Online Search – 311 online

I met Chenda Fruchter, Assistant Commissioner at 311, Dept of Information Technology & Telecommunications, City of NY at the SVA Interaction Design Lectures Dot Dot Dot several weeks ago.  She spoke at the event called “The Service Designers” <- link to video.  The event was enlightening.

I am a huge fan of 311, New York City’s information phoneline.  Now there’s 311 online so people can find answers themselves.  I’m interested to see if people will use the site as much as Chenda said they call.  I am used to the efficiency of the 311 phone operators.  Perhaps a bit of laziness sets in when one can easily get an answer without waiting long 😉  I do most everything over the internet, so if 311 online works as well as 311 by phone, I will change over to the online version going forward.

Let’s try out the site.

Since I recently started a block association, Cumberland Block Association, I am interested in finding out information about  Tree Guards (for protecting the city trees from dogs, etc), Bike Racks, and the like.

My first search was for tree guard since I would like find out how to install tree guards in my block.  See results below.

311 Online Search for Tree Guard

311 Online Search for "Tree Guard"

None of the results fit my inquiry.

The search must be a broad match, because it found a result with the word “guard” but not the word “tree.”  In the Dog License entry, it says “Register a guard dog…”   Clicking through the Domestic Animals & Pets entry, the article also contains info about guard dogs.  Clicking through ther Lead Law Guide entry, there’s a link to download the lead and window guard notice.  Clicking through the Oil in Waterway Complaint entry, there is a comment about the Coast Guard.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but it’s interesting that “guard” was the dominate search term in the results.  I wonder if that is because there are too many entries related to “tree.”  I know that the Parks department is integrated into searches.  And I know I found info about tree guards on the Parks Department website.  Seems there is a gap in information between the Parks Department and 311 online…

I’d probably pick up the phone and call 311 for this one.


Let’s try again.  This time I searched for bike rack since I would like to request a bike rack on my block.  See results below.

311 Bike Rack Search

311 Bike Rack Search

This search is more fruitful.  It’s great that the search knew to change “bike” to “bicycle.”  It would be frustrating to get no results for searches related to “bike” since they were only liked to a search for “bicycle.”  The first link summary tells me that my search is over!  Good news.

I click on the link and see information on bike racks. I find the bike rack application and voila!  Easy peesy.

Bike Rack form

Bike Rack form

Incidentally, the 311 operator I called about this issue sent my a PDF form to fill out or mail.  Had I used 311 online, I would have been able to fill out this form more easily over the internet, and not had to worry about envelopes and stamps.

Search is obviously important on the internet, and it’s important that your site search works well so the user can find what they are looking for, especially when your site is focusing on imparting information.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Is it still the case to receive a PDF form in your email when you call 311 to request a bike rack?
    Is the operator unable to take your request over the phone?

    Maybe I’m confused, can the 311 operator accept any kinds of reports?


  2. Sorry I have totally neglected my own blog in my time working for Kiva in South America and blogging for the Kiva Fellows blog and La Vida Idealist.

    From a quick search, looks like there is online form or a downloadble form you can fill out:

    A 311 operator can email you forms that you need, but I always think self-service is easier.

    Good luck!


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