Beyond software: Programmers hope to change Macon


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Code for America project page for Macon-area TileMill Transit Map

Three Code for America fellows have spent most of a year writing computer programs for organizations in Bibb County. They’ll be gone in a few months but may leave an unusual legacy of interest in open government, open data and community activism.

“We hope that the impact of the program has been not just the creation of apps, but also a deeper understanding of what technology can do in the service of citizens and an erosion of some of the barriers to the use of technology in local government,” said Jennifer Pahkla, founder of Code for America, in an e-mail to The Telegraph.

But a Code for America-hosted forum last week showed the conversation has moved beyond regular government services. People wanted to see a map of crimes to know whether downtown Macon was safe, dangerous or something in-between. Others wondered about nongovernmental data, such as whether a compilation of check-ins from social media company Foursquare could prove the extent and depth of nightlife in downtown Macon, which could help attract more residents and business developers.

Nick Doiron, one of the Code for America programmers, said that some efforts to provide government information to the people, such as online mapping of code enforcement violations, is a major change in how government works, like the difference between going to Blockbuster to pick up a video and being able to stream a movie from Netflix.

“There’s a whole radical change here in what people expect from government and the information that is accessible to them,” Doiron said.

But bringing better technology to Macon and Bibb County can lead to unusual obstacles. Doiron told an audience he had to test solutions to make sure they could work on the city’s computers, which use the vintage Windows XP operating system and Internet Explorer 7. Someone in the audience groaned.




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