Web Innovator Hits It Big

by Melissa Bailey | March 18, 2009 8:06 AM | | Comments (31)

IMG_1911.jpgSince it launched in New Haven one year ago, SeeClickFix has taken the nation by storm: It has spread to high-profile news sites in major cities and recently earned a $25,000 award for social media inventions and a perch at The New York Times.

SeeClickFix is a free web tool that lets people report non-emergency problems to those responsible for fixing them, all through a public, interactive map.

The service was created in March 2008 by New Haven’s Ben Berkowitz (pictured), Jeff Blasius, and Kam and Miles Lasater as a way to create accountability for neighborhood issues like potholes and drug-dealing.

Click here to visit the site.

SeeClickFix joined the Independent last fall. You can see the latest reports on the upper right-hand corner of our home page.

After initial success in New Haven, the idea has been catching on like wildfire. Last week, SeeClickFix launched as a permanent feature on the Philly.com web site. In February, it debuted on a new hyperlocal news site created by the New York Times. The tool also landed a spot on Boston.com and WPXI.com in Pittsburgh earlier this year.

Berkowitz came up with the idea while sitting at one of New Haven’s downtown coffee shops, where he can often be spotted working on projects for his web design business. In a recent conversation at BrÅ«, he reflected on the SeeClickFix’s rise to fame.

At the time of the interview, Berkowitz had just returned from a trip to Miami, Florida, where the SeeClickFix founders faced off against 300 competitors from over 40 countries for the We Media Pitch It Awards. We Media gives out two awards, one non-profit and one for-profit, for the best model for innovation in media and journalism.

SeeClickFix earned the top prize in the for-profit category, scoring a $25,000 grant. Berkowitz said the money will allow him to devote more of his time to running and developing the site.

Based on a GoogleMaps platform, SeeClickFix is available for free to communities across the world, wherever English is spoken. Users open a “ticket” to file a complaint then visit the site to check back to track their and others’ reports.

On top of the free mapping tool, SeeClickFix sells professional services. City governments can pay to have the tool integrated with their 311 systems; other groups, such as the Town Green Special Services District, pay for a “dashboard” that lets them see a systemic overview of a watch area.

New Haven: “A Shining Star”

SeeClickFix.com now has over 2,000 users nationwide, said Berkowitz. The project’s success comes thanks to the way it was embraced by the New Haven community, he said.

To be effective, the tool relies on commitment from a community of “watchers,” public officials, activists and institutions who take responsibility for maintaining the public space. When someone opens a ticket to document a problem, a report is sent out to relevant watchers based on location and keywords. There are now 454 watchers in New Haven, according to Berkowitz.

“The community has built this system of people who click and people who fix,” he said.

seeclickfixpic.pngNew Haven’s watchers include city officials who routinely use the site to clean up graffiti and fix potholes.

During a recent school recess, the city’s police department used the site to carry out “Operation ClickFix.” From Feb. 16 to 20, school resource officers were reassigned to the city’s traffic unit to target motor-vehicle violations reported through SeeClickFix.

Operation ClickFix resulted in 38 spotted infractions, 15 written warnings, nine parking violations, and two vehicles towed, according to a city statement posted on Berkowitz’s blog.

After complaints about its shuttles speeding down residential streets, Yale University recently set up a watch area to track those complaints. Given the precise time and location of a speeding shuttle, the university can identify the driver and address the problem, Berkowitz said.

The Regional Water Authority has used the site to address leaking or tipped-over fire hydrants. After this Independent story about graffiti on its V-rad boxes, AT&T started using SeeClickFix to clean up the tags.

A single report may be tackled by several watchers. For example, when someone reported a broken bench in East Rock Park, staff from the city parks department and the Friends of East Rock Park came together to fix the problem, Berkowitz said.

The site “is creating tremendous accountability, transparency and civic participation,” Berkowitz argued. “It’s opening people’s eyes to taking responsibility for the public space.”

“New Haven is the shining star example of where it all started,” he added. “We know that this can work in every town and city.”







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Comments

Posted by: Chrissy Bonanno | March 18, 2009 8:37 AM

Congrats to Seeclickfix!

Posted by: jeffreykerekes [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2009 8:40 AM

Congratulations Ben. This is a great tool. I really appreciate the ability of the community to see the list of outstanding issues. This provides a platform for increased transparency. The Community can then better assess the effectiveness of the City to respond and address citizens' concerns. Best of luck of spreading across the country.

Posted by: Anon | March 18, 2009 8:59 AM

I have used this site. My problem was never addressed and never fixed. I highly doubt the thousands of posts on this site will ever be rectified, if even acknowledged. I guess I don't see the effectiveness of see click fix.

Posted by: robn | March 18, 2009 9:17 AM

New Haven needs more good solid citizens like Ben.

Posted by: jp | March 18, 2009 9:23 AM

Great tool i just wish people used it correctly to many people use it to complain about things like i cant find parking or people run lights or say the yale bus is speeding. It should only be used for things like that can be fixed like potholes, graffiti, litter or needed traffic signage.

Posted by: Nan Bartow | March 18, 2009 9:40 AM

Congratulations, Ben. You make us proud of New Haven.

Posted by: DEZ | March 18, 2009 9:43 AM

Major props to Ben for Seeclickfix and granting the community a tool for initiating change in their neighborhood. Together we step from the margins and become part of the solution. Personally, as a frustrated writer, I like it for forcing my hand at humorous prose. Why write a dull clicket?

