SeeClickFix is an interactive website that lets users report problems in their communities and plot them on a Google map. Because it’s an open forum, local officials can check in to see where trouble spots are, and news organizations can track them as well. The New Haven Independent is one of many news sites that posts the RSS feed for its community. The interactive pothole map at Boston.com is powered by SeeClickFix as well.
On May 18 I had a chance to sit down with SeeClickFix co-founder and chief executive Ben Berkowitz in his second-floor office in downtown New Haven. Berkowitz, a hyperkinetic 31-year-old, had forgotten we were supposed to meet, but he graciously agreed to a video interview despite having a full agenda.
Berkowitz describes SeeClickFix as “citizens working collectively,” and explains that he started it three years ago when he was trying to get graffiti cleaned up in his neighborhood. The site has been growing rapidly since the New York Times published a feature story on it in January.
Today, the company has some 400 media partners and employs five people thanks to a $25,000 We Media prize and several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of venture capital. Although the basic service is free, SeeClickFix charges media sites for certain premium services, and posts advertising as well.
One aspect of Berkowitz’s philosophy that I found particularly interesting was his insistence that SeeClickFix is not just for holding government accountable — citizens, too, should take responsibility. As an example, he pointed to a similar project, the British website FixMyStreet — a great name that he nevertheless doesn’t like, he says, because it removes accountability from citizens and places it entirely on the government.
Does Berkowitz, who previously worked as a Web designer, consider himself a journalist? He pauses before answering. “I think SeeClickFix is a tool for journalists,” he replies. “I don’t think that I am a journalist. I don’t think of us as a news organization.”
For a good example of how journalists can use SeeClickFix as a reporting tool, see this story on “the ugliest storefront on Chapel Street” in the New Haven Independent.