ZenCity is Hiring!

Great news – we’re about to launch our product in Paris, and we’re looking for a new team member to help us do it.

We’re Looking for a French speaking analyst to join our growing team for (at least) three months.

ZenCity (http://zencity.io) is a startup from Tel-Aviv reinventing how cities are managed. Our AI-based platform provides local governments with wide-scale citizen feedback analytics across all communication channels.
For a deployment with the city of **Paris** we are looking to hire a French speaking analyst to help localize our platform to the city’s needs.

**Create and maintain French language machine-learning training set from social data.
*Analyze and measure success of advanced AI algorithm.
*Recognize meaningful trends in social media data and other data sets.
*Work directly with partners and clients in France
*Work from Paris for two weeks during April – all expenses paidd!

*Native or fluent French speaker, fluent in hebrew and english as well.
*Technological proficiency or know-how.
*Meticulous and with attention to detail.
*Data analysis background – advantage.
*Social media background – advantagee.

75% or full position (your choice) for three months with an option to stay on long term, starting immediately.
Work out of our Central Tel Aviv office and travel to Paris for two weeks during april with the team.

Interested? Know someone who might be?
Please send your CV to eyal@zencity.io

Where are the People in the Smart City?

**Last week I gave a short talk about current and future trends in Smart Cities in the Forbes under 30 Summit in Jerusalem. Here is what I had to say:**

The reason I became so interested in Smart Cities in the past few years is simple — basically, we, as a society are going through two great revolutions. The first, which most of the speakers today will mention, is the information revolution. I’m guessing you’re all pretty much aware of that, and if not — google it and experience it first hand. But the second, less known one — is the urban revolution.

Today, more than 50% of the people live in cities. This is an interesting fact for two reasons — first, it’s a relatively new one. It happened for the first time in history around four years ago. Second, it’s part of an exponential trend — meaning that by 2030 more than 70% of the people will live in cities. Combine it with projected population growth and you’ve got more than 6 billion city dwellers in less than 20 years.

This means that cities are fast becoming the human habitat of the 21st century. It also means that almost every human challenge (and opportunity) can essentially be reduced down to an urban one — cities are the source for most of the pollution, wealth gaps, economic value and political turmoil. In order to understand society and address its challenges — we need to look at cities.

This also means that cities are becoming larger and more and more complex, and that’s where smart cities have come in in the last few years. Smart cities are basically cities that use the amazing tools of digital technology, data collection and connectivity, to address their challenges and create value. The abstract model is fairly simple — let’s collect a lot of real time data about our city, analyze it, and run it “better” using the insights we get. This approach has created some cool innovations over the past few years, mostly in the city’s infrastructure. Some great examples include smart trash bins, that tell the trucks what bins are full and use advances routing algorithms to create an optimized route, smart traffic control systems that change the lights according to traffic and so on.

But this first generation of “smart” technologies suffers from a few major problems. Apart from the fact that these hardware based solutions are very expensive, and therefore are out of reach for most cities around the world,most of these technologies only create incremental changes in different areas of city management, but they do not disrupt the core urban issues.The reason, in my opinion, is that they are not touching on the most complex element of the city — the people themselves.

My Master’s thesis advisor, Prof. Juval Portugali, used to always say that when you take the people out of a city, you turn it from a complex system to a simple one. and that is exactly what smart city technologies today are lacking. With all of the smart data collection capabilities, cities and people remain disconnected. The citizens are out of the Smart City loop — they do not have access to the the incredible amounts of data collected and lack the real ability to contribute data and voice their opinions. Cities, on the other hand, while collecting data on almost everything else, remain blind about their citizens actual and desired use of the city.

There is a reason why this has not been addressed by the first wave of Smart City technology — no doubt that tackling these challenges is difficult. But for a city to truly become “Smart”, the citizens have to be a part — whether we look at people and their smartphones as the largest network of sensors in any city, consider the amazing contextual data we can collect from people who are willing to share it, or see the amazing opportunity in people getting the data and services they need where and wen they need them to make cities much more livable.

That is exactly what we are doing in ZenCity — we create digital platforms that provide people with real-time contextual data and services about their city. For example, one of our add-ons sends you a push notification with real time bus data when you reach the station + something personalized information and services while you wait.

But that’s no enough — we use people’s interaction with the data to provide local governments with meaningful insights about the human aspects of their city — allowing it to be planned and managed by considering human factors.

This is a great win-win situation:

  • People get personalized, contextual data and services that revolutionize their urban experience
  • Cities get meaningful insights about people’s actual and desired use of the city
  • And a new form of interaction, channel of communication is opened between all different agents to create a more open and collaborative city

So far we’ve done two pilot programs with Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, and next month we intend to roll out our main beta in a few cities around Israel.

Digital technology is an amazing and powerful tool, and we need to decide — do we want to use it to make cities more centralized and big-brothery or more open and citizen-oriented.