Posted by: Stop the insanity | March 18, 2009 9:50 AM

People think of this as just a place to drop off complaints and have someone else fix them - this is a community tool the community should use it. Recently, the idea that a bunch of stones from a gravel driveway would end up in the street and that the City (who just laid off a lot of workers) would immediately send people out there to fix the problem was one of the hot topics.....this is why I quit following the site - people- Govenrment isn't supposed to fix all the problems - we are - these people should have knocked on the door or fixed themsleves. this is how communitities work - but in New Hhaven, we expect government to do everything and then get mad at it when it doesn't. (as if it ever should hvae benn involved in the forst place)

Posted by: Research Assistant | March 18, 2009 10:08 AM

JP -- Did you even read the article? As the article makes clear, illegally parked cars (which often times cause the inability to find parking), traffic violations, and Yale shuttle speeding are being addressed via SeeClickFix. Part of the genius behind the website is the platform's flexibility. Congrats Ben and the other folks who have worked so hard on this!

Posted by: Joe Rodriguez | March 18, 2009 10:10 AM

Congratulations!

This is an excellent site. As an alder I am all for ways of enhancing constituent services and this is definitely another tool which helps us stay in constant communication with neighborhood issues.

Joe Rodriguez
Alderman, Ward 15

Posted by: Ned | March 18, 2009 10:27 AM

I've used the site and it works well and the problems, e.g., streetlights out, construction without permits, gravel spilled in road have all been fixed.

Thank you and congratulations Mr. Berkowitz.

Posted by: Two2Three [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2009 10:30 AM

Thanks to the commenters for giving Berkowitz a first name. It doesn't appear in the article.

[Editor: Thanks for that catch. Two paragraphs high up in the story mysteriously disappeared. They're back.]

Posted by: Janna | March 18, 2009 10:31 AM

Ben, Miles, Jeff and Kam-congratulations to you all. Your project encourages all of us to stop complaining about what doesn't work in our city and to roll up our sleeves and make the change we want to see. New Haven is lucky to have you!

Posted by: anon | March 18, 2009 11:08 AM

This is a great site. It isn't supposed to solve every problem, but can definitely help raise awareness of certain issues and help the community work together at solving them.

Posted by: Steve Ross, Human | March 18, 2009 11:14 AM

Good job, Ben. You've done us proud. (But sadly the man in the photo behind you hates you.)

Posted by: FairHavenResToo [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2009 11:22 AM

I second everyone else's comments in that this is a GREAT resource for the community. I've used it many times to report issues like potholes, streetside/sidewalk debris and noise ordinance violations. Having said that, however, I agree with JP's comment regarding certain posts. I've seen (and experienced first hand) SeeClickFix used by one neighbor to anonymously attack another, and make life hell for them, and it's a shame that SCF can't be tweaked or monitored to get rid of these type of posts. I guess it's the scourge of anonymous boards everywhere. Thanks Ben, though, for all your hard work!

Posted by: SLP | March 18, 2009 11:35 AM

Congratulations, Ben! Well deserved!

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2009 12:12 PM

Hey Dude good for you!!

Posted by: visitor | March 18, 2009 12:53 PM

New Haven needs more good solid citizens like Ben?
I think that New Haven has many, many good solid citizens like Ben.

Posted by: anon | March 18, 2009 3:06 PM

Hopefully these can be used as legal evidence if someone is injured or killed due to negligence on the part of a property owner. Having these records out there could help inspire people to take better care of their properties.

Posted by: Streever | March 18, 2009 3:38 PM

Well done, dude. :)

Posted by: Ben | March 18, 2009 4:36 PM

Thanks to everyone for the support.
Jeff Blasius, Kam Lasater and Miles Lasater are as equal to blame and thank as well. They are the other 3 co-founders of the site.
Thanks guys!

Posted by: Comrade Stalin | March 18, 2009 7:54 PM

With McGrath putting up surveillance cameras everywhere and this guy providing snitchware for all, Big Brother is dead.

Posted by: 3349896511 | March 18, 2009 9:01 PM

Even the man pictured in the background is giving a thumbs up!

Posted by: John Wareck | March 19, 2009 8:06 AM

Ben, Jeff, Kam, and Miles, Fantastic job! You make me (more) proud to be a New Havener. The web site is a real contribution to people all over the country. Now you can move on to figure out how to SeeClickFix the stock market (and perhaps the real estate market too?).

Posted by: travers | March 19, 2009 2:06 PM

i'm chuffed for you dude!~

Posted by: robn | March 20, 2009 2:02 PM

CAMRADESTALIN,

You got it all wrong dude....See_click users are snitching ON Big Brother, not to him.

Posted by: Ben | March 21, 2009 9:10 PM

Comrade Stalin,
You might appreciate this one:
http://www.seeclickfix.com/issues/1540

Check out what the tag says.

Posted by: Matt Uva | March 22, 2009 10:46 PM

Congrats.
I used SeeClickFix to report drug dealing on my street. The police now hang out fairly regularly in an unused lot on my corner. The drug traffic has slowed during the day quite a bit -- nighttime is still busy, but so are the cops.
I also appreciate that a few intrepid souls used information gathered from the site to form a local "block patrol" last summer. This is community action at its core as far as I'm concerned, and quite commendable.
Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Dominic | March 22, 2009 11:39 PM

I belong to this site, but I don't think it's that useful. It's pretty good at promoting tattling and passive-aggressive behavior among neighbors who are unwilling to talk out problems. Now that I think of it, the site is probably fine. The people seem to be the problem.

Posted by: Newhall Street Resident | March 24, 2009 11:05 AM

I've just recently been introduced to SeeClickFix and find it a marvelous tool! Other people on my street had called in numerous times to report a faulty street light on one of our corners. The problem remained unfixed until this site was used. Within a matter of 2 weeks, the issue had been resolved. Kudos to all of you @ seeclickfix.com!

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