December 14, 2009 By Matt Williams
Craig Mitnick, the CEO and co-founder of Nixle, a free Web-based "community information system" that the company says has been adopted by thousands of public safety agencies and governments at the local, state and federal levels. Citizens can subscribe to the "hyperlocal" content service, where they can receive real-time information from their local police department, fire department and mayor.
Mitnick is no stranger to disseminating information as a former prosecutor, defense attorney and FOX News television analyst. He talked with Government Technology about how social media has the changed the landscape of government-to-citizen communication.
Are you surprised that so many public safety agencies, in particular, have showed interest in Nixle and other secure messaging products?
The flow of information is continuing to change, and I think people want their information when they want it, over the device they want it over, and they want it to be relevant to them - or something that they're interested in. And traditional media cannot provide the real-time information. There's almost a false expectation in our world, given the success of social networking applications, that we're entitled to know what's going on, at the exact time it's going on, and to make it relevant to our life. Yet, in reality, there are [few] tools out there that allow for that.
We started with one police department on March 1 in Chula Vista [Calif.]. When we opened the [Nixle] platform up, which we weren't really expecting to do until June - it just kind of happened - we got some interest from some California agencies, and we said, "Hey let's see what happens here." And before we knew it, we were getting calls from all over the place, and as word spread and as agencies use it, there have been several Alzheimer's patients who have been immediately located. There have been success stories - from hit-and-runs to home invasions, with criminals caught in five minutes - to just basic, general day-to-day information. ... I think all of that is feeding the viral growth.
It's not a law enforcement system, but law enforcement is one of the primary information providers that provide many of us with the most important information that we need to operate our lives on a daily basis, whether it's a road [closure], to a danger in a neighborhood, to a local event that the police are monitoring, and they need to put immediate information out to residents. That's a public safety aspect, but that same platform is being adopted by mayors across the country so that their municipal agencies also have that hyperlocal neighborhood vehicle - for things like blood drives, and the announcements of seminars and celebrations.
It sounds a lot like Twitter.
It's far different that Twitter. Twitter is a social networking application which, in my mind, doesn't take geography into consideration, and it's a mass system where you follow an organization or a person. The Nixle system is secure group text messaging.
Twitter became the next generation of social networking because it's instant and it's on cell phones. But whether it's Twitter, Facebook or MySpace, these are social networking applications that, in my mind, don't require the identity authentication or the security that certain other technologies would need. For instance, the FBI is not going to use Twitter for secure communications.
But I think the Twitter founders are brilliant - I think [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg is brilliant for what he's done - and all of the organizations have truly allowed us to connect in ways that weren't imaginable five years ago. But - what they were not built for is official information. And when you're