Potholes and Big Data: Crowdsourcing Our Way to Better Government

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Netflix are probably the sexiest examples of organizations using Big Data (re: petabytes of largely unstructured information) in amazing ways. It’s folly to think, however, that Big Data can’t be used in more prosaic, practical ways. Big Data is transforming many industries and functions within organizations with relatively limited budgets.

Consider Thomas M. Menino, up until recently Boston’s longest-serving mayor. At some point in the past few years, Menino realized that it was no longer 1950. Perhaps he was hobnobbing with some techies from MIT at dinner one night. Whatever his motivation, he decided that there just had to be a better, more cost-effective way to maintain and fix the city’s roads. Maybe smartphones could help the city take a more proactive approach to road maintenance.

To that end, in July 2012, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics launched a new project called Street Bump, an app that allows drivers to automatically report the road hazards to the city as soon as they hear that unfortunate “thud,” with their smartphones doing all the work.

The app’s developers say their work has already sparked interest from other cities in the U.S., Europe, Africa and elsewhere that are imagining other ways to harness the technology.

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