July 10, 2008 By Wayne Hanson
San Carlos, California's general fund budget cuts meant losing a receptionist at City Hall. Under similar circumstances, said Assistant City Manager Brian Moura, many cities might opt for volunteers to staff the reception desk. But Senior Systems Analyst Jasmine Frost had a different idea. Why not take a hosted Web-site avatar, and put it on a public access computer at reception? A bit of programming, a $20/month fee to sitepal.com and Voila! Carly was born.
Carly, named after the town by City Manager Mark Weiss, appears in the center of a monopoly-board type menu of city departments and services on the reception desk computer. Visitors can mouse over the computer menu and click for more information on a service or department. "But then there's this avatar," said Moura, "and if you click on it, it starts talking and explaining what services are on the first floor and the second floor, and what services the city provides."
Moura said the city isn't suggesting an avatar can replace a real live receptionist and city officials hope to have the general fund cuts restored and return a live receptionist to the front desk. But in the meantime, Carly is substituting for a $90,000/year funding cut, and visitors appear to like her.