Rachel Sterne is New York City's Web czar – a job that can affect everything from how the city responds to natural disasters to where residents eat dinner.
Officially, she carries the title of chief digital officer – the city and country's first – which means the 28-year-old is responsible for taking the massive amount of information New York has in its electronic drawers and making it available to the public for use in new ways.
One example: Last August, when hurricane Irene was bearing down boisterously on the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for evacuations. Many people went online to learn if they were affected by the order, but the surge in traffic overwhelmed the city's server. It crashed.
This could have been a disaster in its own right. But because the city allows open access to many of its data systems, outside groups had already tapped into the information and were notifying the public in their own way. A public radio station and other groups, for instance, used city data to produce detailed interactive maps.
"They were all providing incredibly helpful hurricane evacuation information and zone maps," says Ms. Sterne.
She believes such digital collaboration can make government more responsive and citizens more engaged. "Ultimately, the more information, innovation, and transparency, the more efficient a government," says Sterne. "Cities already have all this information, but we're opening that up and letting developers innovate. They can come in and make the delivery of services to the public more engaging and exciting."
She cites one example: A local group, tapping into city health-inspection grading data, has created a Don't Eat At app that alerts diners to restaurants that might be shut down for health violations.
– Whitney Eulich
Next: Rene Silva: Scribe of the slums