City representatives are quick to point out that PublicStuff has local roots: it was incubated by GoodCompany Ventures and received early funding from First Round Capital. Additionally, PublicStuff founder Lily Liu says her firm is opening a small satellite office in Philadelphia before the end of the year — which may come after the initial deadline and, she says, is partly in relation to its FRC investment. (The firm has 15 staff and no other satellite offices to date, says Liu.)

“In addition, they will allow us to reach the highest number of residents by being as cross-platform as it gets – users can submit requests on an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, through mobile web, Facebook and Twitter,” added Wisniewski.

(You may remember Wisniewski, dubbed “the Developer in Black” for his dark wardrobe, from his many hobbyist hacker projects, but earlier this year, he took a role with the city’s 311 office).

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In 2009, the City of Boston set off the local 311 app craze, followed by a Council-based one in Los Angeles. Neither seems to have transformed city governance. Locally, a similar iPhone-only tool from freshman Councilman Bobby Henon — though it direct complaints through his staff before 311 — has already shipped.

One big difference will be the potential availability of a scalable data tool to allow for other development.

“With Mayor Nutter’s recent executive order on open data, the ability for our app to offer easy access to 311 data was a high priority in selecting a vendor,” said Wisniewski. “PublicStuff provides an API that conforms to the Open311 standard, allowing other developers to build apps that plug into our system and retrieve real-time data.”

Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a cofounder and Editorial Director of, the local technology news network. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.


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