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Boston City Council experiments with testimony via online conferencing

People who can't make it to City Council hearings on department budgets this year (what with them being held during the day and all) can now testify via Google Hangouts, Council President Michelle Wu said today.

In a pilot program that starts this week, Ways and Means Chairman Mark Ciommo (Allston/Brighton) will accept comments from up to ten people via the online videoconferencing service, after other people are done with their IRL comments at his hearings.

You'll need a Google e-mail account - and a working camera and microphone on your computer or phone - and will have to sign up in advance. More details. Council hearing schedule.

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"Oh, the resident's testimony was cut short. Must be their 'connection'."...

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This is great except Google Hangouts is such a mess. Skype would be my pick.

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If you didn't know the City has been partnered with Google for some time now.

"Boston.Gov" is their new mail alias and that is running off Gmail servers. All city e-mail accounts now are Gmail systems and many if not all have the other options such as Drive, Docs, etc.

Of course, not all know how to use the available features.

So this was a natural progression to HangOuts.

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If anything the city's use of gmail makes Hangouts a worse choice for this situation. Hangouts (usually) works for intracompany chat between user accounts. For a city employee who wants to chat with a city councilor, by all means use Hangouts. But the Google platform doesn't work very well for resources and groups, which is how this "Boston City Council Hearing" account would fit.

Skype or Webex or any number of more enterprise-centric solutions would be more robust and offer a simpler experience, especially when connecting to external users. There might even be a perfect fit solution out there that can manage the video, the queue, the stenographic record, and all aspects of online public testimony.

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Putting the Stenographic Record online for hard of hearing folks, for the Deaf Community, for ESL English as a Second Language folks, for all folks would make civic engagement greater. 2 Stenographic Records of Public Meetings of Boston City Council are supposed to be readily available: a) compiled in the Council Chamber and b) compiled at WGBH Media Access Captioning
http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/mag/captioning.html

Committee on Government Operations
Boston City Council
Massachusetts

Docket #0412, an ordinance establishing language and communications access for city services.

Release online in full plain text for hard of hearing folks, for the Deaf Community, for ESL English as a Second Language folks, for all folks both separate Stenographic Records (a) and (b) of Public Meetings of Boston City Council
(a) compiled in the Council Chamber and via
(b) WGBH Media Access Group Captioning

Boston City Council shall to take into account civic engagement of folks with different challenges,
hard of hearing folks,
the Deaf Community,
ESL English as a Second Language folks,
tinnitus ringing in the ears,

concussion recovery,
stroke recovery folks,
folks with cognitive difficulty,
dyslexic folks,

ADD attention deficit folks,
elderly,

folks in city neighborhoods far afield of City Hall, Lower Mills folks,
Ashmont folks,
Cedar Gove folks,
Adams Village folks,

Peabody Square folks,
Neponset folks,
Port Norfolk folks,
Popes Hill folks,

Hyde Park folks,
Mattapan folks,
Orient Heights folks,

folks with difficulty to tolerate hard aggravating public seats of the Council Chamber sidelined for lack of access to the Full Plain Text Stenograph Record of Public Meetings of Boston City Council,

folks reluctant about indicating such concerns.

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I think this is going to be one of the Greatest use of technology yet in city government. It's an all win situation, and long over due. Please make this work.

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