311 systems, like in NYC and San Francisco, provide customer service for city government.
If you need to know how to get something done, or you need something done, you call them up. For example, you could call up to get a pothole filled, and actually get it done.
The vision is that you can do that via phone or the 'net.
An article yesterday from SFGate shows a little about how it works, and the unintended humor.
Forget the Golden Gate Bridge and House of Nanking and Zeitgeist on a summer night — the heart of San Francisco beats loudest on the carpeted second floor of that South Van Ness building you thought was Bank of America.
"Thank you for calling San Francisco 311, this is Kyle speaking, how may I help you?"
"Yes, there's a skunk with his head stuck …"
Kyle Sutton is one of 50 or so customer service representatives, or CSRs, asking this question 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The free service launched in March not just to funnel 2,300 government phone numbers into a single line, but to give the city more of a service orientation. About 6,000 calls come in every day, and program director Ed Reiskin says 311 is on track to answer 2 million a year.
Officially, the purpose is to supply a handy route to non-emergency government services and information. Unofficially, it's a glimpse into the funny inner mind of the city.