The Borough of Madison, NJ organized a town-wide garage sale to benefit Union Beach, a community hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. I added a feature to their website, so residents can register their sale and (pending a quick review by a website administrator) have it placed on a map of Madison. Check out the map here!
I built the town’s extensible content management system starting in 2008, working closely with Jim Sanderson, Madison’s technology directory. The history of “RoseNet” (named for Madison’s “Rose City” moniker), one of the first community websites, dates back to 1997. It has gradually grown to include more and more content and interactive features. I haven’t seen any other municipal websites that come close in terms of quantity and quality of data. For example, Jim has invited all local businesses and non-profit organizations to have a self-maintained presence on the website, and this cool business map is a fun way to promote Madison’s downtown merchants. The local business listings provide a helpful service to residents and help boost revenue by promoting the business district in the face of competition from internet and big box retailers. There is, of course, room for improvement (we’re constantly debating the home page and navigation), but the site has proven to be a very effective communication medium for the town.
The garage sale registration process highlights a flexible workflow capability that will help the municipal government streamline many forms and processes. Plus, thanks to years of careful design and execution, Jim and I were able to deploy this feature with minimal cost and lead time.
I think we’ve really stumbled onto a great architecture for a civic website. I’d love to turn the design into an open source project. Recently, I’ve heard a lot about civic code volunteering and startups (like the Code for America project), and I think that’s really great. Even though Madison is a small town, I think we’re out in front in terms of designing an effective municipal content management system. Drop me a line [Twitter, Google Plus, or just leave a comment below] if you’re interested in collaborating.