By Chloe Albanesius - PC Magazine - Tue Jun 2, 2009
Listen up, San Francisco residents. Is there a leaky fire hydrant on the corner? A huge pothole on your street? Unsightly graffiti on your building? Starting today, you can contact city 311 officials viaTwitter.
Mayor Gavin Newsom and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone on Tuesday announced that the city's non-emergency 311 information service will accept inquiries and complaints via the ubiquitous micro-blogging service.
To "tweet" into the SF 311 call center, visit sftwitter.sfgov.org. and click the "Follow Me" link to create a two-way follow. Users will then receive an email and/or direct message from the call center with the response, "How can I help you?"
Users who do not have a Twitter account will be asked to register, but they will only have to go through the sign-up process once. The city considered auto-follow, but found that "two way follow makes it easier to create requests."
Users can then write a direct message or Tweet to @SF311 from a browser or smartphone. You can also text complaints from regular cell phones. Address the text to "40404" and type "d sf311 [message]" in the body, remembering to include a space between the "d" and the "s".
Operators are manning 311 calls and inquiries 24 hours a day, though "the amount of time it takes for SF311 to receive the tweet will vary based on the response of the Twitter network," according to the city.
The idea came about after Newsom visited Twitter headquarters several weeks ago and mentioned that a constituent had sent him a Twitter message about a pothole. He and Stone then started talking about "how we can get Twitter to be involved in advancing, streamlining, and supporting the governance of cities," Newsom said at a press conference that was broadcast online.
Tech companies like Comcast and Time Warner have been using Twitter to reach out to customers directly for some time, but Tuesday's announcement is the first time a major U.S. city will use Twitter on such a large scale.
"We are changing the way cities connect with their government," Newsome said.
What types of things should San Francisco residents be Tweeting about? People dealing with fire, medical, or police emergencies should still contact 911, but if you have an inquiry about basic city services likes street cleaning, graffiti removal, abandoned vehicles, department information, or park maintenance, use @SF311. "d sf311 Queen mattress and two bags of trash on sidewalk at 1355 Market," reads a sample message provided by the city.
People can "just fire off a text message" and feel like they contributed to making their city more efficient, said Twitter's Stone. He applauded San Francisco for "understanding that people are moving to a more open medium."
As of 530pm Eastern time, the @SF311 account had over 500 followers. San Francisco's 311 center made its debut in March 2007, and has since received over five million calls. In April, Newsom used Twitter to announce that he will run for governor of California as a Democrat.