We have the choice, and this is the time to steer the ship in the right direction. We believe our platform can play a part in this important change.

Why nobody’s using your municipal app, and why this should matter

Recently I had the pleasure of lecturing about data, technology and cities to top tier executives of a major municipality in Israel. Towards the end of the talk, I showed a few examples of Israeli city apps, and argued that they are very poorly designed, and therefore underused. This sparked a very interesting conversation with this municipality’s CIO, who invited me to provide a critical view of their app. I decided to get right on it – after all, how often do you get a public official’s open invitation for criticism?
Rather than getting back to her in writing or conversation, I decided I’m going to publish all my findings and thoughts in a blog post. After all, we in ZenCity love cities and data, and we think our findings and thoughts might be useful to other cities as well.
First, some interesting data:
About 50 of Israel’s 247 municipalities offer a city app on the iTunes Appstore and/or Google Play. An impressive number, considering the fact that municipalities can usually spend IT budgets only on necessities. I find this figure encouraging: it seems that local government officials do want to engage their citizens, and seek solutions to enable their municipalities to be better connected to citizens.

However, if you ask around your friends if they’re aware of their municipal app, they’d probably say no, and even if they’ve downloaded it and used it, it was probably only once.
To corroborate this, here are some statistics of apps of a few Israeli municipalities, and their estimated downloads (mind you: these are not actual uses):

The above figures serve as an indication that something’s clearly not working. Even in the case of outliers such as Tel Aviv, and, arguably, Ra’anana and Givatayim, you’d think that more than a fraction of the population actually cares about what’s going on in their neighbourhood or would want to fix something that’s not right. If that wasn’t the case, municipalities would not deploy public services or the city hotline (“moked 106” in israel – 311 in the States).
So why are there scuh low download / usage rates of city apps? here is my analysis:
A) Cramming:
Take a look at the average Israeli municipal app. It has everything, and I do mean everything put into it, and for to best intentions. So, we have the Mayor’s blessing and the city’s Youtube channel, next to the bill pay service and the 106 city hotline. If we assign priorities to every screen from a citizen’s perspective, we could easily leave in only important ones.
B) Incohesiveness:
The Israeli apps do contain many interfaces to the municipality. Some, as mentioned before, are more critical. Therefore, it’s beyond my comprehension why for some of these, like payments, users are then shoved back to the non-mobile-friendly website of the municipality, where they have to struggle with very small fonts that don’t fit their 10-20cm screens. If you want people using your website, why build an app, and if you want them to keep using your app, why throw them back to the website?
C) Cloning (city-side):
Take a look at the 4 different screenshots around the post. Notice they all look the same? Now, as software professionals, we do believe in copying and reusing what’s working. But why copy models that clearly don’t work? We, the citizens, are not clones. Cities are not clones – they each have different priorities and different goals for the app (some may want to have it to reduce the calls to their city hotline, others may want to promote events and offer easy payments). Cities are different, so should be their apps.
D) Cloning (citizens-side):
Now, assuming all your users or citizens, are clones, is even worse. True, they might all have some functions that are common, but as a city government, you do realize that bachelors living in your city, young families, the elderly and even local businesses, all have different needs. An ideal app should reflect at least some change according to the user’s group.
Spot the difference, 2

So, what to do in order to increase your City App’s usage and realize your municipality’s goals? The advice is simple, and may actually be applicable also to non-municipal apps:
  • Know your goals: Why are you deploying a municipal app? What do you consider a success? what functionality gets the top priority in your view?
  • Design by your goals – Only the main functionality should be on the main screen
  • Keep it cohesive: what starts in the app, should stay in the app, including payments and information search
  • Keep it simple – the main user scenarios (“report something to the hotline / search for a department’s phone number / get updated on the news”) should not be more than a few taps/swipes and one screen away, at all times.
  • Update users with relevant information: use user notification sparingly, and if possible, in relevance to the user, and get rewarded by people actually coming back to use the app.
  • Always leave room for user feedback: review your app’s Google Play / iTunes page, and leave a “contact us” form in the app, to know what your users care about. More advanced users should monitor analytics to see what got tapped on most often.
  • Consider about the user’s point of view – what should be her main association thinking about using the app? Try and have your app do mostly that. If different users have different associations (one is thinking about hotline reporting and another about bill payments or kindergarten registration) consider having different layouts or even different apps altogether for different services.
We honestly believe in scaling things that work – why scale things that clearly don’t? We hope to start seeing awesome city apps out there. In fact, we just might have one in the works. If your city is interested in building a better city app – contact us.
Lastly – a thank you to my friends and colleagues – Yogev Sharvit and Dr. Tehilla-Schwartz Altschuer, who helped with opinions and data, and Eyal Feder, my cofounder who incentivized my writing and provided his wise perspectives.

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Sorry for the inconvenience.

ZenCity team