I always have a hard time explaining what we do at The Open Planning Project. The front page of our website reads: “TOPP is a catalyst. We empower civil society through software, media, and smart urban policy.” While this makes sense if you think about it for a while, when I first say it to people I’m usually met with blank stares. I don’t mean to dig on TOPP — a lot of effort went into writing that tagline, and believe me, earlier versions were more abstract and less punchy.
Prior to this current version, we had a different tagline: “Virtual tools for real-world change.” That’s what our t-shirts still say on them, and I don’t mind it. It has a skyline above it, implying a connection with cities, which I like.
But still, I don’t think we have a compelling enough elevator pitch — a description that doesn’t take five minutes and a walk-through of our org chart to explain.
So recently, I’ve been trying out something new. I’m experimenting with the following explanation:
(standard disclaimer) “We’re a non-profit software company; yeah, it’s a bit strange, I know.”
“We build software that makes cities easier to use. You know, like, making it easier to get around, to interface with your government, and to connect with your neighbors.”
This morning, I tried this on a friend at the gym, and I got an “Oh, cool! You mean like public transportation? My friend in Seattle was telling me about GPS on buses there — how come we don’t have that in NYC?” Bingo.
So, I’m going to test this out a little more. Making cities easier to use. I like it. I just updated my twitter description with that; we’ll see if anyone notices.
To get a little more specific, here are some of the questions I think we’re trying to answer that fall under this larger goal:
How can we make it easier to…
- get around? (ideally by foot, bike, or transit)
- interface with government? (who reps me? who supports me? how can I help? how can I be heard?)
- connect with neighbors? (who lives on my block? what do we have in common? how can we help each other?)
- be involved in shaping the future? (combining the two above: connecting with neighbors and interfacing with gov)
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to make a city easier to use, that lots of creative projects (many of them NYC-based startups) are already addressing:
How can we make it easier to…
- connect with friends? (Foursquare)
- help people & volunteer? (Ushahidi, The Extraordinaries)
- connect in real-time (Twitter)
- organize a team to make something happen, right now (Groundcrew)
- find people who want to do things I want to do (Meetup)
- and on and on…
Given all of these questions and more, it’s highly likely that Making cities easier to use is still too broad; but there’s no question that it’s easier to explain, which is a start.
And for those of you struggling with similar issues of tagline-choosing, see Seb‘s brand-spanking-new conjoint.py decision-making tool, which OpenGeo has been using recently during its own tagline discussion.
// Photo of crumpled city map by Emanuele Pizzolorusso via MoCo loco